Dogs use their teeth for many things -- including taking tiny nibbles with only their front teeth. Your dog may use this nibbling technique on his toy, a blanket, a dog friend, or even you. Knowing what the nibble behavior means can help you better understand your dog's needs and what he's trying to communicate.
The most common situation in which you may find your pup nibbling is when he is trying to scratch an itch he can't reach with his back leg. If your dog is nibbling somewhat infrequently, it's probably just a minor itch. But if you find your pup nibbling very persistently or for a prolonged length of time, make sure he is not suffering from allergies or another skin irritation.
Affection and Grooming
Some dogs will groom each other by gently nibbling at the back and ears of each other. By pulling his teeth through the fur of another dog, a dog will help groom the other, showing trust and affection. This is often a comforting ritual that is calming to both dogs. You may also notice your pup nibbling at a toy or blanket in a similarly gentle and affectionate way. This is a self-soothing habit that your dog may have learned as a puppy.
In a group situation, such as a dog park, you may see dogs nibbling at each other. This is a playful gesture, and they are most likely trying to incite each other to play or wrestle. Your dog may nibble gently at you as well, if he is in a playful mood or is overly excited during playtime. Some dogs only nip and nibble as puppies, and then grow out of it, but some dogs may continue the behavior through adulthood.
If a dog gives a hard nibble to a dog or a human, he is giving a warning. Before giving a solid bite, a dog will sometimes give a notice or warning that he is not feeling comfortable or is feeling overwhelmed. In such a situation, give the dog plenty of space and try not to make him feel confronted or challenged.
Olivia Kight is an experienced online and print writer and editor. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 2012, and has worked on education, family life and counseling publications. She also gained valuable knowledge shadowing a zoo veterinarian and grooming and socialize show dogs, and now spends her time writing and training her spunky young labradoodle, Booker.