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Why Do Dogs Nibble?

Why do my dogs nibble each other?

My two dogs get along great, and one funny thing they do while playing is my weimaraner will start to nibble my Labrador’s neck, ears, face or legs.

This behavior is very cute and also looks ridiculous! My Lab just lays down and enjoys the nibbling like he’s getting a massage!

By “nibbling,” I mean my weimaraner takes his front teeth and gently pinches or nibbles at my Lab in a row, like he’s nibbling at a corn cob! Haha! 

The behavior is very gentle and definitely not the same as play biting, nipping or mouthing.

I did a google search and some people actually call it “dog cobbing”! 

Rip and Remy

Reasons dogs nibble each other

There could be several reasons why a dog nibbles another dog, and so much depends on the dogs’ relationship and the context.

Here are 8 reasons why dogs nibble each other.

1. Dogs nibble each other to show affection.

This is probably the most obvious reason. Mother dogs nibble their puppies for grooming or comfort. Likewise, dogs may nibble at their dog friends to show affection.

You might even have a dog who gently nibbles at your legs or hands or a dog who gently nibbles your cat. Some cats even seem to like the affection if they are comfortable with the dog.

2. Dogs nibble each other for grooming.

This is less likely to happen between two adult dogs, but a mother dog nibbles at her puppies for grooming reasons, to keep them clean and healthy.

3. Dogs nibble each other out of play and excitement!

My dog Remy will “nibble” my Lab when he’s feeling playful. This is more likely to happen if Remy has not had enough exercise. 

Rip will be minding his own business and Remy will go up to him and start nibbling his face or legs.

This gets Rip’s attention and then they usually start rolling around on the ground together wrestling.

It often escalates into full-on, wild playing!

4. Dogs nibble each other out of boredom.

Remy definitely goes up and starts nibbling Rip when he’s feeling bored.

5. My dog nibbles my other dog to help him feel calm.

Usually Remy will nibble Rip to get him to play, like I wrote above. But sometimes he nibbles him for the opposite reason – to help Rip calm down and relax.

The nibbler in action

When Rip is being noticeably high energy or annoying and Remy is not in the mood to play, he will start nibbling at Rip’s face and neck. This lowers Rip’s energy and stops him from getting way too wild!

When Remy starts nibbling him, Rip usually relaxes and sits down and seems to enjoy his “massage.” I know, dogs are weird!

Sometimes their energy escalates again and they start playing and wrestling. But sometimes Remy will nibble Rip for quite awhile! Like for 15 minutes or so and then they both fall asleep!

6. Dogs nibble each other as a self soothing behavior.

Remy will also start to nibble Rip if he himself is feeling a little anxious. 

Remy is a high-energy, anxious dog, and he likes to chew on Kongs or bones to help himself relax. He will also nibble on blankets and stuffed toys as a self-soothing behavior and … yep, sometimes he will nibble on his brother. Good thing Rip doesn’t mind.

7. Dogs nibbling and humping to show ‘dominance’

Is dog nibbling a sign of dominance? Yes, it can be.

I know some people don’t like to use the word “dominance” in dog training, but I like Dr. Patricia McConnell’s definition of dominance when it comes to dogs. 

“In ethological terms, ‘dominance’ refers to ‘priority access to a preferred, limited resource.’ In other words, if there’s only one really great table open at a restaurant, who is going to get it? You, or the famous actress standing beside you?” McConnell wrote on her blog, The Other End of the Leash.

If I toss one piece of steak on the ground between my two dogs, Remy will get it almost every time. Rip even backs away so Remy can get it first. (I don’t recommend tossing high-valued food between two dogs! Hello, dog fight!)

When it comes to “nibbling,” the nibbling is definitely a way for Remy to be more “dominant” or in control of a specific situation. 

Sometimes he will “nibble” Rip to get Rip to move off of the best dog bed, for example. Rip always moves. Not always immediately, but he does always give up the bed because he is the “less dominant” dog.

Sometimes Remy will hump Rip instead of nibbling him. This usually occurs in situations where Rip is being noticeably wild and annoying with puppy energy. Remy will go hump him for a few seconds and this usually lower’s Rip’s energy.

And, sometimes he chooses to nibble him instead, and that gets the same result.

Rip would never dare to hump Remy in any situation. That would result in a quick snarl! It’s also very rare to see him nibble at Remy.

8. Dogs nibble as a “warning.”

This one is hard for some dog owners to understand but it’s like a “kiss to dismiss.” 

You know how some dogs will flick their tongues to lick their own nose when they’re a little nervous? 

Well, dogs will also lick other dogs to try to politely get the other dog to go away. My dogs do this to my baby, actually. 

I’m lucky my dogs are generally very patient with my 10-month old son, but sometimes when the baby is trying to pet them or climb on them, they will lick him pretty aggressively in the face. 

Sometimes it’s because my child has yogurt on his face and my dogs love yogurt (or peanut butter or scrambled eggs). And sometimes it’s because they’re trying to get my kid to go away! It works pretty well as even my baby does not like to have a dog’s tongue in his mouth. Gross!

Some people misinterpret this behavior, though, and think “Cute! My dog is kissing my baby!” Instead, you should definitely intervene before it gets to this point and distract or remove your baby.

Nibbling is another way for a dog to try to get another dog to leave (or at least calm down). 

Sometimes, if the other dog does not lower his energy or leave, the nibbing may turn into a snarl or a growl or a nip.

Is it OK if my dogs nibble each other?

It’s probably not a problem if one of your dogs nibbles the other as long as the second dog doesn’t mind!

It might be obvious your other dog doesn’t appreciate the nibbling if he’s trying to run away or if he eventually growls at your other dog.

Other things to watch for:

The dog getting nibbled actually looks shut down or scared. For example, crouched low with a fearful look on his face. He might avoid eye contact with the other dog or his eyes may be darting around looking to escape.

If that’s the case, you should intervene and distract the dogs with something else or separate them.

How to stop my dog from nibbling other dogs

If your dog’s nibbling is creating conflicts with other dogs, here are a few ideas for managing the behavior:

1. Provide your dog with enough exercise and things to do.

Licking or nibbling is often out of boredom or overexcitement. Try to provide your dog with more off-leash running time and longer walks, if possible. You can also provide him with Kongs or bully sticks to chew on when he’s in a crate or separated from your other dog.

2. Work on “leave it” and “place” or “stay.”

If your dog knows “leave it” you can use that cue to get him to leave your other dog alone. A simple “no” might even get the point across. Reward him with praise when he does leave your other dog alone.

Another option is to work on a solid “stay” or “place” command where you teach your dog to remain on a dog bed. 

If that is too challenging at the moment, then using a crate or baby gate to separate them also works, but keep working on “stay” with distractions so you can eventually have both dogs stay on their own separate dog beds while you’re in the room.

3. Distract the dogs with something else.

If your dogs are not resource-guarders, you could give them each a Kong toy or bully stick so they have something else to do.

Why does my dog nibble me?

Your dog might be nibbling you for some of the same reasons I mentioned above. When a dog “nibbles” a person it’s often at their clothing arms or legs.

Most likely your dog is nibbling you because he wants attention. He might be bored or he might be wanting to go for a walk, eat or play. He might simply be trying to offer you some affection or to get you to pet him.

Is it OK if my dog nibbles me?

It’s up to you what you want to allow from your dogs. 

Since my weimaraner has an anxious and pushy personality, I do not allow him to nibble at my arms or clothes. If he does this, I tell him “no” and then direct him to his dog bed or kennel. 

I also know that if he’s nibbling me, then I haven’t been giving him enough overall attention or exercise, so I make a point to take him for a longer run if I can.

On the other hand, if you don’t mind that your dog nibbles you and it’s not a problem for you, then it’s totally fine if your dog does this.

Why does my dog nibble her toys?

Puppies will nibble at the mother dog’s nipples to stimulate milk, so this may be why some adult dogs continue to “nibble” on their blankets or toys as a self-soothing behavior.

On occasion, some females dogs may nibble at their soft toys as though the toy is their baby. This seems to be more likely if the dog is in heat or if she’s having a “false pregnancy.”

This nibbling at toys behavior may be more common in certain breeds. It’s definitely common for weimaraners!

Weim nooking – Why does my weimaraner nibble blankets?

If you search the hashtag nooking on Instagram or if you just google “nooking” you will find a bunch of weimaraners nibbling blankets and toys. (Or maybe the algorithm just knows I have a weim!)

My weimaraner, as you now know, is the “nibbler” in our family. He nibbles our other dog but he also nibbles stuffed toys and blankets.

Remy is an anxious dog and I do believe this nibbling is a self-soothing behavior – both when he nibbles our other dog and when he nibbles his toys and blankets. 

He also has a strong tendency to resource guard toys, blankets, towels and socks – anything, really. I believe this also comes from his feelings of insecurity or anxiousness. 

When he is noticeably stressed, both his nibbling behaviors and resource guarding behaviors increase.

Why does my dog nibble his feet and legs?

Sometimes dogs will nibble their toys or bedding as a self soothing behavior. And sometimes they will nibble or bite at their own feet or legs for the same reason. I suppose it’s similar to us biting our nails.

My weimaraner Remy will sometimes nibble at his own feet, legs and nails. He does not have allergies or itchy skin, that I know of.

He seems to nibble himself for grooming reasons, like if his feet are a little sore or itchy from running in the snow. 

But he also seems to do this as a self-soothing behavior when he’s a little stressed or overly tired. For example, when we are traveling, sometimes I can hear him nibbling at his feet in his crate at night when he normally does not do this at home.

For more information on similar topics, see our articles:

How to stop a dog from licking himself

Why does my dog lick other dogs in the face?

How about you? Does your dog nibble other dogs? 

Let us know in the comments!