The Root of the Behavior
You discover that puppies use mouthing as a standard way to explore. Everything is new to them, and nipping objects, people, and other dogs is an instinctual way to become acquainted with a very new world. Usually, the mother teaches her pups how to control their biting, but sometimes puppies are removed and placed in new homes too early, and they fail to learn this powerful lesson. This could lead to the puppy biting when he is older because he may have never learned from his mama how to control this impulse. Dogs also nibble when they crave attention. They have no voice, so they figure a love bite might encourage you to offer them the nurture they desire. Dogs might also gently bite a human because they like the taste of our salty skin. Sometimes the residue or smell of food also gets on an owner, and Boogeyman might playfully lick and bite you to show his interest.
Love bites are also common when older dogs play. They are a way to show affection, and with a good doggy pal, a love bite is equivalent to slapping your buddy a high five or hugging your girlfriend. Some dogs have a hard time differentiating the strength of even their playful bites, and although unintentional, these love bites could end up hurting other dogs or even you. According to the American Medical Veterinary Association (AMVA), dogs think it's fun to play nibble with humans, but it could become very dangerous. They recommend avoiding wrestling and intense tug-of-war with your pooch, so you do not provoke these “love bites” that could injure you. Some owners also encourage their dog’s playful nibbles by petting them or providing them positive attention during the act of a love bite. In other words, be careful to smile, laugh, and cuddle with Boogeyman when he is nibbling your chin.
Encouraging the Behavior
Many playful bites that Boogeyman gives his doggy friends are fine. For example, it is common for dogs to mouth each other, and it is also okay if they nip at each other's necks if they are in the same pack. But nipping an unfamiliar dog’s neck or at another dog’s legs, can be irritating and cause a conflict. Dogs should also not be encouraged to continue nibbling if their doggy friend seems to be in pain. It’s also important for owners to recognize the demeanor of their dog. A playful dog that is offering another pooch love taps will have relaxed facial muscles, while an aggressive dog will tend to be tense and may even be snarling and gritting his teeth.
With puppies, it's crucial that owners reward playful nips from painful nips. Puppies may take a little time to learn how to play nicely with other dogs, and they should back off if their doggy friend yelps. They are still gaining their own strength, and with positive reinforcement for appropriate play, their playful gnaws should stay in control. For the sake of safety, you should discourage your dog from offering humans love bites because all it takes is one accidental hard bite to leave a mark.