In the dog world, nibbling is considered a grooming gesture. You might have seen your dog nibbling on themselves, but they also nibble on each other.
A dog nibbling on you with their front teeth is a gesture of affection, bonding time, or simply a playful behavior intended to incite play in some cases.
Some owners call it corn cobbing, as the dogs do it with their front teeth, much like eating corn on a cob.
Why Does My Dog Nibble?
Dogs interact with the world around them with their mouths, and nibbling is one of the many ways they communicate with us and each other. Here are a few reasons why your dog might nibble:
- soothing & stress release
- getting attention
As I mentioned above, grooming is a typical reason for nibbling. Dogs groom themselves to scratch and itch, to get rid of parasites, dirt, stuck twigs, or anything like that on them and in their fur.
Nibbling on another dog is called allogrooming, which basically means mutual grooming, though one party may remain passive. Allogrooming happens with dogs in close relationships – between mother and her puppies, siblings, and even unrelated dogs who share a household.
This nibbling is also common in wild wolves!
If you have multiple dogs who get bonded well, you may have witnessed this nibbling a lot. Usually it starts with licking the ears and can progress to nibbling on the neck and head.
Some dogs may also display this behavior on cats they live with and are great pals with, and of course, us, and that ties to the next reason why dogs nibble.
In the canine world, grooming is basically a way to show affection.
When dogs nibble on people, it’s called nitting, and it’s a type of allogrooming. Many dog owners refer to it as corn-cobbing, which I think is pretty accurate.
Since we don’t have fur like they do, we can’t be essentially groomed like their dog friends.
Still, nibbling promotes social bonding in their world and a way to show you that they love you.
Many times, when your dog is hyper, they may start to nibble on you. It’s not the same as mouthing, but more on that below. How do you tell the difference between affectionate and playful nibbling?
Usually, affectionate nibbling happens when the dog is calm and relaxed. On the playful side, their tails will wag, and they might pant in excitement.
Nelly likes to nibble our forearms, especially as a playful gesture when she’s on her back, and we’re petting her. It’s adorable, but she has the tendency to pinch my skin. And I thought wearing a thicker hoodie would fix it, but no, she still manages to pinch in her excitement.
I would put a video here of her doing it, but since it stings, I don’t let her do it for long. If I can film it, I’ll add it here. In the meantime, enjoy this video of wild wolves grooming each other!
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Nooking & stress release
Nooking is a behavior typical for Weimaraners and Dobermans, although any breed of dog can do it. Nooking refers to a suckling behavior, where the dog will nibble on a blanket or a soft plush toy.
It’s a self-soothing gesture, usually done before bedtime or when they’re relaxed. I wrote an entire article on nooking here, where you can learn more about this behavior.
Nibbling can also be a stress release behavior. Especially if your pup suffers with separation anxiety. Their nibbling can turn into chewing and eventually destruction. Make sure to read my guide for separation anxiety.
Not paying your pup enough attention? Some dogs may nibble on you, so you can pet them or play with them.
A teething puppy nibble is different from an adult nibbling, as they’re trying to soothe their sore gums
- Dogs interact with the world with their mouths
- Most often your dog displays affection when they nibble on you
- Nibbling can also signal a playful behavior
- Nibbling is a bonding grooming gesture and is often done to other bonded dogs and even cats
Is Nibbling a Sign of Illness?
Excessive nibbling can indeed be a sign of parasites or something else going on, depending on the part of their body they’re nibbling on.
I know one dog who nibbled on his tail, and it turned out it was broken, so they can definitely nibble a spot that’s painful.
If your dog keeps nibbling and licking their paws, make sure to inspect them for any stuck grass. If they're obsessively nibbling on a blanket or a toy, make sure they're not swallowing any fabric and try to determine why.
When in doubt, please consult your vet.
Can Nibbling Be Dangerous?
Nibbling is different from biting, so it’s not dangerous per se. However, human skin is thinner, and we don’t have fur, so the dog often pinches it when they’re corn cobbing. This can be painful, and the dog may cause accidental bruising, especially on children and seniors.
How to Stop a Dog from Nibbling on Me?
Nibbling can be pretty cute, but it can get annoying if it’s happening often. Your dog can also pinch your skin, and while we appreciate their display of affection, we’re not that keen on being hurt.
If you’d like to stop your dog from nibbling on you, here are a few tips:
- Voice it – “ouch“, “no“, “gentle” or “leave it” are all good commands to use if your dog knows them.
- Leave – remove yourself from the situation and don’t pay any attention to the dog for 10 minutes or so. Don’t pet them, don’t talk to them or look at them if you’re relaxing on a couch. If you think you can’t do that, you can try leaving the room altogether.
- Reward – you can get them a toy they enjoy, a treat and praise for not nibbling you
Repeat as needed, and hopefully the nibbling will lessen in time.
How Do I Stop Nelly from Nibbling on Me?
Nelly’s love & play nibbles actually hurt. She’s not meaning to, and I don’t punish her for it, because I know why she’s doing it.
As she usually nibbles when she’s on her back, and I’m petting her, I move my hand out of her reach and pet her elsewhere or simply step away. She typically relaxes and calms down from her playful state.
How is nibbling different from mouthing or biting?
Nibbling is done through the incisors (aka the front teeth). Mouthing, as the name suggests, is done with their whole mouth.
Mouthing is very similar to nibbling in that it’s mostly harmless. The key difference is that your pup will use most of their mouth, but won’t apply any pressure.
Read more Why Is My Dog Aggressive Towards Other Dogs?
Dogs do this typically when they are excited. You might feel their teeth, of course, but they know not to chomp down. It happens when they’re in play mode, someone is greeting them, or they’re just super excited.
It can be a pain because some people may feel intimidated by a dog mouthing them. If the excitement gets too much, they might apply a little pressure.
Keep in mind that mouthing is always a playful action, even on other dogs.
Correcting mouthing behavior
If this is an issue for you, one simple way to avoid mouthing is by giving your dog a toy whenever they’re getting too excited.
You can also stop any activity that made your dog this excited by saying “all done” or something similar. If you have a command for your dog to calm down, then even better!
Biting can be completely different from nibbling and mouthing. On one hand, a dog may bite if they’re getting a bit too carried away in play.
Other times, it can be an aggressive gesture. However, it’s easy to spot the difference and if you’re paying attention to your dog’s body language, you can stop an escalation and potential bites.
If your dog looks rigid, their muzzle is wrinkled and showing all of their teeth, they are expressing aggressive behavior because they feel agitated, threatened or scared.
Some people also point out the raised hackles on their back (piloerection) to be a display of aggression, but it’s not always. It signals arousal, which can be from excitement, fear, uncertainty, and aggression among other things.
- nibbling (corn cobbing) is always done just with their incisors
- pay attention to your dog’s body language to distinguish between playful and aggressive biting
- Why is my dog sucking on toys and blankets? Guide to nooking
- Guide to separation anxiety
- Why are Weimaraners so clingy?
- G., B. B. V. (2009). Canine behavior insights and answers (Vol. 2). Saunders/Elsevier.
- Canine grooming behavior. Veterian Key (link)
— Update: 20-03-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Why does my dog nibble on my other dog? from the website petdogowner.com for the keyword why do dogs nibble each other.
If your dog has been nibbling on your other dog a lot, you might be wondering why and what you can do about it. This post will show you a number of possible causes and what you can do about them.
So, why does my dog nibble on my other dog? Possible reasons why your dog nibbles your other dog are that it is playing, it is actually being submissive, it does it naturally, or that it is being dominant.
There are actually a number of possible reasons why your dog might have been doing it and it might be due to a combination of reasons. However, there are a number of things you can consider when figuring out the main cause and there are a number of things you can do about it.
Reasons why your dog nibbles on your other dog
Below are a number of possible causes and what would make each of them more likely.
It is playing
It could be the case that your dog does it because it is actually just playing. This would be more likely if your dog shows signs of excitement when doing it such as by doing things such as wagging its tail. In this case, it could help to give it other things to play with such as toys.
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Often, people jump to the conclusion that their dogs do it because they are trying to be dominant. However, the alpha/beta dynamic has been disproven in studies showing that wolves take turns in taking the lead.
Despite that, it could be doing it due to bullying behavior which would be more likely if your dog does it aggressively, it tries to make your other dog move, and if it shows signs of aggression when doing it. In this case, it would help to get it to learn to behave the way you want it to with training programs such as NLIF (“Nothing in Life is Free) dog training.
Encouraging the behavior
It could be the case that it has learned that the behavior gets rewarded. If you tend to give your dog things such as toys, treats, or extra attention, when it nibbles your other dog, it will likely do it more in order to get more rewards.
A part of the cause could be that it is bored and looking for ways to stimulate itself. This would be more likely if your dog does it less after getting exercise. In this case, it would help to give it the daily amount of recommended exercise for its age and breed.
Dogs will sometimes nibble each other as a way of social bonding. If your dog does not nibble your other dog aggressively, it would be more likely that your dog has been doing it due to nature.
Another possible cause is that it is actually being submissive. Sometimes, dogs will groom other dogs when they are being submissive as a way of showing that they are not a threat to the other dog. This would be more likely if your dog tends to do it more when your other dog is aggressive. In this case, it could help to try to separate them.
Things to consider
Below are some things to consider when figuring out the main reason why your dog has been doing it.
If your dog always did it
If your dog did not always nibble your other dog, it would help to consider what else happened when it first started doing it. If it started doing it suddenly, it might be the case that it learned that the behavior gets rewarded or that something caused your dog to start being aggressive such as being in pain.
If it does it more at a certain time
It would also help to consider the timing of when your dog does it since the timing might also have something to do with it.
For example, if your dog does it when the other dog is being aggressive, it would be more likely to be submissive behavior.
What to do about your dog nibbling on your other dog
Below are some options you have when dealing with the behavior.
Avoid encouraging it
As mentioned above, it might be the case that it has learned that the behavior gets rewarded. Instead, it would help to reward your dog when it behaves the way you want and to try to avoid rewarding it when it does not.
Redirect its focus
Another option would be to try to redirect your dog’s focus when it is about to nibble your other dog. Ways to do so would be to give it toys or a bone to be distracted with or to get it to perform a task.
Give the other dog a place it can go to
Another option would be to give your other dog another place that it can go to so that it can get away from your dog when it starts nibbling.