Why Does My Dog Nibble Me with His Front Teeth?
Why Does My Dog Nibble Me with His Front Teeth?
Has your dog started nibbling on your arm or leg like they’re eating corn off the cob? If so, you may wonder what’s going on and, more importantly, if you should worry about it. The good news is that nibbling, corn cobbing, or nitting is a common behavior for many dogs that’s often – but not always – a sign of affection. Read on to learn more about nibbling, its meaning, and what you can do about it.
Top Reasons Your Dog Is Nibbling You

Reasons Your Dog Nibbles on You

They love you and want to bond. Nibbling is a common grooming behavior in dogs. They use their front teeth to scratch an itch or remove a small piece of detritus embedded in their fur, and they will use the same methods on other dogs or people. Nibbling is among the many social grooming behaviors dogs inherited from their ancestor, the grey wolf. They use grooming to bond with each other…and their human. Dogs also show affection by licking – another social grooming behavior – or leaning against you. When you pet a dog, they also consider it a grooming behavior you use to bond with them. And they’re absolutely right!

They’re anxious and want reassurance. Some dogs nibble when anxious or stressed, which helps them work out nervous energy. They may also use nibbling to tell you they need reassurance to feel better. This is most common if they are in a new environment, hear loud noises, or have a negative encounter with another animal or person. Try not to reassure your anxious dog by petting them. They consider petting a reward which can reinforce the behavior. It’s better to give the dog a calm time out in a safe place with their favorite toys and treats.

They’re bored and want attention. A bored dog does all kinds of unusual things, including destructive behaviors, obsessive licking, barking, and – you guessed it – nibbling. If they’re trying to get your attention, they may have learned that a gentle nibble earns them a scratch behind the ears or a little playtime.

They’re a teething puppy with sore gums. If your puppy is nibbling on you, they may be losing their baby teeth to make way for their permanent chompers. Teething puppies are notorious for chewing on anything they can get their mouths on. They do this because teething makes their gums sore, and chewing can relieve some of that pain. Puppy teeth are often called “needle teeth” because they’re so sharp, so you may not want a puppy nibbling on your arm. Give a teething puppy cooling chew toys that can be put in the freezer before they chew on them to help soothe their sore gums.

It’s a behavior of their breed. Some working breeds, like herding and hunting dogs, use light nips while doing their jobs. For example, Australian Shepherds are more likely to nibble on their people as a part of their herding instinct. Running around during play can cause them to nip at your legs and ankles as they try to drive you back to the rest of the “herd.”

How to Stop Your Dog Nibbling on You

Redirect your dog to desired behaviors. If you don’t want your dog to nibble on you, train them not to nibble through redirection followed by positive reinforcement. The next time your dog starts to nibble, give them a chew toy. Then, when they start to nibble on the toy, give them praise, treats, or affection to let them know that’s the appropriate behavior. Another way to discourage nibbling is through bite inhibition training. Shout “Ouch” or make a high-pitched yelp and stop interacting with your dog when they start nibbling. Doing this mimics the behavior dogs show each other and helps them learn to be gentler with you.

Identify your dog’s triggers. If your dog nibbles on you because they’re anxious, try to figure out what’s causing their anxiety. Stick to a daily routine and watch what happens just before your dog starts to nibble on you. Once you identify what makes your dog anxious, you can keep an eye out for scary situations and avoid them when possible. Consider crate training your dog to give them a safe space to go during stressful situations at home like new people coming into the house during the holidays or to make household repairs. If your dog shows severe signs of distress like howling, barking, pacing, or defecating after you leave the house, they may have separation anxiety. Address separation anxiety with behavior modification training and talk to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medications, at least in the short term.

Play with your dog or offer mental enrichment activities. Dogs need exercise and mental stimulation to live happy, healthy lives. If your dog is nibbling you to get attention, schedule regular playtime. Games like fetch, hide and seek, and tug can help you bond with your dog while burning off a little energy. Puzzle toys can also help your pup get the mental stimulation they need. Short training sessions are a great way to promote bonding, work out energy, and learn new desirable behaviors.

Differences Between Nibbles & Bites

Nibbles have light pressure and don’t hurt. Nibbling is generally not painful, though puppies may cause pain unintentionally. Dogs use their small front teeth to nibble because they’re less likely to cause injury than if they used their large canine teeth. The front incisors also tend to be more sensitive, allowing them to adjust their force if you show discomfort. Nibbling can lead to biting in the cases of an anxious dog or a puppy who doesn’t receive bite inhibition training.

Bites are more intense and can scratch, bruise, or break skin. When your dog bites down hard enough to make you flinch, it becomes a bite. Overstimulation during play can cause non-aggressive biting, but aggressive biting is often preceded by growling, snarling, or lunging. While both situations can be alarming, an overstimulated dog will often calm down once you stop playing. An aggressive dog may continue to be intimidating. If your dog shows aggression, talk to your veterinarian to rule out any health issues. If your dog is healthy, get help from a professional animal behaviorist. Biting during play is less serious than aggressive biting but can still hurt. Puppies are frequent offenders and are often called land sharks because they seem to bite anything – including you. Most dogs who bite during play respond well to bite inhibition training.

Frequently Asked Questions about Nibbling Dogs

Should you let your dog nibble on you? If you’re certain your dog is nibbling on you as a bonding behavior or sign of affection – and it doesn’t bother you – it’s usually fine to let them continue. However, if you don’t like it or there’s any question that it’s due to anxiety, you probably want to put a stop to it. You won't hurt your dog's feelings if you redirect your dog’s attention and praise appropriate behavior.

Is it okay for your dog to nibble on another dog? Dogs use nibbling to bond with each other, so this behavior is usually fine. Other signs that they’ve bonded are that they sleep together, lick each other's ears, and eat together. You may need to intervene if you see excessive grooming that leads to small wounds. If a dog doesn’t want to be groomed by another, they are often perfectly happy to handle it themselves. It's best to let them work it out unless you see signs of aggression like continued snarling and biting that causes bleeding or wounds.

What if your dog nibbles on himself? It’s normal for your dog to occasionally nibble on themselves to scratch an itch or clean their fur. However, if you notice they’re frequently nibbling on themselves, check their skin for sores, rashes, or bald patches. Many pets can develop allergies to food or environmental irritants. They may also nibble to scratch an itch caused by fleas, ringworm, or infections. If you suspect your pup has an allergy, make an appointment with your vet. They can help treat superficial skin conditions and help you figure out and address the underlying causes.

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