There is no doubt that you are your dog’s favorite person. We spend so much time with our dogs feeding, grooming, walking, and snuggling that our dogs seem to offer such unconditional. Sometimes unconditional love looks like lots of kisses, or licking, while other dogs express their love through gentle nibbles.
We know dogs can hurt you with their teeth, and while they might not be as strong as a Rottweiler, even a tiny chihuahua can cause damage with a bite. But if you have ever been nibbled on by a dog, it is easy to observe that they do not have any intentions of hurting you. Especially if they are exhibiting relaxed body language.
So what causes your dog to nibble on you?
Gentle nibbles from your dog can show affection, curiosity, submissiveness, or playfulness. If you have accidentally reinforced this behavior your dog might nibble on you to get your attention. Nibbling on you is not usually a big deal, but some dogs or puppies might nibble when stressed or if their teeth hurt.
So let’s take a closer look at the reasons that make your dog nibbles on you. We will also look at when nibbling becomes a problem or concern and what you can do to help your dog or change the behavior.
Why Does My Dog Nibble On Me Gently?
Also known as cobbing, some dogs get in the habit of enjoying nibbling on their owners gently. Cobbing is a different behavior than biting. Even a dog that bites when playing or getting aggressive zoomies might accidentally hurt you. Depending on how strong your dog is, they might break the skin.
Whereas nibbling and cobbing is a much gentler activity not meant to cause damage. It is usually more of an affectionate, submissive behavior that a dog tends to do on someone they trust. Take a look at the video below to see how gentle cobbing is and why a nibble is very different than a bite.
Did you notice in the video that the dog is only using their front teeth? It almost appears they are gently nibbling on a cob of corn, hence the name “cobbing.” By only using the front teeth, the dog is not showing any aggression and instead exhibiting harmless behavior.
Cobbing is a non-aggressive behavior, but dog teeth still can hurt. Though they are trying to be affectionate, they can accidentally pinch while nibbling on you.
Reason 1. Puppy Behavior
Dogs learn to nibble on things from their mother as puppies. A mother shows her affection to her puppies by grooming and keeping them clean through cobbing. Therefore, nibbling is a very common behavior in puppies. They nibble on blankets, on you, or even on other dogs.
When you bring your puppy home, they no longer have siblings or a mother dog to nibble on, so naturally they will turn that nibbling to their new best friend; you. If you engage with them, they will learn that you do not mind being nibbled on.
Just remember that raising a puppy often becomes harder before it gets easier. Growing up as a puppy is a lot of hard work, and it can be stressful. They have to acclimate to a completely new home without the help of their mother, experience growing pains, and on top of all of that are losing their baby teeth. It is painful, and nibbling on you can help relieve some of that pain.
Puppy teething usually ends when their adult teeth grow in at around 6 months old, but until then your puppy needs help managing the pain, or they might start nibbling on you. This video shows you how to prepare teething remedies to help them redirect from your skin onto more appropriate toys.
Reason 2. You Taste Good
Simply put, your dog might like nibbling on you because you taste good. Your dog might not be able to get enough of nibbling you if they love the taste of your lotion, your sweat, or if you smell extra interesting after working in the garden all day. Some dogs try to eat almost anything, so it is natural for them to nibble on you if they smell something extra good.
Taste and smell are very closely related, and because dogs have such a powerful sense of smell (over 10,000 times more powerful than a human’s sense of smell), dogs curious about the way you smell will likely investigate it by licking or cobbing.
There is nothing wrong with letting your dog nibble on you if they like the way you taste. However, be aware that certain skincare products can be toxic to your dog including, topical medications, sunscreen, retinoids (vitamin A compounds), and anything with avocado or grape oils.
Reason 3. Your Dog Is Showing Affection
Similar to a dog licking you when you cuddle, dogs like to nibble on you because they love you. Cobbing is something dogs experienced as a puppy since their mother had to use her teeth to gently clean her puppies.
The mother dog in the video below shows you how important the grooming and nibbling experience is; not only does she keep her puppies clean but she also bonds with them.
Since your puppy already associates cobbing with the love and affection their mother showered onto them as puppies, they are likely going to mirror the same behavior to show you how much they love you. So do not worry, your dog is not trying to hurt you when they gently nibble on you, they are letting you know how happy they are to be with you!
Studies have shown that oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone” increase in both dogs and people when they are together. So the more your dog comes to trust you, the more likely they will exhibit behaviors like nibbling you to show you how happy they are.
Reason 4. Your Dog Wants Attention
Dogs who want to play all the time have a lot of different ways to express that need. Perhaps your dog brings you a toy, paws at you, or gets the zoomies (Frenetic Random Activity Periods or FRAPs)? If they also nibble on you while displaying these behaviors, there is a good chance it is only a play nibble and that they want your attention.
One of the best ways to know if your dog wants to play when they nibble on you is to check their body language. Other playful body language includes play-bows, wagging tail, and soft eyes.
All dogs need at least a little bit of daily exercise and mental stimulation, even if you own a breed that does not need to run a marathon every day. If your dog is nibbling you because they want attention or to play, they might need more enrichment. Take them for a walk or get them some new enrichment toys to keep them busy and not nibbling on you.
Reason 5. Your Dog Is Submissive
The old-school idea of dominance has been disproved but that does not mean that dogs do not show submissive behaviors. There are many ways a dog might show respect, or appeasement, towards you. For example, dogs that show their belly, lick you or nibble on you.
No, your dog nibbling on you does not make you the alpha. Your relationship with your dog is a lot more complex than being alpha. Submissiveness just shows that your dog respects the boundaries that you have established in your household.
A great way to bond with your dog is to use positive reinforcement and treats to help create a strong relationship based on trust.
When your dog submissively nibbles on you, know that it is because they trust you and are not scared of you.
Reason 6. Your Dog Is Stressed
Since cobbing is an instinctual behavior, a stressed or anxious dog might resort to nibbling on you when they are nervous. Other instinctual behaviors that anxious dogs exhibit include shaking or humping. If you do not let your dog nibble on you when they are stressed, they might try to redirect to your clothes.
There are many reasons that your dog might decide to stress nibble on you. Dogs that are scared of loud noises like fireworks, thunder, or gunshots might nibble on you because they find comfort in the behavior.
Separation anxiety can cause a dog to nibble on you as well because they are so relieved when you are home. If your dog has separation anxiety or stresses easily and they like to nibble on you, cobbing becomes a stress reliever. Be careful that this behavior does not become compulsive and give them plenty of outlets in the forms of enrichment and exercise to help reduce their stress.
For dogs whose stress or anxiety escalates from gentle nibbling to howling, accidents in the house, or suddenly destroying things, do not hesitate to reach out to a trainer or veterinarian for help and guidance.
Reason 7. You Accidentally Reinforced It
When your dog starts nibbling on you, do you immediately interact with them? If you do, you are inadvertently rewarding that behavior and have reinforced nibbling on you.
Dogs are quick learners and easily pick up on patterns. Once they learn that you will start petting or playing with them if they nibble on you, they will start cobbing whenever they want your attention.
Luckily, it is easy to start changing the behavior; ignore them when they nibble on you. Without interacting with them, simply get up and walk away. This is called extinction. The unwanted behavior is no longer rewarded, so your dog will no longer want to nibble on you. Extinction also works with other unwanted behaviors like jumping.
Should You Let Your Dog Nibble On You?
Cobbing is generally a harmless behavior, but dog teeth are still sharp and they might accidentally get you in a sensitive spot like your nose.
Therefore, it is acceptable to not want your dog to nibble on you. We already discussed extinction as a way to curb the habit of cobbing, but what are some other ways to change your dog’s behavior.?
Consistency is going to be the key to stopping your dog from nibbling on you. Besides ignoring them, you can also work on redirection. Redirection, or “Redirecting focus from a negative or unwanted reaction” is a great way to change unwanted nibbling. Make sure you are providing your dog with appropriate toys and redirect their nibbling onto those.
Enrichment toys like snuffle mats are a great way to redirect nibbling. It encourages cobbing but in a more appropriate way that does not end with you suffering from bruises. Below is a video showing dogs using snuffle mats and how to make one yourself.
Should You Be Worried?
While some people might not like their dogs nibbling on them, cobbing is usually not a behavior to be worried about. However, it can be an indication that your dog is having dental issues and might need to be seen by a veterinarian.
Puppy teething is never a cause for concern since it is a normal process of growing up, but adult dogs can get some pretty serious teeth issues as they get older that require medical help.
Personally, with my dogs, I have dealt with cracked teeth, infected teeth, and loose teeth. My dogs get annual check-ups at the veterinarian and my chihuahua mixes get annual dental cleaning to keep their teeth as healthy as possible. All dogs can have dental pain, but small dogs tend to have the most issues with their mouth and teeth.
If your dog is suddenly nibbling on things, they could be trying to release the pressure on a painful tooth. Dental disease is very common for adult dogs and the best way to keep up with your dog’s dental health and hygiene is to brush their teeth and have your veterinarian take a look at them when they go in for their regular check-up.
At some point in your life with your canine best friend, they will probably do quirky things and be downright weird. One of those things might include nibbling on you.
Nibbling on you, or cobbing is usually a dog behavior that shows affection, curiosity, submissiveness, or stress, or they are doing it to seek attention. Sometimes we have accidentally reinforced it by petting them or are happy when they nibble on us. Nibbling is not meant to be aggressive, but dogs can accidentally hurt you when they are cobbing.
Therefore, you do not have to allow your dog to nibble on you if you. Try some positive reinforcement and force-free training techniques like redirection and extinction if you want to stop this behavior.
Finally, as a responsible dog owner, it is your job to make sure cobbing is not a behavior that comes from stress or pain. Besides cobbing, exhibiting other behaviors like yawning and panting, could mean your dog is scared or nervous. They could also be trying to relieve pain if they are suffering from a dental issue.
A certified trainer or veterinarian will work with you to help get to the bottom of your dog’s anxiety or medical issue, ensuring that you have years of adventures and perhaps the occasional love nibble.