I love dogs and have loved them since I can first remember. Everything about them is wonderful to me. It was honestly a surprise when I found out there were things about dogs that really bothered some people. It took a whole lot of years for me to get it, but there were actually things about dogs that truly annoyed people.
As I grew older and began working with dogs and their people, I was even more amazed to find that there were very specific things about dogs that most people had serious issues with. Over the years, I narrowed it down, and it came to two things that topped the list for most people; jumping and licking. Jumping and licking seemed to be the top two behaviors that all my friends and clients regularly needed help with. They were also the two behaviors that non-dog people had issues with.
As usual, I was happy to help and had some great suggestions on changing bothersome behaviors, but it never seemed like that big of a deal to me when dogs would do this, especially the licking. I could easily stop it, but it never seemed necessary.We’ve all heard the urban legend that dogs’ mouths are cleaner than humans and some will even, to this day, have you believe that this story has a grain of truth. According to a recent report from ABC News; “Although the mouth of a typical dog is full of bacteria, it's "species specific." So, if a dog were to lick a person, most of the germs wouldn't transfer. "Bottom line -- you're more likely to get a serious illness from kissing a person than kissing a dog." The mythmay have stemmed from the way pups lick their wounds. A dog's tongue gets rid of dead tissue so wounds heal faster. Perhaps folks concluded that dog saliva is "healthy." Hardly the case, but you shouldn't be afraid of licks. They might be gross, but they're not dangerous.”
I actually believed all of this until December 2008, when these beliefs changed me forever. A dog bite ended up turning into a life and death battle. The doctors only gave me a 10% chance of survival, and over the months after waking up from a coma, I learned more about dog saliva than anyone would ever want to know. I was contacted by people who had gone through my exact same ordeal, some simply from being licked on a scratch by a puppy.
More about the truth behind the danger of dog saliva later – first, let’s talk about why your dog licks and how to stop this behavior. Dogs lick for a variety of reasons, and it is important to understand them in order to understand your dog’s behavior. Instinctively, puppies lick their mothers in order to get food, or as a behavior that corresponds to language; meaning they need something. This behavior is heredity. Wolf mothers returned to the den to their pups licking their faces. This was a signal for the mother to regurgitate food for them. Older dogs lick as a sign of submission in the hierarchy of their pack. If your dog is licking you, it may be to show affection, to be comforting, or to get attention. Also your dog just might like the way you taste. Let’s face it; some of us can be pretty salty.Dogs licking people constantly is a hard habit to break, and involves time and patience. You’ll need to modify this behavior through training.
There are several different methods that you can try, depending on your dogs’ personality, as well as your personal preference. As with all dog training, it will take time to teach your dog to stop licking. Be patient and consistent. Your dog wants to make you happy, so teach him how to make you happy. Also, it is important not to get too frustrated, as licking is his way of responding to years and years of hereditaryIf your dog is licking for attention, you can teach him another way of getting your attention. Teaching an alternate, but acceptable, behavior is the most productive method of doing this. Sitting, shaking, rolling over, etc. are great tricks for your dog to learn when he wants your attention. The key is to ALWAYS give him attention with that "attention-getting" trick.
If he is just trying to give you affection, re- training may take some time. You are the undisputed center of his life and he needs to let you know it whenever he can. You need to outmatch him in his persistency. Don’t shout or react negatively. The simple withdrawal of your love or the appearance of it anyway, is usually enough. You can say “Stop licking” in a firm voice as you withdraw your arm or other body part being slathered. After awhile, this will begin to mean something to him.
In more extreme cases, you may need to apply something that tastes bad to dogs (“Yuk”, apple bitters or lemon work great) and let him lick that. This will teach him that licking your skin is nasty.Some dogs will respond immediately if you act like it hurts you when they lick you. This is the same technique we use to teach a young puppy not to nip or bite too hard. If you say, "Ouch" or "Don't lick" every time your dog licks you, he may respond by not wanting to cause you pain.
Some Other Ways to Stop Dog Licking:
When you really want to get the point across that licking is getting to be a bit too much, a simple change in body language can convey this message loud and clear.
During your training, you will undoubtedly come across some people who don’t mind being licked by a dog, or who actually invite it. Tell them in advance you are trying to stop dog licking by training your dog so they won’t corrupt him and ruin all the “stop-licking” training you’ve given him so far.
Now: The truth about dog saliva. Let me first start by saying that I am not trying to scare anyone, quite the opposite. I am trying to use my experience to educate people about the precautions to take while working with dogs if you have a compromised immune system. See Asplenia, Dog Bites & Survivng Sepsis on our website for more detailed information.
Anyone with a compromised immune system is susceptible to capnocytophaga canimorsus, a common bacterium found in the mouths of about 85% of all dogs (and cats too). This can be people without spleens (like me), people recovering from a severe illness, people with cancer, diabetes, HIV, very young babies, very old people, etc…
I want everyone who loves their dog to keep that dog forever, but to do it in a way that is safe and healthy. This simply means to be careful. If you have an open wound, make sure your dog doesn’t lick you there. Keep that sneaky tongue away from your mouth and even your eyes. And if you ever have any concerns, see your doctor immediately. One round of antibiotics can stop this infection in its tracks and keep you healthy and, in turn, your dog happy, for many, many years.