Cobbing Dogs: What Does It Mean When A Dog Nibbles On You

Cobbing Dogs: What Does It Mean When A Dog Nibbles On You

When a dog nibbles with just their front teeth, we call it dog cobbing, named for the action of nibbling a corn cob. Some may also know it as the adorable pibble nibble.

Dog cobbing is a simple action where they peel back their upper and lower lips and chomp their front teeth together. It’s usually very gentle and not the same as biting or gnawing.

All dogs will cob at an itch, but some gently nibble us, their blankets, toys, and even the cat. So why do dogs cob, and what does it mean? Let’s take a closer look.

Why Do Dogs Cob?

Cobbing is universal dog behavior. It happens for several reasons.

To Stimulate Milk

Newborn puppies will cob on their mother’s teat to encourage milk production. It’s a very early primal movement that starts as suckling. Because it is such a vital part of early development, it can become both a sign of affection and a way to self-soothe later in life.

To Gather Extra Sensory Information

Dogs have an extra organ for detecting pheromones in the roof of their mouth called the Jacobson’s organ. As newborn puppies, this helps them identify and find their mother when they are still blind and deaf.

As adults, dogs still use this organ to gather extra information they can’t get from their powerful noses. In fact, it’s one reason the dogs may like socks so much. By lifting their front lips and gently nibbling on you, a dog can get an extra whiff of the chemicals and pheromones in your skin or from another dog and gather extra information.

To Show Affection

The most common reason for corn cobbing in adult dogs is to show affection. Ultimately, nibbling behavior is a form of grooming or a dog’s way of giving a gentle scratch. When dogs show affection, they may start grooming by licking one another’s ears or nibbling on each other.

Mother dogs may even cob their puppies, so it is not uncommon to see a dog cobbing a baby. Of course, never leave your baby with a dog unsupervised, no matter how gentle and affectionate they are. Dogs may even cob cats if they have bonded sufficiently.

To Self Soothe

Dogs will often lick themselves to calm down, relax, and self-soothe. The action of licking releases feel-good chemicals in their brain that help them relieve stress. For anxious dogs or dogs in pain, licking can sometimes become excessive.

Since cobbing is a soothing activity associated with bonding, it also helps soothe a dog. So they may start to nibble on their blankets and toys when they want to relax or settle down to sleep. Like licking, they may start to do this excessively if they start relying on the action of cobbing to feel better when they are anxious.

If cobbing becomes chewing, and your dog doesn’t stick to their chew toys, you may need to invest in a spray to keep dogs from chewing to protect your furniture.

To Get Your Attention

Another common reason that dogs nibble on you is to get your attention. If you are on the couch, scrolling on your phone, and you feel a gentle dog nibble on your arm, they may be politely asking for your attention.

This is the same as when a dog bites your hand when they are excited or playing.

A dog should never be allowed to nip or bite, even when playing. But soft cobbing or gentle nibbling for your attention is not a problem behavior, and you can return the favor with a good ear scratch.

To Scratch An Itch

The most common reason for cobbing is when your has a sudden itch that they need to scratch. In this case, the chomping motion with the front teeth will be a little stronger as they try to scratch themselves.

There are plenty of areas on a dog’s body they can’t reach with their back paws, so they use their chompers to scratch instead.

Why Is My Dog Cobbing Me?

A dog will usually cob you to show love and affection. It is essentially a soothing, gentle way of grooming you, not unlike licking. They may also be gathering information about you through the pheromones on your skin that the organ on the roof their mouth can detect.

Cobbing is also something a dog may do to get your attention, much like nudging your arm.

When Is Dog Cobbing A Problem?

Cobbing is only a problem when it becomes excessive. In this case, a dog with anxiety or that is stressed may start to excessively cob their own body, toys, or bedding to try to soothe themselves. This can lead to them being destructive or encourage skin infections from the moist conditions created by constant nibbling on their fur.

Likewise, if a dog has pruritus (itchy skin), they may cob or nibble on themselves to relieve the itch. If a dog does this too much, it can break the skin and cause a hot spot. This is smelly, moisty, and highly aggravating skin infection.

If your dog is cobbing excessively, it’s time to see a vet and see if their is an underlying medical cause for their itchy skin. You may also need to look at possible signs of anxiety, stress, or pain that your dog may be trying to relieve.

Final Thoughts

Dog cobbing is quite normal, and a dog corn cobbing you is usually a sign of affection and love. Dogs nibbling blankets and bedding may be doing so to self-soothe when stressed or anxious. A dog nibbling on a plush toy may also use it for comfort.

Cobbing is only a problem if it becomes excessive or if your dog is so itchy that they break skin chewing on themselves. In these cases, it’s essential to see your vet for help controlling the itchy skin and removing the cause.

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.

Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.