Why does my dog nibble on me? Why do dogs nibble on human companions in general? Some dog behaviours are so mysterious and strange. After all, human children don’t nubble on each other.
Humans often want to associate dog behaviours as if they were coming from other humans. That is how many of us rationalize the mysterious actions of our pets. This is simply how they make sense to us.
Dogs, and other canids, aren’t humans though! They don’t always rationalize things like a human would. For example, dogs don’t have human hands, and can’t feel the world like a human would. They often use their mouths instead.
Why Does My Dog Nibble on Me?
Imagine an excited 6-month-old puppy running circles, jumping up and down, furiously wagging his tail, and nibbling on his owner’s forearm. This dog probably wants to play! He certainly isn’t trying to harm his handler in any way.
Dogs usually nibble humans out of trust and affection. It can sort of be like a grooming gesture, somewhat like licking the face. Nibbling can also indicate excitement and the desire to play.
Remember, dogs don’t have hands like we do and can’t experience the world through our human sense of touch. Puppies especially will try to instead experience things with their mouths, touching and “mouthing” everything.
Why Do Dogs Nibble?
We think dog nibbling is mainly used as a show of affection based on behavioral observations. Your dog is probably trying to groom you if he’s gently nibbling with those front teeth like he’s eating an ear of corn.
Dog grooming is often used to show affection and a common canine behavior. Dogs might even nibble on other dogs, cats, or pet pigs! Have you seen your own pup nibble on other dogs?
Puppy mouthing and dog nibbling are very natural. There is nothing wrong with your dog if he does this. Through bite inhibition training, you can teach your dog to avoid human skin during play if you want to (see Bite Inhibition section below).
How Do I Get My Dog to Stop Nibbling?
Though dog nibbling is usually done as a show of affection, many humans don’t like it. Parents especially often don’t enjoy their dogs mouthing small children, even though the dog might only have great intentions. This is understandable.
So how do you prevent dog nibbling? The answer is simple.
You’re going to train your dog that his dog teeth are painful to human skin (even if they aren’t)! Your dog only wants to show you he cares for you and enjoys your company. He doesn’t want to harm you at all! Once he realizes his teeth are destructive, he’ll avoid nibbling human skin for this reason.
Bite Inhibition (Soft Mouth) Training
A dog’s bite inhibition is another word for his ability to control bite pressure. This type of training mimics natural dog behavior, in the form of puppy play!
Let’s say two 5-week-old littermates are playing together. One clamps down on the other just a little too hard! The victim utters a yelp- “eeeeeee”- and scurries away. The fun game stops for both pups.
This certainly isn’t what the biter wanted! He wants the play to continue, and didn’t mean to hurt his companion! The biter learns not to bite so hard in the future. This way, the fun games can last much longer!
Now, let’s say you’re playing a game of rope tug with your puppy, and he accidentally clamps down on your hand. Perhaps he just begins to nibble, but you don’t want your dog nibbling on your skin.
You’re going to immediately snatch your hand away, uttering a “Yelp!” as if your dog harmed you when his teeth met your skin. Walk away from your pup as if you are injured, even if you aren’t. Stop playing the game as soon as those teeth touch you.
Your pup will soon learn that his teeth are damaging to human skin and do his best to avoid contacting your flesh so the fun games and play can last.
There is no need to punish or chastise your dog for ‘biting’ your skin! No aversives are required for play mouthing or nibbling. The above actions are enough. You don’t want to scare or frighten your pup! Frightening a puppy may discourage him from playing altogether.
Why Does My Puppy Nibble on Me Hard?
It’s natural for puppies to feel their environments with their mouths, but there is a point when those sharp little shark teeth can really hurt! If it hurts us, why do our puppies do it? They can’t be trying to harm us intentionally.
Young puppies don’t bite hard because they are so small and can’t, but their teeth sure can be a pain.
If your puppy not only nibbles, but bites at your hand and wrist whenever you come too close, he might be teething. Most puppies begin teething for the second time (first time for most owners) at about 3 months or 12 weeks.
As those permanent teeth begin to erupt, pushing out the baby teeth, your pup could experience discomfort. Biting and chewing helps relieve this! Most pups will finish teething by 6 months of age. How do you stop the biting until then?
You could try the soft mouth method above, but it’s more important you redirect this chewing and biting behavior by offering plenty of chewy toys! Rubber Kong toys work great because they are very durable, and the rubber is chewy.
As always, it’s very important you never punish or scold your puppy too much. You don’t want to frighten your puppy! Positive, reward-based reinforcement and light corrections are best.
In Summary – Why Does My Dog Nibble On Me?
Nibbling isn’t just an instinctive behavior. It can also indicate stress or anxiety. Stressed dogs will sometimes nibble on themselves or something else so much that their teeth will begin to wear down! Sometimes these suffer so much damage due to compulsive nibbling they even require removal.
Talk to your veterinarian if this becomes a problem. They may suggest behavioral therapy or medication to ease the anxiety.