How do I get my pup to stop obsessively licking other dogs' faces?
March 29, 2021 9:51 PM   Subscribe

Our 9 month old pit terrier loves people and dogs, a bit too much. How do we teach her to greet other dogs without obsessively licking their faces - which is much for even the most patient dogs?

We adopted our pup Chance at 5 months old, four months ago. She loves people and dogs, a bit too much. We have made great strides with training - she doesn't jump on us, and is getting better about not jumping on new people she meets who want to say hi. She will sit and wait until released to eat, to walk out our front door for a walk, walks well on leash, comes when called when in the house, and sometimes when outside. She will go "out of the kitchen" when told, unless there's nobody watching and she thinks she'll be able to get away with stealing something off the counter. When romping with her favorite neighborhood puppy buddy, she will sit and wait side by side until given the command to come (most of the time unless they are heavy in the throes of chase, though we're working on recall). She will sit on command when we encounter another dog, or crouch down and approach slowly with tail wagging, and even roll over for them to approach and sniff. So here's the problem.. as soon as she's released from a sit, she will lunge for the dog to lick their face. We're not talking about a gentle greeting of single lick or two, but licking that won't stop unless we pull her away. She attempts to do this with almost every dog she encounters, except puppies around her own age with a similar exuberance level, or younger puppies. A treat under the nose doesn't work. Some dogs are patient with this, others are not. We can pull her away and have her sit, but as soon as allowed, she's right back to the face. One of our friends' has a 6 year old German Shepard, Gracie, who will correct Chance with a gentle growl and put her mouth over Chance's head. This will calm Chance momentarily, though she'll be back to the licking soon enough. We spent a week with them and after awhile, Gracie had her respecting her messages to back off, but each time they see each other, Gracie has to teach her again, and the skill didn't transfer to any other dogs. There's a 16 year old retriever, Aspen, in our neighborhood who is exceedingly patient, and though she doesn't seem to love the face licking, is more food motivated than she is annoyed by the licking. When we encounter her, Chance will sit, but as soon as they get close to each other, the licking begins. I will entice Chance away with a treat, or failing that, pull her away, tell her "no thank you/sit" and Aspen will keep advancing for her treat. We have gotten to the point where Chance will sit calmly next to her while I ply them both with treats and praise. However, as soon as the treats stop, she's back to Aspen's face if allowed. When we encounter other dogs who express an interest in meeting, we'll have her sit and let them approach, but as soon as they get close enough, she's on their face. There is absolutely no aggression in her behavior, but the extreme enthusiasm puts the other dogs off to the point where they don't want to interact. There are a couple exceptions - a puppy in our neighborhood who is around the same age - they chase and play vigorously, they're both mouthy with each other, though sometimes she'll latch on, which is a whole other issue. The other pup doesn't seem to mind, but clearly that's not okay. When that happens, we pull them apart, have them both sit, and practice their stay/come. Regular redirections with "come" and "sit/stay" seem to be helping that situation. This evening they were playing off leash in a grassy area in our neighborhood and a woman walked by with her dog on leash. Before I could grab Chance, she ran over toward the dog who responded aggressively. Chance did not take the hint and kept approaching. It could have ended badly. I would like to be able to take her to off leash areas, but I'm concerned she's going to get in the face of a not so patient dog, and it's impeding her ability to make friends with other dogs who would be interested in playing/interacting otherwise. How can we help her learn to socialize with other dogs in a more socially acceptable way?
posted by ms_rasclark to Pets & Animals (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In your shoes the first thing I'd try is arranging for Chance to spend much more time with Gracie.
posted by flabdablet at 10:04 PM on March 29, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: It seems your dog needs a "mentor dog", and a trainer to do reward (and punishment, if any) with.

My guess is your dog doesn't know how to socialize and is applying his knowledge of the human "aww cute" reaction to face licking to dogs, and it's not quite working out. He needs to observe another dog do the right thing, then you or another trainer reward him for doing the right thing.
posted by kschang at 12:49 AM on March 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

This article suggests it's a submissive behaviour practiced by puppies in various situations. As such, and having seen it in our own dog (we brought him home when he was about eight or nine months old), they do grow out of it. When he was in his most exuberant mouth licking phase, I honestly don't recall any older dog doing anything worse than growling or barking at him.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:20 AM on March 30, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: The dog of my heart, my very first dog, was the dog you're worried about your dog annoying. She did not appreciate much (if any) attention or interest from dogs who showed interest in her. This became more and more true as she got older, mostly because she was living as the only dog in the house so her social interactions with other dogs were limited to walks. I generally allowed her to deal with annoying face-lickers and crotch-sniffers however she saw fit. This mostly involved a bunch of vocalizing and dancing and boxing if she wanted to teach the dog. In her 15 years of glorious life, she only got into one altercation serious enough that I had to intervene.

So you can work on this with redirection and commands like "leave it" but it also does sound like something the dogs may be able to solve without human intervention. In general, dogs get better at socializing with practice. I would definitely work specifically on her recall as you said she continued approaching an aggressive dog (I'm assuming you were calling her to come). She sounds like a lovely young puppy!
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 6:38 AM on March 30, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For safety, your dog should not be off leash with unknown others yet. Find a place you can go off leash alone to practice recall. I taught my dog No Lick over about 6 months when he was approx 1 yo. No, Stop. No Lick. with obvious annoyance and a gentle nudge and moving away. I'd work on Go to your bed or Go Lie Down as diversions from face-licking. Keep your adorable dog on leash with a harness, and pull her away from licking another dog's face. This is going to take a lot of effort and consistency. She will be a lot happier if she gets huge mounts of exercise to tire her out; this is a ton of work.
posted by theora55 at 7:40 AM on March 30, 2021

First, it sounds like you are doing an amazing job of training your dog! Good for you for taking the time and energy. I know it's a lot of work.

As for licking faces of other dogs: this is super typical, submissive puppy behavior, and the best way for your dog to learn boundaries around this behavior is for other dogs to teach her, and the only way this can happen is if you have her around lots of other dogs. You can't socialize her to other dogs. The best way to teach her how to be at an off-leash dog park is to get her to an off-leash dog park.

I think you're also doing some anthropomorphizing here. You are seeing other dogs being irritated and not her friend, but those are descriptions of human emotions and relationships. I know sometimes we are embarrassed by our dogs' behavior (like butt sniffing), but in this case, I think Chance is behaving like a puppy, and older dogs who don't want to deal with it will teach puppies boundaries.

Some dogs don't like puppy energy (my dog is one of them), and they will scold puppies who get too amped up around them. My dog won't attack puppies, but he'll behave more like Gracie, and growl and generally shut down the annoying behavior. Sometimes he sounds really fierce and ferocious. He's also 12 and nearly toothless. He's all talk. Experienced dog owners with puppies will say something like, "This is good; my dog needs to learn to back off." I also know that sometimes it's hard to tell when another dog is being really aggressive and when a dog is simply acting out to intimidate and shut down the puppy's behavior. If you haven't been around a lot of dogs playing together, you might not always recognize typical behavior.

Have you spent a lot of time around boisterous, happy dogs at dog parks? I wonder if you might figure out the busy time at your local off-leash area and just go observe, without Chance, for a bit. See how the dogs are romping and humans are mostly staying out of it. Dog park dogs are generally going to be well-socialized. Sometimes there are spats and conflicts, but it rarely seems like human intervention helps.

Dogs who aren't well socialized don't usually go to dog parks very often because it's too stressful for their humans (of course there are exceptions). The thing about dogs on leashes is that they might be the ones who aren't well-socialized, and you just can't know. Also, dogs sometimes are more aggressive when they're on leashes (they can't run away and they know it). I used to have a dog who was super aggressive on leash, and it was so stressful for me when other dogs would charge up, even if that dog was friendly. My dog was not.

Generally speaking, dogs off leash at dogs parks will respond better to your dog than those random dogs on leashes around towns. I'm also worried by not getting her to a dog park, you're missing the window for Chance to learn these good doggie skills while she's still young.

So I think you might just have to sort of get over your worry about this and go to the dog park and see what happens.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:10 AM on March 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

Found something interesting on this, from here:

An adult dog might lick another dog’s face to show subordination. In other words, he wants to say “you’re in charge, and I mean you no harm.”

If a dog meets a peer he highly respects, he might lick that dog’s face to show deference. This is especially true if the dog doing the licking approaches the other dog from under the chin.

If the “respected” dog licks back, she’s showing that all is well and that she accepts the other dog’s show of submission."

Good news?

Whichever reason is behind his dog-on-dog face licking, it’s never a bad thing. It’s always a sign that he means no harm.

Your dog is still young, maybe just showing love. But maybe their time in the shelter provided them with some bad habits. Came across this guide, helped me better socialize my Bulldog, who was excessively entering other dogs' space.

The thing is, your pup is young, so I understand you want to train them now. Perhaps try some of the above tips, Google what you can, but if it continues on for another couple of months, without improvement, perhaps consider looking into dog behavioral therapists... can imagine a bit costly, but you want to catch the dogs to correct them early. Gets harder to fix laater on.
posted by CarolineK90 at 4:17 PM on August 23, 2021

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