Why do my dogs nibble on each other – Should I be Worried?

As dog owners, we tend to overanalyze the behavior of our dogs. If you’ve ever noticed your dog nibbling on other dogs, you may have wondered if this was normal behavior or a show of aggression.

Dogs nibble each other for several reasons. It is most often an instinctual and harmless social interaction. If your dog nibbles on other dogs, they may want to play, show affection, or groom the other dog. It also is a way to relieve stress in certain situations.

Dogs use their mouths to explore the world. Although nibbling or play-biting is sometimes considered a negative behavior, it is a normal part of being a dog. Read on to learn more about why your dog nibbles on other dogs.

Why does your dog nibble on other dogs

1.) Your Dog Is a Puppy

Puppies nibble on one another to bond with their brothers and sisters. It is usually light and harmless. Nibbling also teaches puppies how hard to bite when they play, which is a vital part of raising a socially healthy and happy adult dog.

2.) Affection and Acceptance

As puppies, dogs learn to show affection by biting the necks and ears of their littermates with their front teeth. This behavior often grows with them into adulthood. When dogs meet new playmates or acquire a new sibling, they may nibble on them to show acceptance.

Nibbling in adult dogs is also a sign of acceptance. Dogs use a variety of verbal and non-verbal cues when they meet a new dog to introduce themselves. Gentle nibbling is a sign that the dogs have accepted each other.

3.) Playing

In addition to nibbling to show affection, dogs nibble other dogs for fun and play. Dogs will nibble on other dogs’ necks, ears, or legs to communicate that they are ready to play. They also exhibit this behavior when they are overly excited or have excess energy.

Jaw-jousting or mouthing is a form of playful dog wrestling. Dogs keep their mouths open, occasionally biting their sparring partner’s face or neck with gentle pressure. Although it can appear as though the dogs are fighting, they are simply playing. It will most likely not turn aggressive or into an actual brawl.

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4.) Teething

The age of your dog is an important factor in their nibbling habits. If your dog is a puppy nibbling on other dogs, it may be a sign of teething.

Dogs develop two sets of teeth in their first 6 to 8 months of life. The first set comes in when they are around two weeks old. These deciduous baby teeth last until the puppy is 2-4 months old. Afterward, the teeth begin to fall out, and permanent adult teeth replace them.

The teething process for dogs is uncomfortable. As a result, dogs will nibble and chew on objects and other dogs to relieve their discomfort. This process, known as cobbing, usually goes away when the dog’s adult teeth are fully grown.

5.) Anxiety or Stress

Dogs experiencing anxiety or stress may nibble on other dogs. This action helps them cope with the discomfort in the same way breathing exercises would for a human. After all, our pups can’t tell us when they have a problem with a particular person, animal, or weather event like thunder.

If you notice your dog is nibbling on other dogs in an unfamiliar situation, try to assess the situation. If possible, remove them from the source of stress until they calm down.

6.) Grooming

It is common for dogs to nibble on other dogs as a form of grooming. You may notice your dog gently running their front teeth through another dog’s fur. It is an instinctual behavior from their days as wild pack animals. It is also a way for dogs to bond and show affection to one another.

7.) Pack Hierarchy

Dogs are social pack animals by nature, which means they are hardwired to live together in groups. Pack hierarchies are complex structures. There is usually an alpha or the pack leader, a beta, and an omega, depending on the number of dogs you have. Betas and omegas submit to the alpha. 

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If your dog has upset the alpha in your pack, they may nibble on the alpha’s ears to indicate they are sorry and submitting. This gentle and submissive behavior shows the alpha that they don’t want to fight.

When Should You Be Concerned About Dog Nibbling?

Although dogs nibbling other dogs is a standard and socially acceptable behavior hardwired into their genes, you should still be careful. If your dog’s gentle nibbling begins to get aggressive, you’ll want to intervene and prohibit them from continuing.

If you notice your dog’s nibbling behavior has moved to humans, you can implement training tactics to teach them this isn’t acceptable. Many dogs will mouth human hands or arms to say they want to play or that they want attention. It usually isn’t intended to be an aggressive action.

However, if you would prefer they not do so, you can redirect it to a chew toy, which teaches them to seek out appropriate items when they feel like nibbling. You can also ignore them until they cease mouthing your hand. Doing this teaches your dog that nibbling or mouthing you won’t get a reaction.

Finally, if your dog mouths or nibbles on you, you can end this behavior by saying “ouch” and letting your hand go limp; teaching your dog that this behavior hurts you, and they will learn to refrain from doing so in the future.

The Takeaway

Dogs nibble on other dogs for a variety of reasons. It is normal behavior that teaches them how to play. It also helps them express their emotions, show other dogs that they accept or respect them, and provide them with comfort through grooming.

Observe your dog as it plays and nibbles to ensure nothing gets out of hand. However, in most cases, your dog nibbling on another dog is nothing to worry over.

Why Dogs Bite Each Other’s Mouths in Play

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Susan Dorling

I am a pet expert with years of experience working with a variety of animals. From dogs and cats to birds and exotics, I have a deep understanding of their unique needs and behaviors. I am dedicated to helping pet owners provide the best care for their furry friend.