Why Is My Dog Nipping at Visitors? (Stop Biting Guests)

Why Is My Dog Nipping at Visitors

We have a year-old puppy who was very excitable up until a month ago. Most of the time this presented no problems, but when the doorbell rang, all hell would break loose. This came to a head when visitors came in and he started nipping and biting at them.

For any pet owner, it’s completely unacceptable for your dog to be biting at guests who come into your home. We did manage to stop our puppy nipping at visitors. To do that, we had to identify why the issue was happening in the first place.

Reasons for dogs nipping at visitors and guests includes over-excitement and wanting to initiate fun with a new “playmate”, a resource-guarding tactic, an outcome of poor socialization, a herding instinct, or they nip and bite out of envy. 

There are some other possibilities for biting guests. Below is my guide to your dog’s undesirable nipping behavior towards visitors. I’ll also share how you get the nipping to stop so your dog shows better manners when you have guests over.

Why does my dog nip and bite visitors?

Like every other dog parent, you always want your guests to feel comfortable right from the moment they walk through your doors. But if you have a dog or puppy that can’t keep their mouth to themselves during visits, it’s a problem that could get worse over time.

Why nip at people you’ve prepared a little too hard to impress?  Not cool, Fido. You need to nip (no pun intended) this behavior in the bud.

When your dog’s nipping habit is the only thing that stands in the way of your visitors having a memorable stay in your home, you’d want to know why they nip in the first place.

dog with toy
Dogs will sometimes bite guests to guard a toy.

Let’s take a closer look at why the nipping at guest hands and upper body happens:

1. Guests make your dog overly excited

Some dogs get extra mouthy when excited. Most likely, seeing new cheerful faces at your door makes your furry friend want to extend their greetings the best way they know how: nipping while jumping at the guests, often at your visitor’s hands.

Your dog probably assumes your visitors are “his guests” and, therefore, can’t contain his excitement when they arrive.

2. They are being playful

Dogs (especially puppies) are notorious for nipping visitors when they are in the mood for play.

If your guest is randomly petting your dog purely out of affection, your puppy may misinterpret this gesture, thinking the friendly stranger wants to play.

Your dog will nip as though telling the guest to quit the mixed signals and initiate a proper play session.  Also, they will have a relaxed body posture while giving these playful nips, for instance, rolling over on their back as your guest pets them.

3. It’s a jealousy thing (showing off their possessive side)

One interesting study on dog behavior found that our furry friends experience jealousy. They express this emotion in different ways, like through nipping.

“A study by scholars at the University of California, San Diego found that dogs showed jealous behaviors when their owners displayed affection toward an animatronic stuffed dog that barked, whined, and wagged its tail. The dogs snapped at and pushed against the stuffed dog and tried to get between it and the human.”

If your dog nips at visitors, it may be out of envy.

They don’t want to see anyone else in your personal space. They probably think that if they don’t act (by nipping), the guest will forever be your priority.

4. Poor socialization makes them nip out of fear

Some dogs can be quite fearful of unfamiliar faces. This is often the case for an adopted dog that had a rough past life before it found a loving home.

If your rescue dog had a difficult upbringing with limited socialization opportunities, the sudden presence of new faces in your home might make them nervous. They probably view visitors as threats to bite at.

So even when your friendly guest tries to pet them, your dog may freak out. They might snap to warn the “threat” to stay away.

5. Herding instinct kicks in

There are certain dog breeds considered herding dogs. These include breeds such as the Australian Shepherd, Bearded Collie, Corgis, and many others. Herding dogs tend to have a very strong urge to nip people, whether that’s you, visitors, or complete strangers.

These breeds were historically kept to herd livestock. Their role mostly involved nipping at cattle to make them walk faster. With your house guests, they will likely nip at the ankles to achieve the same affect.

If your dog has these herding traits, there’s a good chance that nipping is the first thing that comes to mind when a guest stands up to walk, or if there are children running around.

They nip to make your guests hurry up!

6. Trying to guard their resource

Whether it’s a particular spot on the couch or their favorite toy, there are things our canine pals treasure a lot.

The only problem is they will guard these “high-value” items with all they’ve got, even if it means nipping at you or your guests.

When your dog is busy playing with a specific toy or resting at a particular spot, a visitor who approaches them at that moment will likely get nipped (yet all they want is to say hi to your adorable furry friend, not take away their stuff).

7. Caught off guard

Most dogs nip visitors when they are startled and surprised.

They don’t like surprises when they aren’t alert, not even the good surprises like a new and interesting person coming into the house. So, if a guest walks up to your sleeping dog and starts petting them, they will likely be nipped.

How do I stop my dog nipping at guests or visitors

As I outlined from the start, we managed to stop our dog nipping visitors, and those methods (because we used a few) are listed below.

But before we get to that, you must remember that yelling, pushing your dog away, or alpha rolling them for nipping at guests won’t solve anything. Instead, any punishment will only turn your dog into an aggressor who not only nips, but gets worse over time, biting and breaking your guest’s skin.

Another thing you should keep in mind is that this bad habit won’t go away overnight. Be patient and consistent with whichever solutions you apply. With time, you’ll see some improvement.

That said, here are how we stopped our puppy biting visiting guests to our home:

1. Crate comes first

Many owners don’t agree with crating, but as far as nipping at guests go, you must do it to diffuse the behavior in the first instance.

When the doorbell goes, before you even contemplate opening the door, get the dog in the crate.

This means you dog obviously get to the guest to nip, but also gives the dog time to calm down so the adrenalin reduces and the urge to nip the visitors lessens before you let them out.

We placed our dog’s crate in a corner within the living room as that’s where we receive our home visitors.

puppy in crate
Stop your puppy nipping visitors by crating (IL9vpVg6fPE)

Your dog should have a clear view of your guests from that spot. This will eventually help them learn how to keep calm (and not get anxious) when you have visitors around.

If you are happy the dog has calmed, you can try letting them out.

Let your dog interact with the guests for a few minutes. If nipping happens, you can give a command like “go to bed” so your dog heads back to her crate to play with her toys. You might have to place them in the crate if they don’t follow a command.

Also, ensure your dog stays in their room or crate as you escort your guests.

But as with anything, crating is part of the positive training…

2. Positive training

Don’t allow your dog to receive the guests with you. When a visitor arrives, keep your dog in a separate room first (have their favorite toys in the room to keep them entertained).

You can bring your dog out when the greetings are over, and your visitors have finally settled.

Let them socialize with the guests briefly but keep an eye on them. If they nip at anyone, issue a command like a firm “no” and return them to the room.

Remember, no scolding. Your canine pal shouldn’t feel as though you’re punishing them, so maintain an upbeat mood as you lead them to the room.

Let them stay there for a few minutes, then allow her to see the guest again. If they misbehave, take them back.

The goal here is to ensure your dog approaches your visitors on your terms, and for them to know that nipping is unacceptable.

3. Leash on when out of the crate

Make sure your furry friend has a leash whenever you have guests over and they are out of the crate. This will help you to quickly get a hold of them as you issue cues like “no” if they begin to nip at your visitors.

Handy Hint: I’ve also developed a guide which offers more tips on stopping puppies from biting in all manner of different scenarios.

4. Up your dog socialization game

Many dogs that nip at visitors might have socialization issues, so you should look to address that. This is especially true if your adopted dog has had a horrible past.

Hit the dog park often or walk them regularly. Doing so will make hey get used to seeing and being around many people.

When your dog has more socialization opportunities, they will start being at ease around guests and not nip visitors out of nervousness.

If this habit persists despite being consistent in correcting it, it’s best if you consult a behaviorist for further guidance.

Conclusion

Most dogs will develop into loving pets who are almost perfect in every way. But it’s not at all unusual for a worrying behavior of nipping at guests to occur.

Thankfully it can be trained out of your dog so that they eventually stop nipping and leave your guests’ hands, ankles, and legs in peace.

Apart from constantly apologizing to your visitors for your dog’s ill manners, the nipping also interrupts the fun moments.

Thankfully, there are ways to stop this impolite behavior.

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Image in header from https://unsplash.com/photos/JbkMHAkw5wA

Marc Aaron

I write about the things I've learned about owning a dog, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips I've picked up along the way.

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