Why does my dog nibble on me like I have fleas?

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There are many endearing habits my dog will pursue. My favorite among them is when she crawls into my lap and rests against my chest with her head nestled under my chin.  She’s ready to relax or snuggle, and I’m her chosen resting place.

I’ll take that every time.

Another habit, less endearing, is when they decide to nibble on you.

Those little pinching bites? You know the ones. I don’t have fleas – I’m assuming you don’t either.

So why does my dog nibble on me like I have fleas?

Let’s examine this behavior.

The Pibble Nibble

If you follow our site much, you know we work with many Pitbulls – they are our favorite and, next to our Boxers, have shown themselves to be the biggest clowns of all dogs.

They can be just plain silly.

One of their cutest manners is called The Pibble Nibble (AKA corn-on-the-cobbing, or even ninnying), and it’s when your dog nibbles with front teeth.  It’s a sort of teeth chattering, almost shivering, nibble.

Not sure what else to call it.

All dogs do it, but our Pit Bulls are adorable.

They’ll do this to your arm, your knee, their own paw, a chew toy, the couch, whatever.

Any Pit Bull is a powerful dog and can easily tear things apart, so it’s cute to see the pibble nibble in action.

It’s even cuter when it’s a super cute Pit Bull puppy

Pit bull puppy nibbling on rope
Dogs nibbling on your or anything else may be an innate need to chew on something.

Dog nibbling behavior can be changed.

I say behavior, in terms of nibbling, because it can be an instinctual response to the irritation of having a flea infestation. Whether it appears as a bite, a nip, or gnawing, it is common among dogs and perfectly normal.

Importantly, this is something you can teach your dog to stop doing.

If your dog has taken to nibbling on you, you can probably relate to the continuously small and furtive movements compared to the sensation of vibration. It is the same behavior dogs perform when they are attempting to scratch the itch of flea bites.

The itch is persistent and irritating. The nibbling is focused and intensified on the area where the itching occurs, typically from a concentration of bites in the same place. We can all relate to the itch of a bug bite, but few of us can relate to the intensity of many bites’ irritation in such a cluster.

This nibbling behavior is referred to as de-fleaing. The action of de-lousing or de-fleaing should occur first, with a visit to the vet and then a visit to the pet store to pick up the appropriate remedy.

Your vet may prescribe something, and you may opt to get dog flea and tick collars. These collars work well to keep pests away, but they should not be the single source in ridding your dog of fleas altogether.

Specifically formulated adult dog and puppy shampoos are viable flea treatments.

They are of immense help for dogs that may have an allergic reaction to not only fleas but mosquitos, chigger bites, etc.

Dog thinking about fleas and other bugs
Often dog nibbling is a sign of flea or another type of insect is bothering your pooch.

Purchasing a good flea comb will also help if the problem is fleas. A flea comb will do a great job of targeting adult fleas that may be bothering your pooch, although flea eggs may be missed.

Reasons your dog nibbles with its front teeth

If your dog has chosen to nibble on or nip at you, it can mean several things, none of which are dangerous. So you can relax if you are either experiencing this nibbling or looking to find ways to curtail this habit.

Common causes of nibbling can range from irritation to fleas or flea bites, chigger bites, separation anxiety, teething, and dry skin.

Young pups may find their gums itch as they grow, and their response is often to teeth on something that will essentially rub over the gums to satisfy the itching sensation.

Nibbling has become a habit for your dog.

Nibbling is often a response to irritation.

It can be characterized as a habit since there are many ways this behavior becomes an invested action.

The nibbling action is mild enough that it may happen for some time without causing harm. Over time, rather than nibbling for an actual reason, the adult dog may be nibbling just out of habit.

The longer this goes on, or the more often it happens, the more likely it becomes a habit. And as we know, habits are not easily abandoned without the proper encouragement and motivation.

Dry skin can lead to nibbling.

Who doesn’t enjoy a good massage?

Correct dry skin with high-quality dog shampoo and even by massaging essential oils into the dog’s coat.

If you have a senior dog, these massages are great treats for you and the dog.

With a younger puppy, they can be particularly effective (and fun!) bonding sessions.

Dog bath time
A good bath and flea dip can resolve nibbling behavior.

A curious dog may nibble.

Unrelated to scratching the itch, curious dogs can take to nibbling.

This makes sense since the mouth is second only to the nose as dogs’ primary means of discovery.

When dogs meet in the park, they tend to use their noses and mouths with each other as a means of socializing.

Offering the opportunity for dogs to be themselves in this way is helpful to their well-being. Of course, you want to be mindful that the friendly dog mouthing affection does not turn into an aggressive exchange—too many teeth for that.

Nibbling with front teeth can be a sign of affection

Finally, this nibbling can also be a sign of affection.

Around those with whom your dog is familiar, whether that means other animals, children, or adults, you might expect to see this nibbling as an affectionate means of connecting.

We have a brother and sister Pit Bull team (Rusty and Rocket), and we see them nibbling on each other all the time. For them, we’re sure, it’s a form of affection (they are the very best of friends) as well as a means of grooming.

I am not opposed to my puppy being mouthy with me.  I find it’s an honor to be accepted as a pack member as they don’t expect me to return the favor.

I also understand that not everybody feels the same.  Let’s talk about teaching our dogs not to “pibble nibble” us.

Getting the nibbling under control

Most experts consider this nibbling as a behavior, and just like any other dog behavior, it is manageable.

Distract from nibbling with chew toys

If your dog doesn’t stop this habit, offer him an alternative to nibble on, such as a chew toy,

With all the irresistible toys or bones available, there is undoubtedly something that will get your dog’s attention off you.

The most important reason to head off this habit is that it can become seemingly insatiable. Eventually, the puppy gets too invested in the physical act, and the nibbling becomes quite uncomfortable. At the same time that you want to ease this behavior for your dog, the last thing you need is to overreact and possibly lash out from the pain.

Interrupt nibbling by play-acting

One thing about dogs that has captured my heart is the pure innocence that keeps them from associating bad treatment with their actions. As we know, dogs do not associate physical punishment with anything they are doing. This is because they mean no harm.

The lady below is playfully biting her dog – we’ve all thought about this. Admit it.

Lady biting dog's ear
Sometimes you need to turn the tables and nibble on them a bit.

Usually, when a dog is aggressive, there is a good reason. It could be an unseen injury or their desire to protect their human.

You can discourage nibbling or chewing by your behavior. Show your dog that it hurts. Say “ouch!” You might even wince a bit to convince him he is hurting you. Once he begins to associate that he is hurting you, he will stop. There is nothing aggressive about this, and there is no intent to cause any harm. If the dog sees or thinks it’s hurting you, it will stop.

In conclusion

When your dog is nibbling on your arm like you have fleas, it’s natural to ask why does my dog nibble on me like I have fleas! As discussed above, there can be several reasons, and it’s essential to understand that it is a behavior that can be corrected. Many also consider it as a purely affectionate love bite and don’t mind at all. Regardless of where you fall, make sure you realize nothing is aggressive or malicious about the nibbling.

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