Receiving “love bites” from your pup is kinda cute and it’s probably an honor to be blessed with this type of dog mouthing affection.
Most owners gave experienced mouthing behavior with their puppy but now that they are grown-up adult dogs, the biting might be a bit concerning.
“Love bites” are defined as affectionate bites or nibbles that don’t hurt and do not pierce the skin.
Adults know how to deal with this kind of behavior but what should you do if the bites are directed toward strangers, children, or other dogs?
So why exactly does your dog gently mouth your hand or nibble on you?
Reasons for your dog’s love bites and nibbling include affection, grooming, and play. Especially puppies use play-biting to explore and seek attention during the teething phase.
Dog Mouthing Affection
Soft and gentle mouthing is a common sign of affection shown by many canines. Whether you have a puppy, an adult, or a senior dog, they can all show the same kind of love.
If you have successfully taught bite inhibition during the puppy biting phase, the mouthing shouldn’t occur later on.
Puppies that had limited contact with their littermates or have been separated from their mother too early, will have a more difficult time learning how to control their sharp teeth.
The feedback provided during canine interaction is a crucial learning lesson that can hardly be copied by a human.
If you believe that your dog doesn’t differentiate between toys and skin due to lack of training or socialization then go back to the basics and really work on bite inhibition.
You can also watch a very detailed video below that will provide you with a lot of tips.
Other than a lack of training there are two main types when it comes to mouthing: play biting and grooming which I will be talking more about in the next section.
Play biting in puppies is a very natural and common way of expressing excitement and communication.
Dogs do not have hands and thumbs so only the mouth can be used for play.
It’s also a crucial way for them to receive feedback from another canine on their bite force.
Puppies have those little sharp teeth because their jaw muscles are not yet fully developed.
So in order to receive feedback and adjust the force, the bite must hurt a little.
This biting is generally harder than mouthing and only occurs during play sessions or times of high arousal.
While play biting shouldn’t be suppressed, rough playing shouldn’t be encouraged either.
In order to control the behavior, you will have to teach your puppy how to correctly interact with you or other people during play.
When Do Puppies Stop Biting?
Generally speaking, your dog should be out of the puppy biting phase around 4-8 months.
It depends on various factors, most importantly your dog’s breed as large breeds develop more slowly.
If the bite inhibition training and feedback were successful, you shouldn’t be confronted with any issues later on.
Mouthing can still happen in certain situations simply because your skin is tasty or your dog would like to get your attention.
What Does It Mean When a Dog Nibbles You?
Grooming is another type of mouthing and is usually presented through nibbles and “love bites”.
You may have noticed that your dog is nibbling other dogs too.
The reasons for this mouthing include affection, play, grooming, and exploring. It usually occurs in a calm and relaxed manner.
Gentle nibbling is definitely not concerning but it can get annoying at times.
Keep in mind that if your dog is nibbling on you, he might also tend to do this on other people or children.
If your adult dog has poor ABI (acquired bite inhibition), the love bites might become too hard.
You will have to decide for yourself if you want to completely eliminate the love bites as a safety precaution or if you just want to tolerate them to a certain level.
How to Stop Dog Mouthing
If you are generally okay with occasional mouthing, the first thing you should be doing is reinforcing bite inhibition training.
Every time your dog mouths on your clothes or on your skin too hard, say a loud “Ouch!” and ignore your puppy for a few seconds.
Whenever your dog is biting on your hand, do not jerk it away because this only triggers your dog’s chase drive and will make things worse.
He should be the one to let go which develops a quicker understanding.
If your dog doesn’t stop after one “ouch”, simply get up and leave the room for a while.
This is especially effective if your dog is mouthing for attention.
If you remove yourself from the situation, it sends a very clear message that you are not tolerating this behavior.
So, in short, if your puppy bites too hard, you should:
- Avoid jerking your hand away as this activates their chase drive
- Say “Ouch!”
- Leave if he doesn’t stop
If you decide that you never want to be mouthed by your dog in general then do not wait for the bite to become harder.
Get up immediately if your dog goes for your clothes or skin.
Your whole family should be doing this training with your dog to effectively show him that it’s not okay to touch human skin with his teeth.
Another method you could be using is simply redirecting the mouthing.
Instead of giving love bites on your skin, he can learn that you would rather like him to play tug of war.
In the process, make sure that you are not rewarding attention-seeking behavior.
Only provide your dog with the toy once he has stopped nibbling your clothes.
Certain situations might trigger the behavior, so you should always be ready to have a toy close by to prevent the mouthing from occurring in the first place.
Prevention is the best training method. Always set your dog up for success.
When guests visit your house, use a favorite toy and play with your dog to redirect his attention.
If your dog is a tug lover, I can highly recommend the K9 Dog Bite Pillow.
It’s easy to handle even with strong dogs (I have a Rottweiler) and very durable as long as you’re not abandoning it in your dog’s proximity.
If your dog tends to bite or jump on you when excited then try to keep the tugging as low as possible.
When any biting occurs, immediately stop the play and ignore the dog. Correct behavior will be rewarded and unwanted behavior will be ignored.
When Love Bites are Actual Bites
I have talked about the definition of love bites at the beginning of this post and how your dog shouldn’t apply any pressure.
A love bite won’t hurt and can be accompanied by licking and nibbling.
The dog will have a relaxed face and body posture when giving you these love bites.
However, a dog that is showing aggressive signs might snarl, bare his teeth and retract his lips.
Serious snaps will definitely hurt and don’t always have to pierce the skin.
If you believe that your dog has aggression issues, consult a behaviorist and talk things through to prevent any future damage.
What Not to Do
Don’t pull your hands away – Sudden movements will trigger the canine’s natural prey drive and will encourage your dog to chase after your fingers. It’s best in these situations to act calm and wait for your dog to back up. If he doesn’t let go, simply remove yourself from the room.
Don’t squish his face – I know it’s cute to play with your puppy’s little face but waving with your hands in front of his mouth will only encourage your dog to bite.
Do not yell at your dog – In situations of excitement and play, your dog might start mouthing or biting at your hands. Yelling at your dog never helps and will only make him scared and confused.
Do not hit your dog – Slapping your dog for love bites or mouthing will only make him bite you more like during rough play. Physical punishment is a non-humane correction that the dog doesn’t understand. Pain and confusion through inadequate punishment will lead to fear and eventually to aggression towards you and other people.
What Your Dog Needs
Mouthing and excessive grooming can emerge out of boredom especially if your dog is mostly doing it to get your attention.
Make sure that your dog’s daily physical and mental needs are met and that he has access to sufficient exercise.
Recommended Reading: 13 Boredom Busters
Do not leave your dog in the yard all day, isolated from his pack.
When you leave the house make sure that he is occupied with a stuffed Kong or other puzzle toys.
Provide your dog with interesting chew toys such as the Benebone Chew Toy to satisfy his chewing urge.
Your dog needs to have as many canine interactions as possible in order to be well-tempered and calm.
Controlled dog play classes are way better than any dog park and your dog will come home with a positive and fun experience.
Sunday 29th of May 2022
Danielle, My 7 year old German Shepherd female has lately developed a habit of love biting guests as they come through our front door. She especially loves pinching the fannies of the females! This is highly unacceptable! I think I trained her well but this new behavior has me needing your advice.
Thursday 2nd of June 2022
Hey Terrell, as always it's best to introduce a command to calmly send your dog to her place and make sure she calmly greets them. Reward positive behavior/redirect, correct negative behavior with your voice. It'll take a lot of repetition if she's doing that for some time already but it'll work eventually. It's best to use a friend with lots of time in the beginning.
Saturday 28th of May 2022
My 10 month golden doodle does this on my 2 year old. He is aggressive and he is just trying to play, he will do it on his shoulder and leaves scratches. Before we got him he never had any formal training but this scares my toddler. What can I do to stop this?
Thursday 2nd of June 2022
Hey Christy, could be that your pup's late to learning bite inhibition, love bites are okay but not if it leaves scratches. Your older dog should react accordingly to that with a measured correction. Some dogs just let it slide while others go against it too strongly (usually not very well socialized themselves then). If that's not the case, you need to correct it and show your pup proper play by reinforcing positive behavior.
Also, if your toddler gets scared, explain the behavior and make sure the dog and child are respectful to each other to make sure their relationship will be a harmonious one instead of one where the pup tries to play too aggressively to a point where the child avoids the dog.
Thursday 14th of April 2022
Oh wow thanks for the tips. I have an 11 month dobie and he is as hardheaded and stubborn as they come. He loves to mouth and he pinches sometimes and has started grabbing at clothes just lately. So thanks
Sunday 13th of December 2020
Hi there! We have just rescued a 3-4 yr old mixed breed. They told us he's part Sharpei & Labrador. Personally, I think he has some pit in him - which I'm fine with. The love bites he gives are pretty constant. When walking he is quite strong and sometimes hard to control. He once tried to nibble at a young child who was being carried by their parent. He is very sensitive to children that are crying and begins to panic and freak out. We have a 6 year old that he is great with, but with thoughts to extend the family I'm nervous that he may not be a good fit. Would appreciate any advice you can share. We really want to make this work, but have to put the safety of my family and others first.
Sunday 13th of December 2020
Hey Jessica, definitely understand your concerns, especially if you've just brought your Sharpei/Lab mix home recently.
Dogs from rescues/shelters nearly always come with some kind of behavioral issue, some easier to fix than others. Love bites are not that bad - until they are. You can get rid of this behavior with the steps mentioned above and reading the bite inhibition article will probably help too.
When you say he "freaks out" around crying kids, what does that mean, exactly? Many dogs get anxious at things like that because nobody ever took the time to introduce them slowly and start desenitization.
You already have a 6y-old, are you worrying that it might be worse with younger kids or babies? Love bites definitely shouldn't occur here and I do get your concerns but a dog should never be alone with a baby in any case. So as long as you have no outright rejection of your new family addition, it could go rather well. Finding out more about the dog's history and if he had any negative past experiences with kids is key.
Be aware that - depending on his history - training can definitely be necessary if you're introducing a newborn or whatnot and you have to evaluate whether or not you have the time for that. It's important to be honest with yourself but generally, I'd never recommend anyone to abandon his dog because some problem might lurk around the corner in the future. That's what training is for and your dog's already doing good with your kid as you said. Dogs are family too and they build a strong bond, we have to stop treating dogs like they're disposable once we want to extend our families because they might integrate amazing with your child if you're willing to put in the work :).
There are instances where anxious dogs dislike stranger's kid but absolutely adore their own and some never manage to accept kids (especially after past traumatic experiences), but giving it a shot is so important and just because he once nibbled a kid, doesn't mean he's aggressive or whatnot. Maybe just needs to learn bite inhibition and how to act around children :).
Tuesday 6th of October 2020
We just adopted a 5yo Boxer mix who's spent her whole life tied to a tree. Mostly she's sweet and loving, but has a couple of periods during each day where her "nibbling" becomes very rough and insistent. It seems to happen most often when she's tired. I know she's never had love or socialization, but you can't even walk away when she begins the biting. She attacks your feet. I know this adjustment to living in a home will be a long term project, but other than trying to redirect with a chew toy, or shake a can with coins, how do we address this?
Tuesday 6th of October 2020
congrats for rescuing your Boxer! You're right when you say she needs love and socialization, but to help stop this behavior you might want to check out my puppy biting article.
Besides redirecting, you can also leave the room. This way, she won't be able to chase any limbs you have and it teaches your dog that nibbling = no attention. Depending on the exact situation, standing still and giving her a firm no (with positive reinforcement once she shows the behavior you want) will also do the trick.
The key is to make the biting boring. If we quickly pull away, walk elsewhere where the dog is able to chase you, etc. then that entices our dogs to play with us even more. You just need to take the fun factor out of it. Be patient and cherish each and every tiny progress :).
Hope this and the article helps, Danielle