Dogs rely on their mouths for just about everything. Obviously, they utilize their strong jaws and teeth for eating. But you'll notice that they also use them to play with other dogs, explore the world around them, and mess around with toys.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that some dogs use their mouths to interact with humans.
That's typically frowned upon, as many believe that any form of mouth play leads to biting. However, the type of mouth interaction we're talking about today is the front-tooth nibble.
You've probably encountered it at some point. It's when your dog uses his front set of teeth, called the incisors, to nibble on your clothes or skin gently.
This type of biting doesn't hurt and is usually more playful or affectionate in nature. So, why does your dog do it?
Understanding the Difference Between Bites and Nibbles
Before we get into the potential reasons for nibbling, let's go over the different mouth interactions your dog can have.
The first and most recognizable is biting.
A bite is a full-mouth chomp. Contrary to popular belief, it's not always aggressive! Some dogs will accidentally bite owners when they get too carried away in play.
It might hurt for a second, but those unintentional bites are usually nothing more than a bit of pressure.
Now, full-blown bites are pretty easy to spot before they happen.
Dogs often give warnings before an aggressive bite comes. They might wrinkle their muzzle, expose all of their teeth, and growl. That's when you know that it's serious!
As long as their tail is wagging and you see no other signs of aggression, bites are innocent and accidental.
Nibbling is the playful little chews that dogs do with their front teeth.
The best way to think of it is to imagine your dog chewing corn on the cob! They only use incisors.
The front teeth are flat. They don't have the sharpness of the canines or the strength that comes with molar-based bites. As a result, nibbles are pretty soft and gentle.
The same goes for mouthing. However, mouthing is usually a whole-mouth nibble. It's a happy medium between accidental bites and fun nibbles. In most cases, dogs won't apply pressure when mouthing.
Potential Reasons Why Your Dog Nibbles on You
Now that we have that out of the way, let's explore some possible reasons for the behavior. Dogs are complex creatures, and there's no way to pinpoint their reasoning.
But, we can use context clues and what we know about canine psychology to get a better idea.
In a vast majority of cases, nibbling is nothing more than a moment of play. Dogs use their mouths to play with other canines all the time.
To the uninitiated, biting fits look like a dog fight. However, there's nothing but love!
The same goes with a dog nibbling on your arm or clothes. They want to play and are trying to get you riled up!
Nibbling is a pretty standard way for dogs to deal with fear.
However, it's more prevalent in dogs that come from less-than-stellar backgrounds. Many canines come out of bad homes with a form of PTSD.
Fear brings out the worst in them, and everything from loud sounds to flashing lights can trigger those old memories. Biting is how they cope.
In this case, you may want to consult a behavioralist. A well-trained professional can help your dog work through its issues.
Nibbling is also used as a way to deal with anxiety.
Pups with separation anxiety are the worst offenders. Not only do they chew on you, but they could spend hours nibbling on a kennel door.
In addition to nibbling, your dog might suckle on your finger or gnaw on your clothing. You're most likely to witness that behavior in unfamiliar situations.
Make sure to keep an eye on their body language, as the anxiety can quickly turn to aggression.
A Sign of Affection
Here's another super-common reason for nibbling, and it's the one you want to experience the most! It could just be your dog's way of letting you know how much they love you!
Canines exhibit affection in odd ways, and this is one of them.
While it can be annoying at first, it's always good to feel the love!
If you want to put a stop to this behavior, you can direct your dog's nibbling to a toy instead.
Sometimes, your dog could nibble on you in the act of grooming.
If you pay close enough attention, you'll see your dog chewing on its own skin from time to time. It's an easy way to deal with itchiness.
If your dog goes from licking to nibbling, it's probably their way of grooming you. Why does your dog feel the need to groom you?
It all comes down to love and affection! They think they're doing you a favor and spreading love in the process.
Are you wearing a new piece of clothing? Or maybe you returned home and have the scent of another animal on you?
Whatever the case may be, don't be surprised if your dog nibbles on you to investigate.
As we said earlier, canines use their mouths to explore the world! Light nibbles let them check out the situation.
You're more likely to see this behavior in the presence of other dogs. For example, your pup might start nibbling on your clothes when you're at the dog park or in a training classroom.
It's a way to show other dogs that you are theirs!
It's like the same thing as you holding onto your pup's lead.
They want the world to know that you're with them, so everyone else should back off! While unorthodox, it's undoubtedly endearing.
An Act of Comfort
When dogs are young, nibbling and other mouth interactions are important for bonding. It's how they connect with their mothers, bringing many newborn puppies comfort.
In some cases, the nibbling is residual behavior from your dog's puppy years.
They're nibbling on you because it mimics what they did with their mother.
It brings them peace and helps to provide a bit of solace in a crazy world!
Mouth Pain or Discomfort
Another thing puppies learn in their formative years is how to use chewing to deal with pain. Like humans, puppies go through a teething phase when those pearly whites first come in.
Adults will resort to that same behavior when dealing with mouth pain. Your pooch could have damaged teeth, a mouth ulcer, or general dental pain.
Bring them to a vet as soon as you can to see what issues Fido is trying to alleviate.
Dogs love to chew and nibble. However, life experiences teach them not to gnaw at every object they find.
Some dogs have poor impulse control, giving in to those inherent urges. You'll know that this is the case for your dog because nibbling will become a very regular thing.
Your pup can't help itself!
The best thing you can do is wean them away from nibbling. Act as if the bite hurt you to teach them that nibbling is wrong. Alternatively, you can direct the behavior to a chew toy.
Ever seen a dog accidentally urinate when they get excited? The same concept applies to nibbling. Some dogs do it out of sheer excitement. It's a way to calm down.
They get so caught up in the emotions that they must find the nearest thing to nibble on!
A Quick Taste
Finally, your dog could nibble on your skin because they like the taste.
Human skin is naturally salty, which is something dogs love.
If your canine companion is chewing on your hand, you could have some food remnants or scents on there, too!
For the most part, your dog's penchant for nibbling on your with its front teeth is innocent. It's a form of affection and love. If it's becoming a bit annoying, there are plenty of ways to wean your dog away from you.
You could train them to use a toy or divert their attention elsewhere.
Don't worry! Your dog won't love you any less if you decide to train the nibbling behavior out of their everyday interactions. They'll just have to find another way to show you how much you matter!