Puppies explore with their mouths. Even before they open their eyes for the first time, they’re using their mouths to learn about their environment. If your puppy is using his mouth too much, for example by frequently licking you and eating things he shouldn’t, gently discourage this behavior before he’s big enough for it to become a problem. If left uncorrected, licking, chewing and eating can escalate into a compulsive behavior.
Put your dog in a scenario where he is likely to lick you. For most puppies, this will be a close face-to-face interaction.
Interact with him normally and give him verbal praise for as long as he resists licking you. As soon as he slaps that tongue on your face, mimic the yelping sound a puppy makes when he doesn’t like something. When with their litter, puppies set boundaries by using sounds. A yelp is a pup’s way of saying, “Hey, I don’t like that.”
Withdraw all interaction. By withdrawing further interaction, you show Lucky that when he licks, the good stimulus of attention disappears. This is called negative punishment. Since your puppy is licking you through affection, you don’t need to scold him. Simply showing him that you don’t like it will be sufficient to discourage the behavior over time.
Compulsive Licking and Eating
Keep all food out of reach. This is the first step in controlling your puppy’s eating and licking problem. It doesn’t address the cause of his eating, but it reduces his opportunities to indulge.
Observe your puppy’s routine to figure out why he tries to eat things. Sometimes boredom can drive a puppy to develop a condition called “pica,” where he fixates on eating non-edible objects, such as rocks, clothes and even his own fur. If he only does it when left alone, it may be a reaction to boredom. Compulsive behaviors can also be a reaction to distress, such as needing to go to the toilet. If your puppy fixates on licking and eating his own fur, it may be because he currently has or has in the past had discomfort or itching in that area. You may often inadvertently encourage these behaviors by giving attention when he does it, even if you're saying “stop it.” If he focuses on the same area of his body, take him to the vet to rule out medical problems.
Provide lots of alternative outlets for the licking and eating behavior. Food puzzles are effective because they satisfy both urges simultaneously and relieve boredom. Puppies begin to really get into chewing at around 6 months when they're adult teeth are coming in. If he's at this age, his excessive use of the mouth may be a reaction to the discomfort of teething.
Reward Lucky with physical and verbal praise when he directs his licking and eating urges onto an appropriate outlet. Over time, he’ll learn that chewing on the items you provide has a positive outcome, while chewing, licking and attempting to eat inappropriate items results in attention being withdrawn.
Items You Will Need
- Food rewards
- Michael Blann/Digital Vision/Getty Images