Why Does My Dog Nibble on Me With Its Front Teeth?
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Those who have owned or been around dogs for a long time know that dogs, especially puppies and those going through puberty, sometimes nibble on their guardians or objects without apparent reason. This behavior is also referred to by some pet owners as "cobbing" or "corn on the cob" and consists of small, quick and repetitive bites that normally do not cause harm. This can be interpreted differently depending on the context and relationship between the dog and its caretaker.
Our AnimalWised article explains why your dog nibbles on you, what it could, and how you should handle the situation.
Why do dogs bite?
Dogs use their mouths for much more than just chewing and carrying objects: It is a means of expression, communication, and exploration of the environment. Many of us think that some behaviors of dogs are strange, pathological, or meaningless. Dogs communicate quite differently from humans and exhibit a wide range of behaviors that are characteristic of their species and therefore completely normal. Biting is one of those behaviors that can take on different meanings depending on context, intensity, and emotion. There is an explanation for each behavior and we, as caregivers, must learn to interpret it correctly.
If your dog regularly nibbles on you, it may be the result of these situations:
- Exploratory Behavior: Puppies and growing dogs are very curious and explore the world around them best with their mouths. Through small bites, they discover new tastes and textures and make contact with other individuals. This is why puppies bite and "chase" anything that moves fast, such as our hands and feet.
- Play: If you go to a dog park, you will see that dogs bite and chase each other, which is natural, since we should not forget their hunting instinct. For dogs, humans are part of their social group, so they apply the same play structure to us and enjoy chasing after us and nibbling on our bodies as soon as they reach us.
- Boredom and craving attention: Dogs tend to learn by association to get the attention of their caregivers by nibbling on a body part or even reaching into their pants and pulling on it with their teeth. Your dog may not only pull on your clothes, but also bite to get your attention when they are bored or frustrated.
- Demanding space: Whenever a dog is uncomfortable or agitated, they sends calming signals. These are usually very subtle (e.g., yawning, smacking, or averting the face) and are often ignored by humans. In response, dogs commonly exhibit more intense threat signals like growling, exhibiting a raised tail, and wrinkling their muzzles.
What causes my dog to nibble on me?
Dogs often bite in the form of small, quick nibbles, using only their upper and lower incisors, i.e., the teeth at the front of their mouths. This behavior is performed with their jaws virtually closed, giving the impression that they are chattering their teeth as we do when we are cold. Oddly enough, they do this not only to their caregivers and other people, but also to objects, other animals, or themselves.
If your dog nibbles on you with their teeth and start biting you quickly and rhythmically, do not worry! This is not necessarily a bad thing, but a way to show affection. They do this when they are relaxed, usually when they are resting quietly next to you, and it usually involves a bit of licking. When they show this behavior with other animals, whether they are dogs or not, it is a sign of a strong and positive relationship between them.
On the other hand, when dogs nibble on themselves in this way, they usually do so to scratch themselves or to remove a parasite (such as a flea) or a small object caught in their hair. If you notice that your dog is scratching frequently in this way, you should make sure that you deworm your dog appropriately and offer it enough incentives in its environment, because excessive nibbling can be caused by stress or boredom.
It is also possible that you have seen your dog nibbling on a blanket, stuffed animal or their own bed. In this case, the behavior is called a “sucking reflex” and is an instinctive behavior that dogs develop as puppies in the suckling stage. The movement of the mouth on the object is very similar to what puppies do when they drink milk from their mother. There is nothing wrong or pathological about this, it is simply a habit that some adults maintain and perform in moments of relaxation.
Check out this article on how to relax a nervous dog if you want to know more about how to make your dog happy and relaxed.
What to do if my dog bites me?
You should not scold your dog when they nibble you tenderly. Your dog is only showing you how much they appreciate you. However, if your dog does this too intensely, just move your hand away and keep petting them. Most likely, they will not insist on biting.
This is how you should react when your dog nibbles on you to show their affection. However, there may be other reasons why your dog engages in this behavior. Here are some of the most common scenarios and how you should respond in each one.
Nibbling to get attention
If your dog has developed a habit of snapping their mouth at your hand or pulling at your clothes to get your attention or to treat them, there are things you can do to change this habit. To achieve this, you should avoid rewarding your dog when they bite you, which means that you must not pay attention to them at that moment. You should also not scold them, because if you do that, the dog will also achieve their goal of making you stop what you are doing and give them attention.
When the dog realizes that their behavior is no longer producing the desired result, a phenomenon called a “peak” or “explosion” of behavior is likely to occur. Our attempt to eliminate this behavior (nibbling) causes an opposite reaction in the dog at first. Do not be surprised if the frequency, duration or intensity of the nibbling increases.
This is called a behavioral explosion and is perfectly normal in extinction processes because the animal is confused about why its behavior is not being reinforced, so it tries harder. After a while, your dog will eventually understand that they are no longer getting our attention this way, and the behavior tends to subside. Of course, every time we stop reinforcing a behavior, we need to reinforce another behavior so that the dog has an alternative course of action.
Nibbling as part of the game
If your dog bites you while playing or if they are still puppies, we can expect them to want to explore the world around them, you should not worry, because this behavior is completely normal and healthy for the animal. However, if your dog is very rough and bites you with their teeth, you should teach them from an early age how to suppress biting. Also, you can always provide them with stuffed animals, ropes or chew toys if they get too excited or play too rough. Listed below are some articles you might find useful in this regard:
Nibbling due to discomfort
If you suspect that your dog is biting you because they are uncomfortable, you should respect their boundaries and not force them to interact with you if they do not feel like it at that moment. Therefore, try to find out the reason for your dog's tension and stress and learn dog language to communicate with them effectively and improve your bond. You can also consult a professional educator or ethologist if necessary, but we also provide you with some articles that you can read on this topic:
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