One of the many curious things our beloved pit bulls do is using their front teeth–almost like a shivering chatter–to gently chew on toys, blankets, or even you. This isn’t the full-blown chewing to rip open a toy and see what’s inside (although it could complement that); it’s more careful and deliberate. Its normally done in a playful way, during zoomies, or right as they’re getting cozy in bed. It has a lot of terms: “ninnying,” “corn-on-the-cobbing” (especially appropriate when done to our fingernails), love-biting, and nibbling. While all dog breeds do this to some extent, our favorite term for when our weirdos do it is “the pibble nibble.”
What’s the reason behind the pibble nibble? Unlike most strange pit bull behavior, the answer is pretty straightforward. That doesn’t make it any less interesting or adorale though.
Puppy Playtime Rituals
When your pit bull was a puppy, it was surrounded by brothers and sisters who nibbled on each other as a sign of acceptance and affection while playing and getting mom’s attention. This began even before they started cutting their teeth, so it included gumming their litter-mates until they developed those jagged, razor-sharp teeth that puppies eventually develop. As their teeth grew, they used them to lovingly nibble each other to maintain familiarity (think high fives instead of handshakes). In the process, they learned restraint, and what amount of pressure was acceptable versus what was past the line of playfulness (mom helped set that straight).
As your pit bull continued to grow-up with his brothers and sisters, the nibbling became more than just constant positive affirmation; it served the practical purpose of grooming. Combing someone else’s fur through your teeth is a pretty personal way to bond with your buddies, even if it’s your siblings. That’s why the grooming aspect of nibbling is also a sign of affection and acceptance. So why do our pit bulls do this well into adulthood after they’ve been adopted? It’s because they are comfortable around you.
Puppy Behavior For Life
When you see your adult dog do the pibble nibble, it is reverting back to a time when it felt safe and comfortable, surrounded by peers, without a care in the world. We normally see the pibble nibble during spontaneous playtime, perhaps when a toy isn’t immediately available. Pit bulls will not let the absence of toys stop their fun, and will normally improvise with a pillow or blanket. Rest assured that they don’t want to destroy your stuff; they just associate playing with instinctively nibbling on something that reminds them of being surrounded by the first friends they had in life. So now they’re around you, and they feel like they’re back in the care-free environment that made them feel loved and cared for; they feel like a puppy again!
What if I’m the One Being Nibbled (the nibblee)?
If you are lucky enough to receive a pibble nibble, you’ll notice that it doesn’t hurt, and that certainly wasn’t their intent. But sometimes, they can play a little too hard, which is easy because our bare skin doesn’t have the fur buffer that their siblings did. In that case, experts recommend letting out a high-pitched “yipe,” signalling to your dog that the pressure has crossed your threshold of acceptable play. Personally, when I feel the painless chatter on my finger, I’m honored that my best friend feels comfortable enough to consider me one of his pack.