A happy adult dog who has been trained not to nibble on its owner.

Why Does My Dog Nibble on Me?

Dogs don’t have the benefit of opposable thumbs and the dexterity that comes with them, so like a large number of other members of the animal kingdom, they have to rely on using their mouths alone to do a lot of things. Puppies are primarily reliant on their mouths and will nibble everything from toys to people and other dogs to try and get a sense of what things are. Because of that, it can sometimes be challenging to determine what your dog is trying to communicate to you when they decide to nibble on your clothes, hands, feet, or other areas of your body. Please continue to learn why your fuzzy friend insists on nibbling you and what you can do to help train them out of that behavior.

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Why Do Dogs Like to Nibble?

A puppy in the sand with a ball to nibble on.

Dogs, especially younger dogs, tend to use nibbling as a way to serve many different purposes. In the case of puppies, it may be an indication of teething and serve as a helpful sign that it’s time to pick up some new teething toys to help protect your clothes (and couch, and dinner table, and basically anything else the little cutie can reach while their new teeth are coming in). It’s also often used as a type of exploration, a way to encourage other dogs and humans to play with them, and a way to show affection. Generally speaking, if your dog is gently nibbling you with its front teeth (almost as if you were a delicious piece of corn on the cob), then it’s likely just trying to get you to play or telling you that it loves you by gently grooming you. And if it’s nibbling on you with excitement and a rapidly wagging tail, it’s likely an indication that it’s time to play or go on a walk.

Related: Why Do Dogs Like Squeaky Toys?

While some may find this behavior cute, especially in puppies, it’s something that responsible dog owners will want to discourage starting at a young age. This is because those gentle nibbles can quickly turn into some pretty painful bites if they get too excited, primarily once they have grown up and developed their permanent teeth. This is also why it’s important to discourage other mouthing behaviors in dogs, particularly biting and mouthing. The latter of which is a lot like nibbling, but the key difference is that the dog will use most of their mouth instead of just their front teeth. Dogs will typically do this when they are playing and excited, and like nibbling, it isn’t intended to be a dominant behavior or act of aggression. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to let your dog nibble and mouth you, as it could potentially lead to a bite in the wrong situation, especially once they’ve grown older.

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How To Stop Your Dog From Nibbling

A puppy chewing on a yellow pig toy to keep it from nibbling its owner’s hands.

There are several ways you can slowly help your dog get rid of its nibbling habit. Still, it’s likely to take some time and patience, considering that nibbling is an instinctual behavior that makes total sense for a species that needs to use its mouth for virtually everything. To start, you can try acting like a puppy yourself! When puppies are young and first learning how to play with one another, one will yelp if they get nibbled on too hard, which indicates their siblings need to calm down a little and not be so rough. According to the ASPCA, one way to encourage your dog to stop nibbling is by letting out a loud “Ouch!” whenever they try to nibble. Then, stop interacting with them for half a minute to 60 seconds to reinforce the fact that their nibbling behavior isn’t something they should be doing. It can also be helpful to quickly replace your hands, feet (or whatever other part of you they want to nibble) with a fun chew toy to help them learn what they should and shouldn’t be chewing on.

If your dog has a habit of trying to nibble on you while you pet them, consider feeding them a few healthy treats or pieces of dog food to help keep their mouth occupied while giving them attention. This will teach them that not nibbling on you is good, and they will get more rewards if they don’t do it. However, if that doesn’t work, you can also invest in some basic taste deterrent from your local pet supply store or online. These are a type of training spray that tastes gross to dogs, discouraging them from putting their mouth on whatever you’ve sprayed, including your hands and feet. Whichever methods you decide to stick with, remember to stay calm and never try to yell at your dog or get physical with them as a response to nibbling, as this can quickly escalate into playful behavior or even outright aggression on the part of your pet.

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Final Factors to Keep In Mind For Your Nibbling Pooch

Nibbling is a common characteristic of many dogs, especially when they are young. And while the practice may seem cute and harmless, it’s best to start training them out of the behavior as soon as possible to avoid potential biting problems in the future. Just remember to be patient and that your dog isn’t doing it to try and be naughty or defiant. At worst, they’re just trying to better understand the world around them, and at best, they are telling you that they love you a lot and just want to play. So take your time with your fuzzy buddy and help them learn which behaviors they should and shouldn’t be doing. And if you'd like to find out even more information about why your dog does the things they do, consider checking out the range of quality dog guides proudly presented by the pet experts at Runball today. Also, don’t forget to browse their selection of durable dog tugs and rope toys, as well as their delicious baked dog treats.

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