The majority of dog lovers know that canine companionship brings with it joy, happiness, and yes sometimes, a few odd or frustrating behaviors. Some of the things your dog does, like chasing his tail for hours on end or barking at things that are not there, can deliver plenty of laughs and are relatively harmless, but what about the specific behaviors that can potentially be problematic or even unintentionally cause an injury, like nibbling or nipping?
Aside from being just your average weird dog behavior, there can be several different, but legitimate, reasons for nibbling, gnawing, biting, and mouthing habits. So, why does my dog nibble on me?
When a dog nibbles you, he views it as affection, playing, and exploring. Nibbling behavior is more common in puppies as they are investing in the world around them. In addition, puppies go through a teething phase, and nibbling helps relieve their irritated gums.
Not to fret, there is a silver lining in that chewed-up cloud, as no matter what the reason behind it, these behaviors can typically be corrected. The treatment is going to largely depend on the underlying cause of the conduct.
The following are the most common reasons for mouthy dogs.
Why Does My Dog Nibble On Me?
15. Doggy PTSD
Dogs that have been through traumatic experiences can, in fact, suffer from the symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This trauma could be the result of an accident, abuse, neglect, or chronic hunger and/or dehydration.
The doggy PTSD can manifest in multiple ways including, hyperawareness, skittishness, potty issues, and even aggression. Gnawing or nibbling on you (or others) could be providing comfort and these dogs are more likely to bite out of fear as well.
14. Poor Impulse Control
Lack of self-control can play a very large part in biting and nibbling behavior. Some dogs nibble, gnaw, and bite simply because they can’t help themselves. They have never been trained to control the nibbling which has incidentally reinforced it. Thankfully, impulse control can be taught at any age although it is easier as a puppy.
The next time your dog nibbles you, let out a loud high-pitched yelp. Yes, you’ll likely scare the bejesus out of the dog, but that’s okay. This is letting him know that he ‘hurt’ you and crossed a boundary. Eventually, he will wean himself off of the behavior out of concern for you.
Mouthing behaviors are much more common in puppies than in adult dogs. Puppies use their mouths to explore, investigate, and play. Dogs playfully nipping or nibbling at each other also helps to teach them how hard to play-bite without causing harm.
If your dog did not get much socialization when he was younger, these ‘play-bites’ can be painful. The best solution is to discourage this type of play altogether.
12. Likes The Way You Taste
No, your dog is not the next Hannibal Lector and he isn’t likely planning to enjoy you with a side of chianti and some fava beans. But, our skin is quite salty to them and many dogs enjoy our salty taste. If the nibbles or gnaws are alternated with big, sloppy kisses, Fido might just enjoy your flavor!
It is not uncommon for dogs to bite or nip out of fear. This is especially true for those with an abusive or neglectful background. This fear response can be a difficult habit to break but not impossible. Be prepared to have a lot of patience and to call in a professional if need be.
Nibbling can be a warning sign of the development of aggressive behavior. Some dogs bite or nip out of hostility. This can be due to a number of different things. Regardless of the cause, it is imperative to nip (pun totally intended) it in the bud as soon as possible.
09. He’s A Puppy
If your beloved pup is still just that- a puppy- then the nipping, gnawing, nibbling, and biting behavior is paw-sitively normal. Not only are puppies teething, but they also use their mouths to acquaint themselves with the world around them. Doing so will also help teach them to have impulse control.
This is the optimum time for the correct training with regard to mouthing. The way the behavior is approached now will help shape your dogs’ behavior in the years to come. There is an absolutely right way and a wrong way to deal with this particular conduct.
Dogs can’t google, not yet anyway. So they have to come up with unique and inventive ways to conduct their research and this is typically performed with their mouths. Dogs use their snouts (and mouths) to inspect and investigate everything.
The nibbling could very well be his way of exploring the situation. Started using a new lotion? Have you been playing with Fluffy, the cat down the street? Fido knows what’s up and he probably used his mouth to figure it out.
07. Show Of Possession
No, we don’t mean demons (although some dogs make you wonder….). Placing his mouth on you can be him claiming possession of his human (that’d be you). This is usually done in a very gentle manner and not aggressive in nature.
Mild possessiveness is normal and healthy, however, if it starts to lead to aggressive behavior you might want to consider curbing the behavior.
Nibbling, especially if it is a residual behavior from puppyhood, can soothe, calm, and bring comfort to your pooch. Nibbling is comparative to a child sucking their thumb or a cat kneading. The action itself reminds the dog of being a baby and being comforted by mom. And, since you’re the new mom in town, you are the new comfort base.
05. Teething Behaviors From Puppyhood
Teething is not exclusive to human babies, as anything with teeth is going to go through some sort of ‘teething’ phase. Some dogs grow out of it completely while some bring nibbling behavior into adulthood. It can help comfort and soothe them.
Be warned: This can mimic the behavior of a dog suffering from oral or dental problems.
Some dogs, not unlike their human counterparts, are more anxious and prone to nervous behaviors than others. These feelings can cause your dog to nibble, gnaw, or even suckle on your hands and fingers.
This is usually simply a coping mechanism on the part of the canine, however, you should always be aware of subtle body language changes as an anxious or nervous dog might lash out inadvertently.
03. Oral Issues
Tooth pain stinks no matter what species you are. Sometimes a dog gnawing, mouthing, or nibbling on/at you could very well be an indication of an underlying oral issue. Cavities, gingivitis, and periodontal disease can all cause irritation and discomfort.
This can cause your dog to become agitated which he then alleviates by mouthing or nibbling on your hands and/or fingers. Dental problems can become serious fairly quickly (infection, oral tumor). If you suspect any kind of oral problem, you should consult with your veterinarian.
Do you know how Cocker Spaniels are known for tinkling a bit when they get overexcited? This is the same concept but without the urine. Some dogs get so riled up and overexcited that they start nibbling on their nearest favorite thing/person.
This can include you or his best furry mate. If a nearby hand or furry bottom gets a sudden, unexpected nibble, it could just be Fido getting a wee bit excited.
01. Show Of Affection
This is one of the most common reasons for nibbling or mouthing behaviors in general. As is the recurring theme with our four-legged furry friends, many times they use their mouths to make a statement, with this particular statement being one of affection. That annoying little nibble is quite possibly your beloved canine companion letting it be known “I love you, hooman”.
Why This Behavior Should Not Be Tolerated
While the majority of the time mouthing behaviors are harmless, it is best not encouraged. One instance of not knowing his strength can result in serious consequences. Although likely unintended, damage can be done by those doggy teeth, especially to those who are super young or elderly, whose skin might not be as hardy as your own.
How To Stop Or Minimize The Issue
- Be firm: “No!” Or “Gentle!” In a firm, even tone should eventually get the point across.
- Time out: Because your dog’s most important aim in life is to please you, even a small amount of time with no acknowledgment or affection from you, is likely to make him pay attention. If he still shows mouthing behavior after being told not to, ignore him for 10-15 minutes, even separating yourself from him physically if need be.
- Positive reinforcement: This is so important. When your pooch is showing restraint and has not been nibbling or mouthing, offer him some praise or a Scooby snack. Dogs learn by conditioning and positive reinforcement will ensure that the lesson sticks.
Every human-dog relationship is a learning process, and there is no pass or fail. Getting to the root of the problem is going to greatly increase your chances of success in training your pooch. And, of course, the perfect weapon to correcting any canine behavior is knowing your dog. With that in mind, this should be approached just like anything else in your joint lives: together and with plenty of love.