Teef Brief: A Behavior Expert Explains Why Dogs Nibble On Us

My! What sharp, big teeth does your dog have? It’s a great way you can … nibble your mouth with?

If your dog is fond of your hand as a chew toy now and then, there are probably many questions in your head (as well as dirt on your hands). The expert in behavior, Sherrie Yuschak RVT VTS (Behavior) KPA-CTP, will be there to answer your questions rather than the saliva. In addition to defining the distinction between biting and nibbling, she will explain why your dog may be eating and suggest what you can do to prevent the behavior.

What is the difference between nibbling and biting?

Before we go any further, we must know the difference between nibbling and not. According to Yuschak, the definition of a nibble is when the dog’s teeth touch your skin without biting it. She describes this low pressure on the teeth as mouthing. She states that it could involve the dog’s whole mouth or only one or two teeth (or Teef, which they’ve often referred to as). The dog chewing is also free of body language associated with aggression and its usual sources, stress, and fear. The signs may differ between dogs. However, the dog with a rigid, low posture and ears that are flat, with raised hackles and a tucked tail, isn’t.

The pressure on your teeth, which is greater (more than a pinch) in conjunction with the body language mentioned above, isn’t in line with the definition of a nibble. In these instances, Yuschak suggests seeking assistance from your doctor or a board-certified vet behaviorist.

Five Reasons Dogs Don’t Like To Eat

Yuschak examines the causes that your dog may be licking your fingers in five major categories which aren’t mutually exclusive.

1. The Developmental Stage (Puppy Teething and Exploring)

If the person causing the problem is a puppy, Yuschak believes the behavior might be due to your pet’s age and what’s happening to their brains and mouths. The most pertinent aspect of this discussion on development can be the idea that puppies experience an initial period of teething. Between 4 and six months old, when puppies are born, they begin changing their initial set of sharp teeth to 42 permanent adult teeth–a process that causes lots of chewing. Please consider how puppies chew their teeth to explore and understand their surroundings; you’ve got the recipe for gnarly teeth.

2. The typical behavior of breeds

It’s possible that instinct is partially to blame for your dog’s teeth habits, Yuschak explains. Certain breeds have been bred for centuries to use their mouths to perform specific tasks in the workplace and sports. As an example, as per the name Labrador retriever, dogs were initially trained to pull fish and ducks from the icy waters of and around Newfoundland. They also have herding dogs that, like those of the Australian cattle dog, are known to use nipping to help move cows. This is why the desire for finger-snapping could be connected to a sense of instinct.

3. Arousal

Note the times when your dog is most likely to bite your hands. If it’s during a game, Yuschak says the behavior could result from the dog’s arousal. Your dog may be chewing their chompers to show their enthusiasm. Yuschak says that what starts as a natural expression of joy can become an acquired, attention-seeking behavior. If your pet observes that their nibbling draws your attention, they might be positively conditioned to do it again.

4. Fear/Conflicted Emotions

To take a line taken from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, It is generally accepted that dogs with an open belly will desperately need a belly rub. Is it? “Dogs are known to roll onto their backs since they’ve been taught that it draws attention and affection from human companions,” Yuschak explains. “But the dogs can also roll on their backs if they’re scared and want to behave submissively.”

Imagine you approach an anxious dog and begin giving them a good scratch. The gesture you thought was only a way to get toward Cloud 9 can instead make the dog feel uncomfortable and nervous. Along with eating, Yuschak says to look for a tail that is tucked, eyes that are dilated as well as tight lips shut, a mouth or ear that is stretched back, and a stiff posture. “If you spot these indications,” she continues, “encourage your dog to get up and to continue petting them when they draw attention from a more relaxed pose.”

5. Grooming Behavior

Have you ever seen your dog’s paws being bitten by corncobs on their fingers? Dogs use a standard grooming technique to reduce itchiness and eliminate bugs like ticks, fleas, or ticks. It’s possible that the dog that your pet is applying its front teeth towards your face in this manner, you’re simply sharing a small portion of its skincare routine. Furthermore, sharing teeth can be a sign of affection because Yuschak mentions that social grooming could be an affiliation (i.e., bonding) behavior in animals.

3 Things to Do If Your Dog Bites You


Your dog is more likely to have more important things to do than treating your cuticles as corn, but they might require your assistance to eliminate the habit.

1. Recognize the Triggers of your dog.

Yuschak suggests observing your dog’s behavior to pinpoint specific triggers. “What is the face contact look like? When is the time when this behavior occurs? What is the frequency? The answers to these questions can aid you in completing the next step, which is to eliminate triggers whenever you can,” she explains. If, for instance, your dog is known to be aggressive towards an individual or group of people, you should keep your pet in a cage outside, in the open, or in a secure area before guests arrive. You may also have to ensure that playtime is peaceful and even suspend it when your dog starts to get tense up.

2. Redirect to the desired behavior.

Yuschak suggests that it may be helpful to understand your dog’s body language signals that indicate that excitement or arousal is rising. You can avoid the behavior by introducing early redirection. A redirection tool is to employ signals. “Teach the desired behavior that is not compatible by nibbling, for example, “go to the crate, grab and hold a pet, or even “nose to hand,” she suggests. “Then you can offer your pet the correct signal to stop this behavior before it starts.” The idea of filling trigger areas of treats and toys to ensure they’re always in reach could help shift your pet’s attention.

But redirection isn’t an instrument for prevention, Yuschak claims. Cues, treats, cues, and toys help stop the behavior after it starts. The punishment, on the contrary, however, isn’t. “Avoid telling your dog no, taking your dog away, or grasping your pet’s muzzle,” she adds. “Doing such could trigger the dog’s behavior and lead your dog to fear you.”

3. Meet Your Dog’s Mental and Physical Exercise Needs.

Another method to prevent this is to ensure the dog gets enough physical and mental stimulation daily, Yuschak says. She mentions the following: walks, walk-ins and treat searches around the yard or in the house, puzzle feeder toys play, and the training as ways to exercise your dog’s body and brain. And if you’re ever unsure or want help with redirection ideas, reach out to your veterinary team or a credentialed positive-reinforcement trainer. Your fingers will be grateful.


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