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As a dog parent, you may have experienced instances where your canine friend nibbles on you with the front teeth without biting down the skin.
This behavior is known as cobbing because it is likened to the human action of nibbling corn cobs. Dogs can nibble themselves or extend it to people, other canines, cats, and even surfaces.
Are they being naughty or it’s just another form of communication with humans?
In this post, we will outline the reasons for this behavior based on the findings of pet behavior experts and give you a few tips on how to stop it if it’s a concern to you.
Why Does My Dog Nibble on Me Like Corn on The Cob?
So, why is your dog nibbling on you? The following are some of the possible explanations for this behavior:
1. Teething in puppies
Puppies may nibble on their owners (and other items) during the teething phase which typically occurs at 4 to 6 months old.
During this period, the young dogs develop a set of 42 permanent adult teeth while shedding the 28 deciduous teeth.
The teething process is usually uncomfortable for puppies and they may nibble on you as a way of relieving pain.
2. Display of affection
Your canine friend may gently nibble on you using the front teeth as a display of affection and love. This can be compared to hugging in humans.
When playing and cuddling with your furry friend, do not be surprised when they peck on your arms. This is a calm gesture of showing appreciation and expressing their strong love for you.
Dog cobbing can also be seen in nursing dogs as they softly nibble on their puppies to pass affection for grooming.
3. Attention-seeking behavior
Sometimes when seated on the couch or working on the table, you may have suffered some nibbles from your canine friend.
This is one of the ways your dog could be asking for your attention, and it is often an invitation to play. Maybe they’re bored or they need some physical engagements with you to get enrichment.
You can return the call by petting the dog or cuddling with them on the couch as you continue with your other activities.
4. To relieve stress
Dogs can indeed cob on your arms to calm down when in nervous situations.
This is an instinctive reaction that developed from puppyhood, where the younglings would nibble their mothers for milk and nourishment.
The dog’s action of gently nibbling on your arm is self-soothing, and they can do this to calm down their nerves during stressful situations.
Your dog may nibble on your arm in an attempt to groom your skin. Dogs, just like cats, are known for social grooming as a way of cleaning themselves and bonding.
You may have seen your dog nibbling their feet and digits. They do this to remove dirt or parasites and to combat irritation.
Your canine friend might extend the same care to you by nibbling on your arm as a social skincare routine.
Why Does My Dog Nibble on Me When I Pet Him?
Petting-induced nibbling is often a gentle response from your dog as they enjoy your gentle strokes.
The dog will softly and rhythmically nibble on your arm using the front teeth as an inviting way for you to continue caressing them.
Another possible reason is that you may have excited or overstimulated your dog when petting them, and nibbling is one of the ways of expressing their emotions.
Be careful with overstimulating your dog when petting because the nibbling can escalate to biting and aggression.
Why Does My Dog Nibble Me with His Front Teeth?
As we proceed further with this subject, you need to understand the difference between biting and nibbling, and why dogs only use their front teeth when nibbling.
A nibble is a gentle contact between your dog’s front teeth and any part of your body without biting it down.
Some dogs may excessively nibble on their human caregivers with the entire mouth but most dogs will only use the front teeth.
Dogs use their front teeth for corn-cobbing because it is a behavior attached to good emotions and excitement. A nibbling dog does not show any signs of aggression or fear such as raised ears.
Understanding Your Dog’s Body Language
Signs Of a Friendly Nibble
The signs of nibbling can vary among dogs. But in general, a friendly nibble is often accompanied by a relaxed body posture.
The facial expression on such dogs is also relaxed with flattened ears and a slightly opened mouth when nibbling on you.
A lovely nibble from your dog is frequently soft and executed with low or controlled pressure.
It can also be accompanied by signs of playfulness and willingness to engage in mentally stimulating activities.
A gentle nibble from your dog should not worry you at all. They’re just exercising their natural instincts and trying to communicate to you in any of the ways we highlighted above.
3 Signs Of an Aggressive or Fearful Nibble
An aggressive nibble on the other hand should cause safety concerns, and you need to attend to your dog.
The following are some of the signs that your dog’s nibble is more than a friendly interaction:
1. Increased pressure
If your pup is going all out with their teeth to bite, instead of gently pecking your body, then this could be a sign of fear.
A pressured nibble from your dog is painful and it may end up drawing blood from your skin if done without restraint.
2. Stiff body posture
On top of pressurized nibbling, a fearful dog will also display a tense body posture when engaging with your arms.
The dog may lean away from you as a defensive sign to protect themselves from any adverse reaction.
3. Growling or snarling
The offended dog might growl, snap, or snarl while baring their teeth open as a warning sign, even before biting you.
You should take precautionary measures by providing space for the dog to calm down on their own.
Should You Let Your Dog Nibble on You?
Nibbling is a natural behavior in dogs, and it should not worry you when done gently.
We however encourage you to be cautious with mouthing games in dogs, because those gentle nibbles may turn to aggressive bites when the dog gets overstimulated.
You should not punish your dog by discouraging them from nibbling your arms. Instead, you can redirect your dog’s attention by providing them with appropriate chew toys to engage with.
Health Concerns Related to Nibbling in Dogs
1. Dental issues and discomfort
Excessive nibbling in dogs can be a sign of underlying dental problems such as tooth decay or discomfort in the gums.
The affected pup will nibble on you or bite on any other soft surface as a way of relieving oral discomfort.
If your dog continues to open their mouth and whine after redirecting the nibbling, then they could be experiencing dental pain.
2. Skin conditions and allergies
Aside from cobbing your arms, dogs may nibble on themselves because of irritation around the itchy area.
If the affected dog is excessively nibbling on one spot for a prolonged time, then this could be a sign of skin infections or allergies.
Some common physical signs of skin issues in dogs include balding, hot spots, dryness, brittle hair, rashes, and redness.
If you notice any negative signs on your dog’s skin, you should consult with your vet immediately for medication and topical treatment.
3. Parasites (such as fleas and ticks)
Infestation of external parasites such as fleas and ticks might induce your pup to scratch or nibble on the affected areas.
These parasites are known to cause discomfort and itchiness, and this prompts the dog to seek immediate relief.
We encourage you to groom your dog regularly and provide appropriate flea treatment to keep them free from parasites.
Possible infections from excessive nibbling
If your dog nibbles on you excessively to bite or piece through your skin, then you may risk contracting bacteria from the dog’s saliva. Some of the possible infections include tetanus, fever, rabies, and sepsis.
Furthermore, the open wound left on your skin may become an entry point for other pathogens from the environment.
In case of accidental bites from your dog, you should wash the wound immediately, apply an antibiotic topical treatment, and cover it with a clean cloth.
How To Stop a Dog from Nibbling on You
If the dog cobbing behavior is becoming a concern, then you can do something to redirect the behavior positively.
1. Set boundaries and train the dog consistently
You can train your dog to stop nibbling on you by teaching them the ‘no’ or ‘stop’ command.
Set clear boundaries for your dog and give them a firm ‘no’ when they bare their front teeth to peck on you.
Your canine friend should know what is expected of them and how to show affection calmly. Setting boundaries will also help the dog to calm down in areas where you need some space.
2. Reward your dog for responding
You should use positive reinforcement techniques by rewarding and praising your furry friend every time they respond to your request.
Offer them some verbal praise, gentle petting, and highly valuable treat rewards for remaining calm in situations where they used to nibble.
Your lovely pup will closely associate the calm behavior with good things and they will improve their ways to impress you.
3. Offer appropriate chew toys
After redirecting the dog, you should offer them an alternative chew toy for stimulation.
Get a variety of chew toys such as chew bones with different textures, and dental chews for an added advantage on their oral health.
Your pup will realize that there are better alternatives than sinking their teeth in your skin or other tough surfaces.
4. Seek professional help
If your dog prefers nibbling on you despite redirecting the behavior for quite a while, you should contact a canine behaviorist for professional help.
An expert in animal behavior will assess your dog’s nibbling tendencies to ascertain the specific causes and work out a tailored treatment plan for them.
Some pet parents may often overlook an aspect of their dog’s behavior that causes bad habits and this is where a professional comes in to bridge the gap.
Symptoms Of Obsessive Nibbling in Dogs
Occasional nibbling is a normal behavior in dogs, but when done in excess, it may cause Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
You should learn the difference between the two and watch out for the symptoms when your dog nibbles on you excessively.
The following are some of the symptoms of excessive nibbling in dogs:
1. The dog nibbles on everything
If your dog is baring their teeth on other things such as furniture and blankets, this is a sign of obsessive nibbling. It may also be an indicator of dental problems in adult dogs or teething in puppies.
2. Behavior changes
Dogs with obsessive nibbling may show negative changes in behavior such as excessive chewing, or becoming restless and anxious.
This is because they can easily get agitated when trying to satisfy their compulsive urge to nibble on items.
What are the solutions to obsessive nibbling in dogs?
The first solution to compulsive nibbling in dogs is to identify the underlying cause and address any problem that comes up.
At this point, you may work closely with your vet to examine the potential causes of this behavior and to prescribe a treatment plan for any medical conditions.
The other solution is to modify the dog’s behavior by redirecting their nibbling urges to positive outlets like playing and training.
Make sure to provide your dog with an enriching environment to cut down on boredom and anxiety.
Furnish your dog’s room with plenty of toys and enough accessories to keep them comfortable and distracted from obsessive behaviors.
Don’t forget to take your dog out for their daily exercises for socialization and health benefits.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Why does my dog nibble on everything?
If the nibbler is a puppy, then they might be going through their teething phase which typically occurs between 4 to 6 months of age.
Adult dogs might nibble on everything for various reasons including exploration, playfulness, and attention-seeking.
Dogs have a very strong sense of smell. They may sniff and nibble items in their surroundings to gather more information on various items.
2. Why does my dog nibble on my clothes?
Your dog loves your smell, and they’re trying to interact with you by cobbing your clothes.
It could also mean that the dog loves the texture of the clothing, and nibbling on them provides a soothing sensation.
The other possible explanation is that the dog is inviting you to play, especially when they nibble on the clothes and pull the fabric.
3. Why does my dog nibble instead of bite?
Gentle nibbling in dogs is a mouthing behavior that is not associated with aggression or fear. Your dog may choose to nibble instead of biting as a way of passing affection, seeking attention, or sharing a social bond with you.
If the nibbling becomes rough and highly pressurized, then it might escalate into biting, which can be dangerous.
4. What should I do if my dog’s nibbling becomes excessive or problematic?
First, you need to visit the vet to rule out any medical condition inducing your dog to bite or excessively nibble on items.
The common conditions include skin problems, external parasites, dental diseases, and allergies. Your vet will prescribe appropriate treatment if the dog is found to be ill.
The other thing is to train your dog on responsible ways of interacting with the surroundings or passing affection to you.
Start by redirecting the nibbling behavior to appropriate chew toys for physical stimulation and dental benefits.
Many reasons may prompt your lovely pup to nibble on you with their front teeth. Some of the most common include teething in puppies, passing affection, seeking attention, and relieving stress.
Understanding the reasons for this behavior in dogs will help you in managing the situation when it escalates to biting or aggression.
Although nibbling is a natural behavior in dogs, it may become a concern when done excessively and presently.
Don’t ignore your dog’s body language when playing mouthing games with you. A fearful dog will posture a stiff body when nibbling you and this could escalate into biting.
You can train your dog to interact with you safely by redirecting their nibbles to an appropriate outlet such as a soft chew toy and rewarding them for staying calm when cuddling.
Laura is the founder of Furs'n'Paws. She is a also a pet writer and expert with more than 20 years of experience of working with dogs and cats. She developed a very strong love for animals at a young age. Her passion led her to establish a thriving pet sitting and dog walking business in Dubai. As an expert in pet training, behavior, and nutrition, Laura is committed to helping pet owners and pet lovers by offering high-quality information on a wide range of topics.