4 min read


Why Do Dogs Nip



4 min read


Why Do Dogs Nip




Has your dog just nipped you? It can come as quite a surprise when your dog nips especially if he's never done it before. It doesn't even have to be painful to be distressing either. It can be quite a shock when out of the blue your dog just snaps at you. Its really not nice, is it?

When you're not expecting it and your normally affectionate pet clamps his teeth together on one part or another of your anatomy, it can make you wonder if you really are in control of your pet at all. It might even leave you wondering if that little nip could be an indication your pet might be turning aggressive. It's concerning, isn't it? It can also leave you worrying your dog might nip someone else which is even more of a problem. 

It's a sad fact that many dogs will nip, but what makes them do it?

The Root of the Behavior

Dogs nip for a multitude of reasons and on occasion, we only have ourselves to blame. It's exciting when you first get a puppy. A good rough and tumble game is fun for both of you. When he's small, your puppy doesn't understand what his teeth are for and can often snap happily at any object dangled in front of him which might just include your fingers. This doesn't become a problem until he's older and his jaw has developed it's full strength, then it hurts. If you've let your puppy continue to play this way, he won't understand it's not acceptable behaviour to give you a playful nip. He'll mistakenly think he's just carrying on the same old game.

Dogs, the same as people, have different moods which is something pet owners can tend to forget. If you've been at work all day or away from home for some time, you'll mostly arrive back to be greeted by a dog who is happy to see you and wagging his tail to prove it. He will be excited you're home, but he may also be feeling a touch frustrated you left him in the first place. The combination of those two emotions can lead to some uncontrolled exuberance which can culminate in a nip to let you know how he's feeling. 

Older dogs can be quite grumpy too. As their age progresses, they like to take things easy. If they're in the middle of a good snooze and get woken quickly, they might not rouse fully straight away or be too pleased about being disturbed and can snap out of confusion or frustration.  

Some breeds of dogs can be more prone to giving out nips than others. Dogs which are herders, such as Collies or Cattle dogs, have more of a natural tendency to nip. It's an ingrained characteristic in them which has been seen as useful because they'll nip at the ankles of the animals they're herding to keep them moving in the right direction. It's just not so useful or even amusing if it happens to be your ankles your dog is nipping at.

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Encouraging the Behavior

It's normal for a dog to nip. It's their way of expressing their emotions. It could be a playful nip which is more accidental than intentional because they just got plain over- excited. A nip from an older dog could mean go away and leave me alone. While a dog nipping is normal, it's not very desirable. A nip from a dog, even one as small as a Chihuahua can be very painful and so it's something most pet owners would prefer to avoid.

In the right environment, nipping is considered a good trait in a working dog as it assists ranchers in moving their herds in a timely manner from one area of grazing land to another. It's not such a good trait if it's your dog chasing after a flock of joggers doing their thing out there on the park running track and he's right behind them nipping at their Nikes.

Dogs are naturally very protective of what they own and love. While we all enjoy the idea that our dogs will save us from any prospective aggressor, their defense mechanism can often be misdirected. Your pet can become over-protective towards you and can give a nasty nip to anyone who tries to get to close which, when it's someone you love, can make family relations pretty awkward.

Other Solutions and Considerations

If your dog doesn't normally nip but has recently started to snap at the slightest thing, you need to consider the fact that something may be wrong. Dogs can begin to nip if they're feeling off-color or are in any kind of pain. So if it's not in your dog's nature to nip, you might want to consider getting him checked over by a vet as he could be trying to let you know he's unwell.

A nip from a dog can be painful and distressing to whoever the recipient of the nip might be. Nipping, if it's not nipped in the bud, excuse the pun, can become a very bad habit. Why not consider attending some training sessions with a professional dog trainer who will be able to assist in overcoming the problem.


For a dog to nip is normal although not particularly desirable unless it belongs to a sheep farmer and the nipping is restricted to woolly ankles. If you think your dog may be developing herding tendencies, you could always try to convince it's much better to count sheep in his dreams.

Written by a Shiba Inu lover Patty Oelze

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 02/06/2018, edited: 01/30/2020

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