7 Reasons Why Your Dog Nipping at Visitors

While we all love a cute, friendly, playful dog, having to deal with a dog that loves nipping at visitors is not something we desire to have on the menu. Nipping can not only cause harm and leave tiny bite marks, but it can also be annoying and potentially dangerous.

Although most dogs love to nip at visitors out of excitement and playfulness, you should be keen to spot any signs of aggression and protect your guests from potential harm.

According to statistics, more than 4.5 million are bitten by dogs each year in the United States, with more than 800,000 seeking medical attention.

Knowing the likely reasons why your dog cannot stop nipping at visitors and ways to avoid or prevent this behavior will save you from unnecessary headaches and unintended expenses.

Key Takeaways:

  • Common reasons dog bite include fear, excitement, frustration, playfulness, and guarding
  • More than 4.5 million people in the United States experience dog bites each year.
  • Up to 800,000 dog bites in the U.S. cause harm that requires medical attention

Common reasons why your dog is nipping at visitors

A dog nipping at visitors happens for reasons such as fear, frustration, pain, guarding, play, or surprise. Knowing the cause will help prevent injuries and keep your visitors happy.

1. Your dog is overly excited

Your dog can get so excited at seeing guests that they start nipping as a friendly gesture. A friendly dog nip is often accompanied by jumping at the visitors and having a cheery mood.

Although your dog does this out of joy and happiness, you should limit your guests from entertaining the nipping habit to prevent unintended injuries.

2. They are being playful

Dogs are expressive animals, and playing is their way of showing their mood and friendliness. Nipping is one way that playful dogs, often puppies, express their desire to play.

Your dog may see a visitor as a golden opportunity to engage in a fun activity, especially if the visitor does anything that sends “playful signals” to your pet, such as petting.

In such a scenario, your dog nipping at the visitor will signify they are open to engaging in playful and fun activities.

3. Your dog is possessive

Another common reason your dog loves nipping at visitors is its possessive nature, and nipping is a way to be territorial and warn them off.

According to a study by scholars at the University of California, San Diego, dogs showed possessive traits when their owners displayed affection toward an animatronic stuffed dog that barked, whined, and wagged its tail.

Your dog nipping at visitors could be out of envy that someone else is getting your attention more than they are. Possessive dogs can turn aggressive, and nipping can become aggressive bites.

4. Your dog is fearful

Fear could be another reason your dog is nipping at visitors. A dog fearful of unfamiliar faces or a recently adopted dog still adjusting to a new environment can nip at visitors to protect themselves.

Poor socialization plays a major part in a dog becoming fearful, and seeing new faces can make them nervous and feel threatened. Nipping and biting is a self-protection habit.

5. Innate herding instincts

Dog breeds such as Australian Cattle Dog, Border Collie, German Shepherd, Icelandic Sheepdog, Shetland Sheepdog, Briard, Australian Kelpi, Welsh Corgi, and Old English Sheepdog were historically kept for herding livestock.

When used for herding, these dogs can nip at cattle to make them walk faster or direct them in a specific direction. A dog with herding instincts will nip at people, including visitors, to get the outcome they desire.

6. Nipping to guard their resource

Whether it’s their favorite toy or a particular spot on the couch, there are things your dog value and will try to guard against anyone taking them.

For example, if your dog is playing with their favorite toy and your visitor tries to either take it away or even pet the dog, it will resort to nipping to protect the toy.

The same happens when your dog has a favorite couch or spot on the couch, and the visitor happens to be sitting there. The dog will nip at the visitor to get them out of their favorite spot.

7. Your dog is startled

Your dog can also nip at visitors when they are startled. Most dogs do not like surprises, not even the most playful breeds. They will react by nipping.

For example, if someone starts petting a sleeping dog, the first instinct when the dog wakes up is to nip. Be careful doing this because some dogs are very aggressive and will not just nip but make an aggressive bite that can cause an injury.

How do I stop my dog nipping at visitors?

As we have highlighted above, there are many reasons why your dog keeps nipping at visitors. Some are preventable and require a small effort, while others may require extreme measures.

To identify the most effective prevention strategies, you need to understand the cause of the problem. For example, you should be able to differentiate between a playful or friendly nip and an aggressive nip caused by fear and guarding instincts.

Aggressive nipping is accompanied by signs such as stiff, rigid posture and curling of lips to show their teeth. A friendly nip is often accompanied by playfulness and inviting glances.

Here are effective ways to stop your dog from nipping at visitors or guests.

a). Avoid high-risk situations

Some dog breeds are likelier to nip when they feel scared, threatened, fearful, or startled. 

In such a situation, avoid startling or scaring your dog when they are sleeping, eating, injured, barking, or even growling.

b). Calm your dog down

Over-excitement is a common reason why dogs nip at guests. The solution is to calm them down and allow them to adjust to the presence of a guest in the house. This could be gently petting your dog while you prevent them from immediately interacting with a visitor. 

The dog will get used to the visitor’s presence after a few minutes and is less likely to nip. Consider stricter measures such as crating or using a muzzle if this does not work

c). Socialize your dog

Another common reason dog nip at visitors is when they have been poorly socialized. To improve your pet’s social skills, you can do the following:

  • Regularly take your dog on leisurely walks or runs
  • Take your dog to the dog park and let them interact with other dogs
  • Take some time to play with your dog and show attention and affection

Improving your dog’s social skills will help prevent the nipping behavior, especially if the cause is fear and feelings of threat.

d). Reinforce positive behavior

While you might be tempted to punish your dog for nipping at visitors, you should instead reinforce positive behavior that will help neutralize the bad habit.

For instance, rather than using physical punishment or yelling at your dog for nipping, offer treats or chew toys for them to play with. The more friendly you are when addressing the issue, the better the outcomes will be.

e). Provide enough exercise

Hyperactive dog breeds have lots of energy and need regular exercise. You may notice your dog excitedly nipping at visitors because they see them as an opportunity to play and have fun.

Taking your dog on walks or to the dog park and playing games such as fetch will help burn off the excess energy. Exercise will also help calm your dog, especially when tense or scared.

What to do when a dog cannot stop nipping

What do you do if your dog cannot stop nipping at guests even after trying all the tips we have mentioned above? Things you can do include:

  • Stop playing: You should stop playing when your dog nips you. Doing so will send a subtle message to your dog that nipping behavior is not appreciated. The same goes for dogs that use nipping to get your attention. Responding will reinforce the behavior, so ignore them for a few minutes.
  • Show it hurts: Dogs are intelligent enough to know they have done something wrong, but make sure to use the right signals. For example, you can wince in pain or even yelp when they nip, then reinforce a positive behavior once they let go of you. Do this repeatedly and your dog will know that they should stop nipping.
  • Crate your dog: Consider crating or muzzling your dog if they are too excited or fearful to stop nipping. You can then bring them out once they are calm.

What to do when a dog nips at children

You should take immediate action and precautions when your dog nips at a child. Apart from separating the dog and the child so that you can check if the child has suffered any injuries, you should also:

  • Determine the cause: Understanding the cause will help you identify the right cause of action and prevent recurrence. Most cases are due to the dog feeling “bothered” by the child. Things like the child pulling on the dog’s tail or ears and hitting or climbing the dog will trigger the dog to nip. Teaching the kids how to interact with pets and having someone supervise playtime is important.
  • Consult a dog trainer: The advice of a pet trainer is invaluable, especially if the nipping is unprovoked. The trainer can schedule training sessions to address the issue. Keep the kids away from the dog until the problem is resolved.
  • Consider rehoming your dog: A family with young children should reconsider having a nippy dog around. Consider gentle dog breeds that are known to get along well with kids. Ensure to inform the rescue group that you’re rehoming your dog due to its nippy habit so that they rehome them with a child-free home.

Final thoughts

Dogs are amazing pets that add love and warmth to our homes. Having them around has been proven to reduce stress and boost mental health. However, if your dog loves to nip, you should also seek a professional trainer’s help to address the issue or rehome them if you cannot find a solution to the problem.