If your dog nibbles on your fingers, you might be wondering why and what you can do about it. This post will show you five common reasons why dogs do it and what you can do to get it to stop.
So, why does my dog nibble my fingers? Possible reasons why your dog nibbles your fingers are having learned that the behavior is rewarded, excitement, teething, or not enough training.
There are actually multiple possible causes and it might be due to a combination of them. However, there are some things you can consider when figuring out the main causes and there are many things you can do about them.
Reasons why your dog nibbles your fingers
Below are a number of possible reasons why your dog has been doing it and what would make each of them more likely.
Encouraging the behavior
The reason could be that it has learned that the behavior gets rewarded. This would be more likely if you tend to give it things such as toys, treats or extra attention when it nibbles your fingers.
Not enough training
If you have not given your dog any training it will not know how it is supposed to behave and it will behave the way that it feels like. The way it feels like behaving is unlikely to be the way you would like it to behave which is why it is important to train it to behave the way you want it to.
Another possible cause is that it has started teething. This would be more likely if your dog is a puppy, if it has started doing it suddenly and if it has been nibbling on other things as well. In this case, it would help to give it things that it is ok for it to chew on and to give it lots of positive reinforcement training.
The cause could also be that it is excited which would be more likely if it does it more in situations such as when you arrive home or when you’re about to walk it. In this case, you could try waiting for it to calm down before giving it what it wants.
Often, people jump to the conclusion that their dogs do it because they are trying to be dominant. However, the alpha/beta dynamic has been disproven in studies showing that wolves take turns in taking the lead.
Despite that, it could be doing it due to bullying behavior which would be more likely if it tries to get you to move and if it shows signs of aggression when doing it. In this case, it would help to avoid giving it reasons to feel threatened and to get it to learn to behave the way you want it to with training programs such as NLIF (“Nothing in Life is Free) dog training.
Things to consider
Below are some things to consider when figuring out the main reason why your dog has been doing it.
What else happened when it first started doing it
If your dog did not always nibble your fingers, it would help to consider what else happened when it first started doing it. If it started doing it suddenly, it could be due to things such as learning that the behavior gets rewarded, teething or something causing it to become overly excited.
What is different when your dog nibbles your fingers
It might be the case that the timing has something to do with it. It would also help to consider if it tends to do it more at a certain time.
For example, if it tends to nibble your fingers when you arrive home, it would be more likely to be due to things such as excitement and separation anxiety. In this case, it would help to avoid rewarding it when it nibbles and to limit reasons why it might be anxious.
Whereas, if it does it more when you are sitting down with it, the cause could be that it has learned that the behavior gets rewarded.
The body language it shows
It would also help to consider the body language it shows when it nibbles your fingers.
If it shows signs of excitement such as by wagging its tail, it would be more likely to be due to excitement and learning that the behavior is rewarded.
Whereas, if it shows signs of aggression by doing things such as snarling and nibbling forcefully, it would be more likely that it is doing it due to feeling threatened in which case it would help to get help from a professional dog trainer.
What to do about your dog nibbling your fingers
Below are a number of things you can do to get your dog to stop nibbling your fingers.
Avoid encouraging the behavior
As mentioned above, it might be the case that your dog has learned that the behavior gets rewarded. Instead, it would help to reward your dog when it does not nibble your fingers and to stop giving it any rewards, including attention, when it starts nibbling until it calms down.
Positive reinforcement training
One option would be to use positive reinforcement training so that it learns that nibbling your fingers does not result in it getting the rewards it wants.
To use it to get your dog to stop nibbling, you would:
- Stand up and turn away when it starts nibbling your fingers leaving the room if necessary.
- Wait a few moments and then go back to giving it attention and then turning away again if it starts nibbling
- Repeat the above until it learns that nibbling causes it to lose your attention
- Reward it with a treat when it does particularly well
You can watch the video below to see more on how to get your dog to stop nibbling with positive reinforcement training along with more tips.
Redirect its focus
Another thing you could do is to redirect its focus whenever it seems likely to start nibbling on your fingers. Things to redirect its focus towards could include toys, a bone or a task to complete.
Give it other things to chew on
It would also help to give it things to be distracted with especially if it seems to be teething. Things you could give it would be toys, chews and bones.
In order to get it to be calmer, it would also help to give it the daily amount of recommended exercise for its age and breed.
If you are unable to get it to stop nibbling your fingers or it has been doing it aggressively, it would help to get help from a dog behaviorist or trainer. By doing so, you should be able to see how to get it to stop safely and effectively.