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by Rolan Tripp, DVM and Susan Tripp, MS/P

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Licking People

Pet Learning and Reinforcement Q&A

Pet Professional Tip

Praise the dog for positive chewing, sitting for attention, and other positive behaviors.  Demonstrate to clients how to teach the "sit" instruction and encourage them practice "learn to earn" before giving their dog attention and privileges.

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Excessive licking may due to a bad habit or a medical problem. Dogs lick excessively to seek attention, show submission. It may also be a displacement behavior. Neurologic, endocrine, hormonal, and other medical conditions may also be responsible for excessive licking. Therefore, it is essential to rule out any medical condition that might contribute to the problem through your veterinarian. Medical causes of behavior more.

If the dog is licking him or herself excessively, it may be triggered by allergies, infection, pain, or an obsessive-compulsive mental illness.

The dog should receive a neutral response from the person while enjoying the "5-Lick Rule" and praise and attention when not licking.

Attention-Seeking Behavior

If the excessive licking is attention-seeking behavior, then giving the dog any attention whatsoever during the licking process, such as talking, petting, praising, or responding in any way (even scolding), only encourages the licking and promotes more of the same.  Attention seeking more.

Submissive Behavior

If the excessive licking is submissive in origin, punishing the licking only promotes the behavior or may provoke an aggressive response. The dog is submissive in the first place, so threats and anger from the owner in response to excessive licking is perceived by the dog as domination. Since the dog is attempting to communicate submission in the first place, scolding only increases the desire to lick, or defend him or herself aggressively.

Displacement Behavior

If the excessive licking is a displacement behavior, it is performed to decrease arousal and help the animal cope with a stressful situation. Again, punishment is not effective because it will only make an already anxious dog more anxious. Instead, encourage and praise the dog for positive chewing.  Teaching positive more

The Correct Response to Excessive Licking

The correct and optimal response to licking is to ask the dog to do an alternate behavior, such as sit, and then praise the sitting and reward that. For the confirmed licker, some people will allow a "5-Lick Rule." This rule allows the dog to lick no more than 5 times. Then he or she must stop. This allows some expression of their natural desire but stops excessive licking. The dog should receive a neutral response from the person while enjoying the "5-Lick Rule" and praise and attention when not licking. If the dog goes beyond the allowed five licks, interrupt the behavior with a instruction such as "off." Teaching more.

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