If your dog is nibbling on you in a playful way, its likely to show you a bit of dog mouthing affection or to engage you in a game. Dogs, especially young puppies tend to explore the world with their mouths and nibble on people, other dogs, and toys to see what these things are.
Although playful and gentle nibbling isnt necessarily dangerous, in older dogs it could lead to unwanted biting, so youll likely want to discourage this behavior from a young age. And, dont forget to give your dog acceptable alternatives to nibble on.
Dogs typically nibble on other dogs and humans as a way to play with them, to explore objects around them, to show dog mouthing affection, and during the teething phase of puppyhood. If your dog is nibbling on you gently, like a corncob, its likely dog mouthing affection. While the behavior isnt generally bothersome, its not something you want to encourage because those gentle nibbles could turn into bites if your dog gets overly excited.
You might notice that your dog nibbles other dogs with her front teeth during play. This is normal dog behavior. When puppies play very rough with their siblings or mother and nip too hard, the other dog yelps in pain and stops the play. This teaches a dog bite inhibition, according to Pet Place.
If your dog doesnt learn bite inhibition from being socialized with other dogs at a young age, her bites may become unpleasantly hard if she is nibbling on you. She simply doesnt understand how to nibble in a gentle way.
When your dog is nibbling on your hands, feet, or other body parts, its time to stop engaging with him. Say “Ouch!” and stop interacting with your dog for 30 to 60 seconds, recommends the ASPCA. If you can, leave the room that your dog is in during this time for a doggie “timeout.”
If your dog nibbles on you when youre petting his head or back, feed him treats while you pet him to occupy his mouth. This teaches him that by not nibbling on you, he gets a reward.
Another option is to use a taste deterrent, typically found in pet supply stores. These types of training sprays taste yucky to dogs and are safe to spray on your hands or feet to discourage nibbling.
The best way to teach your dog not to nibble on your body parts is to give her something that she can nibble on. While playing with your dog, if she nibbles on you, substitute a chew toy for her to nibble on instead of you, recommends the Animal Humane Society.
When playing with your puppy, dont allow her to chew on your hands. Instead, give her appropriate chew toys for her to use instead and praise her when she does. This teaches her from a young age that nibbling on you isnt acceptable but nibbling on toys is.
When it comes to teaching your dog that nibbling isnt OK, the best way to do that is to ignore or redirect the behavior. Never yell at your dog or get physical with your dog. This can quickly escalate mildly playful behavior into fully aggressive behavior.
If youre thinking “but my dog nipped someone,” then it may be time to consult with an animal behaviorist to help deter this type of behavior.
Your Dog is Stressed or Anxious
A dog that is stressed out or suffering from anxiety will nibble, including on you if you are around. A dog that has separation anxiety might decide to nibble on you when you get home as a way to show they are glad you’re home and that they missed you.
Stressful situations within your home also could cause your dog to begin nibbling on you, such as loud noises or weird people or animals being around. If that’s the case, it’s best to take your dog out of the stressful situation if possible and allow him to calm down.
In a group situation, such as a dog park, you may see dogs nibbling at each other. This is a playful gesture, and they are most likely trying to incite each other to play or wrestle. Your dog may nibble gently at you as well, if he is in a playful mood or is overly excited during playtime. Some dogs only nip and nibble as puppies, and then grow out of it, but some dogs may continue the behavior through adulthood.
Olivia Kight is an experienced online and print writer and editor. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 2012, and has worked on education, family life and counseling publications. She also gained valuable knowledge shadowing a zoo veterinarian and grooming and socialize show dogs, and now spends her time writing and training her spunky young labradoodle, Booker.
Dogs use their teeth for many things — including taking tiny nibbles with only their front teeth. Your dog may use this nibbling technique on his toy, a blanket, a dog friend, or even you. Knowing what the nibble behavior means can help you better understand your dogs needs and what hes trying to communicate.
Some dogs will groom each other by gently nibbling at the back and ears of each other. By pulling his teeth through the fur of another dog, a dog will help groom the other, showing trust and affection. This is often a comforting ritual that is calming to both dogs. You may also notice your pup nibbling at a toy or blanket in a similarly gentle and affectionate way. This is a self-soothing habit that your dog may have learned as a puppy.
The most common situation in which you may find your pup nibbling is when he is trying to scratch an itch he cant reach with his back leg. If your dog is nibbling somewhat infrequently, its probably just a minor itch. But if you find your pup nibbling very persistently or for a prolonged length of time, make sure he is not suffering from allergies or another skin irritation.
What’s The Difference Between Mouthing, Biting And Nibbling?
While nibbling is done through the incisors, mouthing and biting are a little different.
Mouthing is similar to nibbling in that it is mostly harmless, but the key difference is that a dog will use most of their mouth rather than just their incisors. A dog might use their entire mouth when they mouth, but they won’t apply any pressure. Typically, dogs mouth when they are excited. You might feel their teeth, but they know not to chomp down because that would be a bad doggo.
It usually happens when they’re in play mode or someone is greeting them, dogs only tend to mouth when they’re super excited! It can be a pain because some people may feel intimidated by a dog mouthing them, and if a dog gets too excited, they may apply a little pressure.
If this is an issue for you, one simple way to avoid mouthing behavior is by giving your dog a toy whenever they’re getting too excited. The toy will be a natural outlet for their overly enthusiastic mouthing. You should know though that mouthing is always a playful action even if they can get a tad carried away. Even on other dogs; mouthing and nibbling isn’t dominant behavior, it’s playful!
Biting can be completely different. On one hand a dog may bite because they’re getting a bit too carried away in play, but it can be an aggressive bite. It’s easy to spot the difference though.
If your dog looks rigid, their muzzle is wrinkled, they’re exposing all of their teeth, or their back is up (piloerection) while they bite or are about to bite then they are expressing aggressive behavior because they feel agitated or vulnerable.
This kind of biting isn’t playful – a playful dog will always look relaxed – so either your dog is scared or they are defending themselves. If you see this, try to remove your dog from the stressful situation.
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