Discover Why Your Dog Nibbles On You

Known as cobbing, this behavior is normal and goes back to your dog's puppyhood.

Published February 1, 2023
Dachshund dog nibbling on man's hand

So you're sitting there, minding your own business, when suddenly your dog comes up and starts nibbling on your hand or foot. You know how it feels: those little front teeth are sharp! But why do dogs do this? When dogs nibble with their front teeth, the behavior is called cobbing. A dog nibbling on you is a sign of affection, but it's also a way for them to communicate their needs to you. The key is figuring out what they want and then providing it in an appropriate way so the nibbling doesn't become a habit.

Why Does My Dog Nibble on Me?

Mouthing is a normal puppy behavior that usually begins around three to four months of age. They will begin mouthing their littermates during playtime. Puppies will also mouth and chew on their mother's nipples while they're nursing, so they are used to having something in their mouths.

When dogs nibble gently with their front teeth, they're "cobbing." This term is named after using people using their front teeth to nibble on a corncob. When puppies and dogs do this, it is typically a throwback to their nursing days. Adult dogs who are nibbling you are usually just being playful.

Dogs also have a sensory organ that opens on the roof of their mouth, known as Jacobson's organ. It is a secondary way to take in smells, and very young puppies who don't have their sight yet use it to help identify their mother to help nurse.

  • Dogs are being playful, nibbling on you to show affection
  • Dogs are looking for attention, signaling to you they want something
  • Dogs are mimicking nursing behavior, to stimulate milk production
  • Dogs are testing their world out, trying to get more info from smells
  • Dogs are self-soothing, going back to a puppy behavior to calm themselves

When your dog mouths you or another family member, it's important not to get angry or yell at them. This could teach them that mouthing is a bad thing and make them afraid of your hands or arms. Instead, calmly tell them "No" and remove yourself from the situation by redirecting their attention to an acceptable item chew toy.

Puppies who are teething may also mouth objects because it feels good on their gums. Think of human babies. If you're a parent, you have likely given your infant a teething ring to relieve their sore gums. It's the same with puppies. They need something to chew on while their teeth are coming in.

Exploring the World

Many dog owners are surprised to find that their dog has a habit of using their mouth to explore. This can come up when they're playing with toys, but it also happens when they're interacting with people or other dogs. It's natural for your pup to use his mouth as they explore the world around them, and you shouldn't try to stop them from exploring certain areas.

Mouthing to Play

Mouthing is a form of play. Dogs use their mouths in many ways to interact with other dogs, humans, and toys. When they are playing with you or another dog, mouthing could be part of the game.

If your dog is nibbling on you gently and not causing pain or hurt feelings, then it may just be their way of saying, "Hey! I'm here," which is often how puppies begin to play with each other. This behavior can also indicate they're feeling relaxed in your presence. Most of the time, your dog is trying to be playful.

If your pup suddenly decides to start nibbling on a person they haven't interacted with before, like someone who stops by for a visit, this might be an attempt at socialization or bonding. However, if it seems excessive, then there could be something else going on under the surface.

How to Prevent Mouthing

If your dog's mouthing is more aggressive than playful, it's time to teach them some new behaviors. Here are some tips for eliminating this behavior:

Happy playful border collie puppy outdoors
  • Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise and mental stimulation. Dogs who don't get enough exercise often resort to mouthing as a way to release pent-up energy. Regular walks and playtime can help curb this behavior.
  • Reinforce good behavior with treats, toys, and praise when your pup plays gently with people or other animals. If they bite too hard during play, bring them back into the house for a few minutes until they calm down before letting them continue playing outside again.
  • Teach your dog not to bite at all by using a firm "No" command when they start biting in an inappropriate situation, such as during playtime or when meeting new people.

Added Tips to Prevent Nibbling

Mouthing can get overwhelming, especially when your dog mouths or nibbles with their teeth. Here are some extra tips to help you prevent this behavior:

  • Don't give in when they bite. Stop playing immediately if they bite or nip at you during playtime. This will teach them that biting doesn't pay off and they'll soon learn not to do it again.
  • Don't encourage nipping. If your puppy nips at you while playing, don't pull away or get angry. Instead, ignore them until they stop doing it. This will show them the only way they can get attention from you is by being gentle rather than rough.
  • Teach them how to play gently. Reward any gentle behavior with praise and treats so that they associate being gentle with getting what they want from you.

Consult a Veterinarian or Behaviorist

If you're worried about your dog mouthing you or cobbing, it can help to spend more time playing with them. You can also try giving them a toy that they like or feeding them some treats. If your dog is still nibbling on you, then you should talk to a vet about whether there are any other issues going on in their life that may lead them to exhibit this type of behavior. If your veterinarian has ruled out any medical causes for the behavior, schedule an appointment with a canine behaviorist for assistance.

Discover Why Your Dog Nibbles On You