When my dog was younger, it would regularly nibble me when I played with 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 nibble you when you play with 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 playing? Likely reasons why your dog nibbles you when playing are that it has learned that the behavior is rewarded, it becomes excited, it has not learned that nibbling is not ok, and that it is teething.
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 playing?
Below are likely causes and what would make them more likely.
Rewarding the behavior
It could be the case that your dog has learned that nibbling you results in it getting rewards. If you start giving it extra attention, good or bad, when it starts nibbling you, it will likely learn that nibbling you results in it getting rewards. Instead, it would help to reward your dog when it behaves the way you want it to and to avoid rewarding it when it does not.
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.
It has not learned that nibbling is not ok
It is also likely that your dog has not learned that it is not ok to nibble you. If you have never trained your dog to not nibble you, it will not know that you do not want it to. This is why it would help to give your dog training as shown below.
Another possible reason 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.
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 pet it.
Things to consider
Below are some things to consider to help figure out the main reason why your dog has been doing it.
If your dog always nibbled you when playing
If your dog did not always nibble you, when playing, it would help to consider what else happened when your dog first started doing it. If your dog started doing it suddenly, it could be due to things such as teething or learning that the behavior gets rewarded.
What is different when your dog does not nibble you when playing
If your dog does not always nibble you when playing, it would also help to consider what is different when it does nibble you. For example, if it only nibbles when you have not been giving it much attention, it could be the case that it does it in order to get extra attention from you.
What to do about your dog nibbling you when playing
Below are some things you can do to get your dog to stop nibbling you.
Avoid encouraging the behavior
As mentioned above, it is likely that your dog 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 playing with 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.
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.
Try playing with it in a different manner
Another option would be to try playing with your dog in a different manner by doing something that does not require you to touch it as much such as with tug or war or fetch.