Original Question: How can I train my dog not to lick people’s feet? - Kate
So we can definitely stop your dog from licking you and I’ll start off by saying that consistency is key. So whenever we’re doing any form of training, any behavioral management, then it’s important that not only are you consistent with your dog, but that everyone in the house is consistent and everyone that your dog comes across is consistent. So if your dog is licking you and you manage to take some steps to prevent that but your partner or your children are letting your dog lick them quite happily, then really you’re giving your dog mixed messages and setting it up for failure. Your dog’s just going to be confused and it’s not going to do what you want, which is going to be frustrating for you. So consistency is key and everyone needs to do the same thing.
The first step to take, or the first thing to try would be just to ignore your dog. So your dog is licking your feet in this case but if they’re licking your hand, if they’re licking your face, if you just completely ignore them then the dog will learn that the behavior doesn’t result in attention. And then conversely, if your dog stops and sits down or your dog is doing something else, then you want to reward the good behavior that your dog is showing. So ignore your dog completely while they’re licking you. The moment they stop and do something else, maybe that’s sitting down and or lying down next to you, then you jump in and you reward them and give them your attention. Maybe give them treats so that you are rewarding the good behavior and ignoring the behavior that you don’t want to happen.
If the ignoring is not working then the moment that your dog starts licking you, you get up, you walk away, you go into another room and again, in a similar way your dog will learn that the fun and the interactions stops as soon as it does that behavior. So much the same way with puppy biting, we say ‘ow’, we withdraw our hands, we maybe take ourselves out of the room, the puppy learns that if they bite, then the fun stops and the same thing here. If the dog licks the fun stops and that will soon teach them that’s not something that they want to be doing and it’s not in their interest.
We also want to potentially be distracting your dog so give it something to do. So a lot of our dogs can be quite bored and this might be just a sign or an expression of their boredom. They’re trying to pester you because they’re wanting some attention, they’re wanting something to do so give your dog something to do. So that could also be something else to lick like a licky pad, it could be a Kong and there are various slow feeder treat bowls, snuffle mats and lots of different things we can use to keep our dogs interested, to give them some mental stimulation and to keep them active. Also, we want to make sure that we’re exercising them, that we’re giving other forms of stimulation, we’re taking them out for runs, we’re throwing a ball for them and that kind of thing just so that they have an outlet for their energy so they’ve not just got lots of pent up frustrated energy that’s causing them to pester you as well.
And then if despite ignoring them, despite getting up and leaving the room, despite giving your dog other things to do and you’re still really struggling, then something else to think about would be using something like a bitter apple spray in this case on your feet. So that’s something that you just would pop there, it’s something that tastes disgusting, your dog will lick and they won’t like it. It’s not harmful or anything, but it’s just something that they don’t find appealing. Be warned though, if all you’re doing is using something like this, then the licking is just going to move elsewhere. So they’ll start looking somewhere else or another problem behavior is going to develop. So if we’re using something like a bitter apple spray, we need to be taking other behavioral modification steps that I’ve already discussed to stop that problem behavior.
If you’re still struggling, then you want to be getting in touch with a dog trainer, with a behaviorist to try and set up some specific interventions and specific strategies for your dog that would need to be very much individualized to make a treatment plan. But by and large, those few strategies should do the job for most dogs and stop them licking you.
I hope this helps.
Dr. Alex Avery