When my dog was younger, it would regularly nibble me when I went to scratch it. This was troubling since it used to hurt and it stopped me from wanting to interact with my dog as much. It turns out there are a number of possible reasons why your particular dog might be doing it and there are a number of different solutions. In my case, I was able to get my dog to stop by withdrawing my attention whenever it started nibbling.
So, why does my dog nibble me when I scratch it? Likely reasons why your dog nibbles you when you scratch it are that your dog is playing, it is teething, it has learned that the behavior is rewarded or possibly that it is intimidated.
Your dog might be doing it due to a combination of causes. Once you have a good idea of the main cause, it should become a lot easier to get your dog to stop.
Why does my dog nibble me when I scratch it?
Below are likely causes and what would make each of them more likely.
Your dog is playing
One reason why your dog nibbles you when you scratch it is likely to be that it is playing. This would be more likely if your dog also does things such as role around, wag its tail and it has a lot of energy when it does it. In this case, it would help to stop scratching it as soon as it starts to nibble so that it learns that you won’t play with it when it nibbles.
Another possible cause is that your dog is teething. This would be more likely if your dog is a puppy and it has started nibbling other things a lot as well. In this case, it would help to give your dog other things to chew on such as toys or bones.
Encouraging the behavior
It is also likely that your dog has learned that nibbling you results in it getting rewards. If you tend to get reactive and give your dog more attention, when it nibbles you, or you give it other rewards, your dog will likely nibble you in order to get more rewards. Instead, it would help to reward your dog only when it behaves the way you want it to.
A less likely but possible cause would be that your dog gets intimidated. This would be more likely if it is still young and it does things such as try to move away from you and make itself look smaller when you scratch it.
It could also be the case that your dog gets overly excited when you give it attention which would be more likely if your dog does things such as jump up and down. Again, it would help to avoid rewarding the behavior and to try to make sure that it is able to get the daily recommended amount of exercise for its age and breed.
Things to consider
Below are some things to consider to help figure out the main cause.
If your dog has always nibbled you when you scratch it
If your dog has started nibbling you, when you scratch it, suddenly, it would help to consider what else happened when your dog first started doing it. If it started doing it suddenly, it could be the case that it learned that the behavior is rewarded or that it started teething.
What is different when your dog does not nibble you when you scratch it
If your dog does not always nibble you, it would also help to consider what is different when it nibbles you. For example, if your dog only nibbles you when it has not gotten exercise yet, the cause could be that it is full of energy. Whereas, if it does it when you have not given it much attention in a while, the cause could be that it is trying to get extra attention from you.
What to do about your dog nibbling you when you scratch it
Below are some options you have when dealing with the behavior.
Avoid encouraging it
As mentioned above, it is likely that it has learned that the behavior is rewarded or that it has not learned that it is not ok to nibble you. It would help to stop scratching or petting your dog and withdraw your attention as soon as it starts nibbling and to only give it more attention when it is being well behaved. If it starts nibbling again, you would stop giving it attention again. Repeating this process should teach it that nibbling causes you to stop giving it attention.
Pet it differently
If it seems like your dog does not like the way you have been petting it, it could also help to try petting your dog in a different manner. One option would be to rub it instead of scratching it.
Give it other things to chew on
If your dog seems to be doing it due to teething, it would help to give your dog other things to chew on such as toys or bones.
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