My Dog Has an Out-of-Control Kissing Habit!

Dog kissing owners face
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Q: I have a one-year-old Norwich Terrier who loves to kiss me on the face — and she doesn't take no for an answer. If I'd let her, she'd lick my face aggressively for hours. What can I do to stop this annoying behavior?

A: We all love to get affection from our dogs, but your situation sounds as if your dog is going to extremes with his licking. The aggressive intensity that you describe may suggest a stereotypy, a single behavior that's repeated over and over again without actually serving any functional purpose. This can range from sucking on a flank to snapping the air to chasing a tail.

Assess Stress Levels: A stereotypy can be related to stress. Stabled horses, for example, may pace back and forth in their stalls, and caged shelter dogs may circle if they're confined for long periods of time without proper enrichment.

Consider Genetics: Certain breeds can also be prone to developing a stereotypy: German Shepherds have a reputation for repetitive circling, and Doberman Pinchers often suck on their flanks. 

Stage an Intervention: You may need to consult with professionals — such as a veterinarian, a veterinary behaviorist and maybe even a certified professional dog trainer — to adequately address the problem. In your case, it could be a sign of compulsive behavior that needs to be treated using environmental enrichment, training and maybe medication.  

What You Can Do: Repetitive behavior should never be punished; this only increases the dog’s stress levels. Instead, you should find a replacement behavior for her to perform, which comes with a reward.

You should also aim to enrich your dog's life with added exercise, food puzzles, adequate play and plenty of petting. If she's left at home for extended periods of time, look for ways to improve her day, like taking her to doggie daycare or hiring a dog walker. The more structure and consistency she receives from you, the less anxious she will be.   

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