There’s a reason why dogs nip. But how can you tell what’s the exact one your dog does it?
This article will reveal:
- 13 different situations in which dogs nip.
- The difference between nipping, biting, and mouthing.
- How to tell whether nipping is due to aggression or play.
- 15 easy and useful tips on how to stop dog nipping.
- And more…
Table of contents
- 13 questions about dogs and nipping
- #1: Why does my dog nip at me?
- #2: Why does my dog nip at my face (when excited)?
- #3: Why does my dog nip at my nose?
- #4: Why does my dog nip at (my) feet?
- #5: Why does my dog nip at my legs?
- #6: Why does my dog nip at my hands?
- #7: Why does my dog nip at my ears?
- #8: Why does my dog nip at other dogs?
- #9: Why is my dog nipping at visitors?
- #10: Why does my dog nip at strangers?
- #11: Why does my dog nip at my cat?
- #12: Why does my dog nip at my baby?
- #13: Why do dogs nip at clothes?
- BONUS: Why do dogs nip when playing?
- 15 tips on how to stop dog nipping
- #1: Spot signs of aggression
- #2: Don’t reinforce the behavior
- #3: Ignore your dog
- #4: Give attention to your dog
- #5: Training, training, and more training
- #6: Use positive reinforcement
- #7: Feed your dog by hand
- #8: Arrange playdates
- #9: Redirect your dog’s attention
- #10: Do not, I repeat, do not use spray deterrents
- #11: Do not pull your hand away
- #12: Do not yell or scold your dog
- #13: Do not shake keys or throw things at your dog
- #14: Give your dog some space
- #15: Introduce baby gates
13 questions about dogs and nipping
#1: Why does my dog nip at me?
Your dog might nip at you for different reasons. Small puppies find out about the world around them by using their mouth. They’re also teething. Dogs usually nip at you because that’s how they’re used to playing with their dog buddies. Or they use it as a calming behavior.
For puppies that are teething the most normal behavior is to nip. It might help to look at it like this – human toddlers use their hands and mouth to explore their environment. Puppies use their mouth.
Puppies need to soothe their gums while they’re teething. So, they need things to nip at. That’s why having several chew toys is a must. Otherwise, house items such as Internet cables, chair legs, couches, and others, might get it.
Plus, puppies need to learn bite inhibition. They do that while they’re still part of a litter. Pups start playing and nipping at each other. As soon as one of them gets rough, their playing buddy yelps and stops playing.
This is very important because it teaches the puppy to lower the pressure of their jaw. When they adjust accordingly, other pups are more likely to play with them. And no puppy wants to miss out on the fun.
#2: Why does my dog nip at my face (when excited)?
Your dog nips at your face when it’s too close to them. If they’re excited and want to play, that’s one way to invite you. They could also nip at your face when you’re getting too close for comfort. Once you’re invading their personal space, it’s a friendly reminder to back off without hurting you.
My previous dog, a Pomeranian Mini Spitz named Ejy, didn’t like it when people would get too close to him. That applied to family members, friends, strangers, and kids.
When I was younger, I used to try and give him kisses… Little did I know that dogs don’t perceive kisses the same way humans do.
As a matter of fact, most dogs simply don’t understand that as a gesture of love
Some might tolerate it if you’ve taught them from an early age that that’s okay. But others might feel intimidated by them.
As the lovely creatures that dogs are, and as members of your ‘pack’, they’d try to avoid conflict if they can (if they’re not too snappy).
So, whenever I’d try to kiss Ejy, or to just observe him closely, he’d first turn his head away. In dog language, that means ‘I don’t want any trouble’.
But as the ignorant human that I was back then, I thought that my furry friend was pretending to not see me. You’d be surprised how many pet owners think their dog is actually ignoring them with this gesture…
Anyway, since I didn’t know better, I’d continue my annoying actions. And Ejy would warn me by nipping at my face 2 or 3 times in a row. The nipping was accompanied by growling.
There was one time that I had gone too far with disturbing his personal space. That’s when he actually bit me…
I was frustrated. Puzzled. Luckily it wasn’t serious but it taught me a good lesson.
What was it?
That you should simply let your dog be. Look at their body language. Try to notice the signals. If you don’t understand something, it’s normal. Just read more about dog behavior or speak to a professional.
This will help you understand your dog better and bond with them.
#3: Why does my dog nip at my nose?
Your dog can nip your nose for several reasons. One is being excited to see you after staying home alone. So, they’re communicating how they feel. Or, they could be expressing build-up tension by having to deal with loneliness or anxiety throughout the day. Some dog breeds nip more.
#4: Why does my dog nip at (my) feet?
Dogs who nip at feet, heels, or ankles could be trying to herd the person they’re nipping. Herding breeds are more likely to indulge in such behavior due to their instincts. And the purpose they were originally bred for. Such breeds are Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, Corgi, German Shepherd.
‘But why would my dog herd me?’ you might ask.
If your dog doesn’t live with you on a farm and doesn’t herd sheep, chances are it doesn’t have a job. And what is your dog to do in an apartment or a house? They will find themselves a ‘job’.
To fix this, you can give your herding dog a ball to roll or chase when outside. If you have a yard with some free space where your dog can roam around, you should definitely try this out.
Get a yoga or an exercise ball. Then watch your dog as they interact with it.
Or, if that’s not an option for you, you could get a durable hanging toy without stuffing. These are great because you won’t have to clean a mess after your dog has kept biting it during the day.
Don’t miss out on: Why does my dog bite my feet?
#5: Why does my dog nip at my legs?
Your dog nips at your legs because they’re one of the easiest body parts your dog can reach. It could be out of need to play, get attention, or try to direct who goes where in the house. Another reason could be prey drive. Or because your dog finds it fun to pull your jeans and trousers.
After all, even a small session of tug-of-war counts. And that’s precisely how your dog might perceive pulling your jeans while you’re walking away.
#6: Why does my dog nip at my hands?
Your dog nips at your hands because they’re a puppy who’s teething. Or because this behavior hasn’t been corrected in puppyhood and continued in adulthood. If you attempt to stop your dog by smacking them on the cheeks or the nose, you are reinforcing them without even realizing it.
Dogs who are being touched on the face, patted on the shoulders or head, while they’re nipping at you, would only feel encouraged to nip more. That’s due to the reason that receiving attention is reinforcement in itself.
#7: Why does my dog nip at my ears?
Your dog nips at your ears because you’re standing in a position in which they’re easy to reach. By nipping at them your dog is letting you know they’re happy to see you. It’s the dog equivalent of the human phrases ‘I love you!’, ‘I missed you!’, and ‘I’m so glad you’re home.’, plus “Let’s play!’.
Note: Although this is a sign of affection, it’s best to discourage the behavior in your puppy’s early years. That way you will prevent this behavior turning into an annoying and a painful habit in your dog’s adult years.
#8: Why does my dog nip at other dogs?
Your dog nips at other dogs either because they want to play, or because they’re sending a warning. You can determine which one it is by looking at the additional cues such as body language. A playful boy, nipping, and taking turns to chase each other means the dogs enjoy playing.
If your dog snarls at the other one and nips, it’s a warning sign that your dog might refer to biting if they have to. In that case, do not force your dog to stay in a situation they don’t like.
A peek in the life of Lissa (my dog)
Lissa, my long-hair Chihuahua Mini Spitz mix is an adopted dog. The woman who gave her to me organizes puppy parties at the Dog Park every Saturday.
As members of the puppy group, we’re invited. So, we went there quite a few times. I introduced Lissa to a variety of adult dogs and puppies. But something caught my attention…
Lissa would step a few steps back when a dog would approach her. If the dog was coming on too strong, that is. Or, they’d sniff each other politely.
But as soon as the other dog initiated play by putting their paws at Lissa, she’d get annoyed. As a result, she’d bark and snarl at the other dog. And sometimes nip…
Then, she’d look at me, fix me my eyes with her gaze, extend her neck, and start barking. Almost as if saying ‘Let’s go! I don’t want to be here.’
So, at moments like that, I’d listen and take her for a walk. Then, she’d be quiet and sniff around.
On the contrary, if I’d not remove her from the situation soon enough after her signal, she’d get even more agitated…
So, I’ve learned to ‘listen’ to her needs. 🙂 And it does save us both unnecessary stress.
#9: Why is my dog nipping at visitors?
Your dog could be nipping at visitors because they’re excited. That’s how your dog attempts to get them to play.
#10: Why does my dog nip at strangers?
Your dog nips at strangers because they haven’t been properly socialized. In such cases it’s advsiable to tran your dog to wear a muzzle. That’s both for their safety and for the one of other people passing by.
#11: Why does my dog nip at my cat?
Your dog nips at your cat because it wants to play. This can be dangerous for both of them if there aren’t any boundaries. It’s best to have separate safe spaces for both your dog and your cat. That way, if the fight or flight instinct kicks in, they can retreat to their dedicated place.
Warning: There is advice on the Internet that says that you can declaw your cat. I do not advise this. It’s better to train your dog on how to act appropriately around the cat.
#12: Why does my dog nip at my baby?
Dogs nip at babies because they’re trying to correct the baby’s behavior. If your dog has been tolerant of the baby for a long time, they nip to draw the line. Being around a toddler can be very stressful for a dog. If an owner fails to recognize the dog’s warning signs, nipping can occur.
Many dog owners underestimate the fact how overwhelmed their dogs can feel around a new baby. Babies are loud, unpredictable and have uncoordinated movements.
All of this makes them scary in the eyes of a dog. And if the dog has no safe place to retreat to, without the baby bothering them, they might revert to growling or nipping.
In fact, dog bites are the 5th most common factor for kid visits at the emergency rooms. That’s why it’s important to address the behavior immediately by taking the necessary precautions.
#13: Why do dogs nip at clothes?
Dogs nip at clothes because your clothes smell like you and could resemble a fun toy. The texture is soft and it’s easy to put in their mouth. With sleeves, your dog could see them as an opportunity to start a tug-of-war session. If you have not taught them otherwise early on, they’d think it’s ok.
BONUS: Why do dogs nip when playing?
Dogs nip when playing because they’re excited. If a dog is easily aroused, they’d start nipping soon after you’ve started playing. Also, if it’s behavior from puppyhood, that hasn’t been corrected, it has turned into a habit. Depending on your body language, your dog could think you’re ok with it.
15 tips on how to stop dog nipping
#1: Spot signs of aggression
Spotting signs of aggression can make all the difference between you managing your dog well, or ending up frustrated and hurt.
As I mentioned under question #2, it’s important to read signs of aggression as soon as they occur.
Here’s what to look out for:
- Exposed teeth.
- Wrinkled muzzle.
But what are the signs of playful nipping?
Check them out:
- Play bow.
- Wagging tail.
- Relaxed posture.
#2: Don’t reinforce the behavior
Dogs are smarter than we give them credit for. If you start petting your dog after they nip at you, they learn that this behavior gets them attention.
A similar scenario could be your dog nipping at you and you giving them toys.
Even if you start scolding your dog (which I do not recommend), your dog gets the same message. Likewise, they will continue to nip at you.
You might start running or yelling if your dog nips at your ankles, heels, and feet. But what’s the lesson you’ll be giving your dog? That what’s happening is a game to you too.
For what to do in such situations, read the next tip.
#3: Ignore your dog
Simple and effective.
As soon as your dog starts nipping at you, turn away. Gaze at anything but your dog.
Maybe even leave the room and come back once your dog has quieted down. If they attempt to nip at you again, leave the room.
This teaches them that this behavior is unacceptable. Or, to put it simply – that nipping drives the fun away.
Remember: be the most boring creature you can be. It’ll work wonders.
#4: Give attention to your dog
Didn’t we just discuss how yous should ignore your dog?
Yes, the key is to ignore your dog at the right moment. And the same goes for giving attention.
Your dog needs to receive attention throughout the day. If they don’t receive enough attention, they’ll start figuring out ways to get it from you.
One of these could be nipping.
But the good news is that you can prevent it.
Give enough attention to your dog several times a day. For your convenience, you can schedule a certain time of the morning, lunch (if possible), and evening. Trust me, it’s much better than your dog surprising you wanting attention.
Schedule play sessions with your dog. Play their favorite game at home or outside, be it fetch, tug-of-war, or reward them for doing certain tricks.
Which brings us to…
#5: Training, training, and more training
Training is not just a way to make your dog obedient. Sure – obedience is important.
But training is much more than that. It’s a way to engage your dog both mentally and physically.
Did you know that scientists have developed dog-computer interactions to slow down the aging process in dogs? This is possible by keeping dogs mobile and active.
These protect the dog-owner bond so that it doesn’t weaken in time.
But let’s go back to traditional training.
It will also drain your dog’s energy. And last but not least, boost their confidence.
Dogs benefit from training early on. The sooner you teach your dog essential commands such as ‘NO’, ‘Drop it, and “Leave it’, the easier it will be to show your dog what’s allowed and what not.
Once you teach your dog certain commands, don’t forget to refresh them in your training sessions.
It’ll be best to train your dog consistently. Meaning – to have dedicated minutes on a daily basis or at least several days per week. Remember, consistency is key.
#6: Use positive reinforcement
There are multiple ways to train your dog. One very effective and much-recommended way is to use positive reinforcement techniques.
The reason why I’m a fan of it is that dogs can learn quickly what you want them to know. And not only that but they’re excited to learn.
I mean – who wouldn’t be when prices are involved?
One example pops up in my mind… Years ago, I went to a pub quiz. I was kinda hesitant at first, as I haven’t previously participated in one. And I thought that I wouldn’t be very good at it.
When it began, I was surprised to realize that I knew the answers to most questions. As a result, I helped my team majorly and we ended up having the most points. And, we got a pretty cool reward!
I felt proud, happy, and glad that I attended
So, what will happen if you ask me whether I’d like to participate in a pub quiz nowadays?
If you’ve guessed that it’s likely that I say yes – congrats! You’re right. My last positive experience makes me feel good when I remember. So, why not?
But enough about me. I’m here to tell you that dogs’ brains work similarly. And if you require certain actions from your dog, and they get them, they’ll feel good too. And so will you.
So, it’ll be only fair to reward them accordingly. With treats, and praises. Just observe how fast your dog adapts.
Note: Consider changing the treats from time to time, as one study found out some dogs are more motivated by a variety of food rewards.
#7: Feed your dog by hand
Hand-feeding allows your dog to learn proper mouth behavior. By eating from your hand, they’ll form positive experiences with you. This will strengthen your bond.
One research reports that feeding your dog by hand can also help if your dog is a picky eater.
Caution: Do not let kids or children feed puppies by hand. This might result in an accident.
Elderly family members should also be very careful if they want to be part of this exercise. Since their skin is sensitive, it’s best if they wear gardening gloves. This will prevent puncturing.
#8: Arrange playdates
Play is a vital part of a dog’s life. This is one of the main reasons you want to ensure your dog isn’t deprived of it.
Otherwise, you will start encountering behavioral issues with your dog. A dog that wants to play and is bored can figure out multiple ways to stay entertained at home. You will not like them.
Note: Set up playdates only with well-socialized dogs that your dog gets along with. If you notice any signs of aggression or stress, remove your dog from the situation. This way you will prevent accidents.
Signs of aggression in dog-to-dog communication include:
- Body stiffness.
- Raised hackles.
- Threatening bark.
- Pinned back ears.
- Snarling (growling and showing the teeth at the same time).
#9: Redirect your dog’s attention
Nipping is not cool. And your dog needs to know that.
How can you show them?
I’ve already mentioned ignoring them (tip #3) and giving attention at the right time (tip #4), plus adding positive reinforcement (tip#6). So, where does that lead us?
To the method of redirection.
The best part about it that once redirected, your dog won’t be able to continue the previous behavior. Redirection requires all of your dog’s attention into something better.
You can redirect your dog’s attention by requesting them to sit, lie down, roll over, or stand up. Or anything else they can do.
The trick is to be patient and increase the level of difficulty gradually
By this, I don’t mean to ask your dog to sit in 5 different ways.
What I’m referring to is to bring your dog into situations that require more focus. Be careful to not overwhelm your pooch though.
What you’d want to do is bring the dog to the dog park and ask them to perform a simple command where there are certain stimuli around them. Is your dog able to focus easily or do they need more training?
Warning: If your dog attempts nipping at you, after they’ve done the command, avoid giving them treats. If you do, you risk a chain reaction. And your dog might get the wrong idea that the combination nipping-sitting-nipping is fine.
Instead, let your dog relax. After they’re not so excited, wait until they perform the command and reward them.
#10: Do not, I repeat, do not use spray deterrents
‘But why? Other websites recommend them.’ – you might say.
Well, if you spray your clothes or ankles with them your dog will no longer have positive associations with you. Your dog might start being fearful of you and relate you to pain.
That’s not what you want, is it?
Yes – repellents with citrus smells do work. And while they have fast results, they’re unpleasant for your pooch.
If you use citrus or any other kind of deterrent, this might cause your dog to show other behavioral issues. Think barking and hiding.
#11: Do not pull your hand away
Does it sound weird to you?
I’m advising you this because if you attempt to move your hand rapidly, you will make it more appealing to your dog.
That’s because dogs have a strong prey drive. So, by doing any sudden movements, you’ll only reinforce it.
Instead, just stand up and leave (revert to tip #3 for more info).
#12: Do not yell or scold your dog
Yelling will only confuse and scare your dog. This will not help eliminate the behavior.
Also, do not use your dog’s name to scold them. This can only make them cower in the future.
Which in turn, will confuse you. Leaving you with questions such as why your dog is cowering as soon as you call their name.
#13: Do not shake keys or throw things at your dog
Some people would use methods such as throwing their keys near their dog. Or shaking them in their face. Another similar method is to shake cans with coins.
While this could work for the moment and stop your dog from nipping at you, it’s very dangerous for the long term.
Because your dog might start reacting aggressively to such actions. Thing is that dogs have very sensitive hearing so you can imagine how irritating such sounds can be.
As a result, some dogs could learn to bark against these methods. It could become a habit and appear anytime you grab your keys or anything that resembles a can.
Dog owners who have experienced such behavioral problems have left their dogs at shelters.
#14: Give your dog some space
The best thing to do would be crate training from an early age. The crate serves as the dog’s safe place.
When the dog is in their crate, no one should interfere with them. This should be their space for relax. The idea is they should go there whenever they want to sleep undisturbed or distance themselves from a situation at home they don’t like.
#15: Introduce baby gates
So, first of all, you don’t need to have a baby to mount a baby crate or two in your home.
For small dogs (and for bigger ones), baby gates could do wonders. They will ensure your dog stays in the designated area of the house. It will also be easier to keep an eye on them when the doors of rooms are not closed.
Baby gates are used to prevent accidents.
Now, if you do have a baby and a dog, it’s a must to introduce baby gates. You don’t want to leave the dog and the baby together and unsupervised even for a minute.
Having baby gates will ensure the dog doesn’t go in the area of the house where the baby is. And vice versa.
This will help both you and your dog have your peace of mind.
IMPORTANT: For the given advice to work, you should involve the other people in contact with your dog. Ask your whole family and the people who come to visit or interact outside with the dog, to implement the tips. Consistency is key for ingraining new behaviors.