Just to clarify, this isn't a nibble. It's a single, very deliberate pinch!

He's a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and he's getting quite 'long in the tooth' now. I mind him quite regularly when my sister goes away and this habit/defence thing/whatever, is very annoying.

He just came up to me for some attention, so I picked him up (again, he's old), sat him next to me, gave him some smooths which he seemed to enjoy(he sneakily clambered his front end onto my lap), my forearm went close to his mouth, and he quickly, but carefully got his canine teeth pressed against the skin and pinched quite painfully.
I emphasized "carefully", because he makes adjustments to ensure his canines are in a pinching position against the skin before making any kind of bite motion. He makes the adjustments quickly but very deliberately. It leaves a small, circle bruise with broken skin at the centre. It can be small but on occasions, he's given me a larger, deeper bruise, bleeding slightly at the centre.

Related activity:

  • He also jumps up to nip at your face if you look at his face while fussing him. In the past(his younger days), he has bitten my lip, making it swollen and bleeding slightly. He seems to really love the fuss, and also seems to know he shouldn't nip faces like that, as the fusses always end with a row. But it's like he can't help doing it; it's out of excitement.
  • He also pinches your arm if you try to stop him doing something where your arm is near his mouth (e.g. moving him away from something). If he only did it in this type of situation, I'd understand it's to get you to move your arm away.
  • Sometimes, if you touch his collar he will pinch you.
  • When he pinched me during that smooth, I started pinching his face (not hard at all) and he started play-biting me normally but quite gently, like he was afraid to bite down any harder, but did a little when I continued to play-fight.
  • He doesn't always do it - I was just fussing him on the floor, smoothing quite firmly and touching my arm against his mouth and got no response, just a happy-looking dog.

He's a really loving dog who sleeps on my sister's bed with her when he's at home, but I really want to know why he pinches like this; is it hostile, defensive, a nervous reaction or just a fun habit for him? Maybe if I know why he does it, I can try to respond accordingly.

2 Answers 2


Are you sure he "really loves the fuss"? What makes you think so? Many dogs dislike being hugged or squeezed or otherwise encircled by humans because it takes away their options to move away or avoid the contact. Most humans simply don't realize because they cannot read the body language while hugging a dog or they don't recognize the body language.

The best indicator that his "pinching" is no friendly behavior is that he acts very different during play fights. He knows exactly how much he can close his jaws to cause pain or avoid it. He chooses to hurt you in these situations. You need to stop ignoring his behavior and the causes for it.

First you should change the way you interact with him. Dial back on the fussing and don't be "all over him". Instead, offer him simple pettings and playtime. Let him decide how much body contact he wants instead of forcing the contact on him.

If you carry him, don't treat him like a stuffed toy. Support his body between his front legs and under his hind legs, as if he's sitting on your arm. When you set him back down somewhere, hold him very close over the surface and let him walk off your arm. Sit him down only if he doesn't move from your arms at all. This gives him the feeling that he chose to move (although you moved him where you wanted him).

If he pinches you again, especially to the point where you bruise and even bleed, treat it as the bad behavior it actually is. Don't beat or otherwise hurt him, but tell him in dog language, that you won't tolerate this. This reaction must come as quickly as possible. It would be best to sternly tell him "NO!" while he's adjusting your skin in his mouth and before he even pinched you. Next best is to reprimand him as fast as possible, at least within 1 - 2 seconds after he pinched you.

If he's pinches you in the face, quickly lay your hand on top of his muzzle and close your hand as if to hold his muzzle closed, then move his muzzle away from your face so he can't pinch you anymore (Don't slap him in the face or squeeze his muzzle! That's very important because dogs can develop a shy-away behavior if you hurt them in the face). It will need some repetitions for him to learn that he's not allowed to pinch you. My dog loves nibbling at everyone's noses and caused quite some bleeding. This way he learned that he can move his teeth over our noses but is not allowed to close his jaws.

If he pinches you in the arm or anywhere else on your body, you can either use the muzzle-closing gesture above or pinch back. I don't mean actually pinching (every interaction with a dog should be pain-free, even reprimanding). Form a mouth with your hand as if you used a socket puppet and quickly "bite" his ribs or flank with your hand-mouth. In most cases it's enough to just nudge him in the flank. This gesture mimics how a dominant dog would reprimand another dog in a wild pack. They either jump with their front paws at the other dog or nudge them with their mouth without actually biting.

  • I don't hug or squeeze him lol. Just normal, affectionate stuff. He's like 14 now. I'm pretty good with dog body language (I've had dogs all my life), which is why this puzzles me. He always comes to me, and I only pick him up coz he's old and struggles to get up to me on the settee. I don't think you should carry dogs unless it's really necessary. I think it may be an automatic defense. He has lived with two young kids who maybe did hug and squeeze him in the past.
    – n00dles
    Commented Jul 10, 2020 at 19:25
  • I'll accept this because it's good advice for any dog owners, really. He's in doggy heaven now anyway.
    – n00dles
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 15:54

Puppies are eager to play and in the process of learning how hard they can bite. You need to teach the dog the right bite pressure by saying OUCH loudly then walk away from the dog. Physically correcting the dog usually doesn’t help and makes it worse. Another puppy when bit too hard doesn’t bite back,.. they yelp and avoid playing.

  • Our labrador puppy did the same thing, always mouthing with those sharp little teeth. An immediate loud "ouch" or "no" followed by separation was the solution, although this did take a couple of months.
    – user8045
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 7:22

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