If your dog is nibbling on you in a playful way, it's likely to show you a bit of dog mouthing affection or to engage you in a game. Dogs, especially young puppies tend to explore the world with their mouths and nibble on people, other dogs, and toys to see what these things are.
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Although playful and gentle nibbling isn't necessarily dangerous, in older dogs it could lead to unwanted biting, so you'll likely want to discourage this behavior from a young age. And, don't forget to give your dog acceptable alternatives to nibble on.
Reasons dogs nibble
Dogs typically nibble on other dogs and humans as a way to play with them, to explore objects around them, to show dog mouthing affection, and during the teething phase of puppyhood. If your dog is nibbling on you gently, like a corncob, it's likely dog mouthing affection. While the behavior isn't generally bothersome, it's not something you want to encourage because those gentle nibbles could turn into bites if your dog gets overly excited.
Corncobbing dogs and bite inhibition
You might notice that your dog nibbles other dogs with her front teeth during play. This is normal dog behavior. When puppies play very rough with their siblings or mother and nip too hard, the other dog yelps in pain and stops the play. This teaches a dog bite inhibition, according to Pet Place.
If your dog doesn't learn bite inhibition from being socialized with other dogs at a young age, her bites may become unpleasantly hard if she is nibbling on you. She simply doesn't understand how to nibble in a gentle way.
Discourage dog nibbling
When your dog is nibbling on your hands, feet, or other body parts, it's time to stop engaging with him. Say "Ouch!" and stop interacting with your dog for 30 to 60 seconds, recommends the ASPCA. If you can, leave the room that your dog is in during this time for a doggie "timeout."
If your dog nibbles on you when you're petting his head or back, feed him treats while you pet him to occupy his mouth. This teaches him that by not nibbling on you, he gets a reward.
Another option is to use a taste deterrent, typically found in pet supply stores. These types of training sprays taste yucky to dogs and are safe to spray on your hands or feet to discourage nibbling.
Something to nibble on
The best way to teach your dog not to nibble on your body parts is to give her something that she can nibble on. While playing with your dog, if she nibbles on you, substitute a chew toy for her to nibble on instead of you, recommends the Animal Humane Society.
When playing with your puppy, don't allow her to chew on your hands. Instead, give her appropriate chew toys for her to use instead and praise her when she does. This teaches her from a young age that nibbling on you isn't acceptable but nibbling on toys is.
Avoid punishing nibbling behaviors
When it comes to teaching your dog that nibbling isn't OK, the best way to do that is to ignore or redirect the behavior. Never yell at your dog or get physical with your dog. This can quickly escalate mildly playful behavior into fully aggressive behavior.
If you're thinking "but my dog nipped someone," then it may be time to consult with an animal behaviorist to help deter this type of behavior.