Why Does My Dog Flea Bite Me?

What is flea biting and why do dogs do it? ¹

If only dogs could talk…

Dogs don’t need to talk, they have various ways of expressing themselves, and the only problem is that we don’t always understand what they’re trying to tell us.

It’s not hard to figure out what is your dog trying to convey when you walk in and he starts wagging his tail.

It’s obvious seeing you makes him happy.

If you’re wondering ‘Why does my dog flea bite me?’ this may be a little more complicated.

When a dog flea bites his owner it may mean a lot of different things.

Most of them good, actually, but you also need to consider the possibility your pet might have fleas or that he’s bored.

Let’s have a look at the many different reasons your dog may be flea biting you.

What is flea biting?

Flea biting is a very descriptive term as it refers to the gnawing at the skin a dog uses to relieve an itch caused by a flea bite. Or the dog may be trying to catch the annoying insect.

This action can also be described as:

Nibbling

This is because it’s not a real bite. Your dog uses his front teeth to nibble at his skin or yours for that matter. They take good care not to puncture the skin with their pointy little teeth.

Baby biting

Flea biting resembles the type of playful bites puppies use with each other or their mother. They don’t use the full force of their jaw, as the point of the whole thing is not to harm.

Why does my dog flea bite me?

Some pet owners find flea biting a bit annoying, maybe not the action itself, but the fact that they don’t understand why their dog would do such a silly thing. There may be many reasons why your dog keeps flea biting you, such as:

Habit

If your dog had fleas at some point in his life he may have developed a habit. He may have spent hours nibbling at his skin to get rid of the pests and to relieve itchiness. Flea biting has a calming effect and he might exercise this on your skin. 

Flea infestation

If you don’t remember your dog ever having fleas, now would be a good time to have a good look at his skin. If it’s just a couple of fleas, you may have difficulties locating them, especially if your dog has a long shaggy coat. 

Even if you don’t see any fleas, look for possible insect bites. If you find rashes it may be a sign your dog has been trying to rid himself of the nasty insects. 

For starters, give your dog a good bath. This will at least reduce itchiness. Contact your vet and ask about ways of ridding your dog of fleas.  A flea collar is the easiest way to send the fleas running, but your vet might recommend other remedies as well.

Grooming 

If he has fleas, your dog may assume you have a flea problem, too. By flea biting, he’s doing you a favor. Your dog is grooming you and he probably expects you to be thankful, not annoyed by this strange behavior. Grooming each other is a common behavior in dogs. If you have more than one dog, you may have seen them grooming each other. Or your kind-hearted dog may flea bite a buddy in the park, whether or not the other animal has fleas. 

By the way, even cats do this sometimes.

Affection

If the dog is trying to do something nice for you, what more proof do you want that he cares about you? You’re his favorite human and taking care of you is his way of expressing affection. If the dog is flea biting your leg while you’re trying to get some work done on your laptop, it may be quite irritating to you. The dog doesn’t see it this way. Flea biting soothes him, so he figures you’ll enjoy it, too.  

Teething

If you have a puppy, the constant nibbling at his skin or your skin may be a sign he’s teething and this action helps reduce the pain. Even if it doesn’t bother you, consider talking to the vet about pain remedies for teething dogs. 

Playing

If you got your dog from a breeder you may have missed his first few weeks of life. This sort of nibbling is a form of puppy play. This is how puppies learn to play with each other. They may spend hours tugging at each other’s ears, muzzle, or tail. Or they may do this to their mom. The mommy-dog teaches her young it’s not OK to hurt her or his little brothers and sisters. If a puppy bites too hard, even though he doesn’t have teeth at the time, the mother will push him away to teach him that’s not nice. Sometimes, flea biting brings your dog memories of his early days and the puppy playing that was so fun. You’re his family now so he plays with you.

Boredom

Flea biting can also be a sign your dog is bored. Left to themselves, dogs find various ways to relieve boredom, like licking or biting at their paws. In severe cases, a bored dog will lick himself raw. It probably doesn’t give him any pleasure, but at least it’s something to do.

If your dog doesn’t appear to have fleas, you should consider the possibility he’s bored. You should look for other signs of boredom.

A big mess when you get home is a clear sign the dog had nothing better to do. 

Digging in the garden and tipping trash cans may mean the same thing. A bored dog will do anything to get your attention and flea biting is just one way to make you look at him. Dogs suffering from boredom are clingy, they’ll follow you around the house hoping you’ll get the message. If you’re tired after a long day’s work and just want to rest on the couch, the poor thing will start nibbling at your hand discreetly. He doesn’t want to bother you outright, just remind you he’s there and he has nothing fun to do. 

You should never ignore such behavior as boredom may lead to anxiety and depression. 

How to stop your dog from flea biting you?

You first need to understand why he does that if you want to stop him from being such a nuisance. Keep in mind that teaching a dog not to flea bite without addressing an underlying problem, such as fleas or boredom, will only lead to other problems.

Here are some tips to help you rid your dog of this habit. 

Get rid of the skin problems

  • If your dog nibbles at his own skin as well as yours, you should make sure he doesn’t have fleas. Also, check for other skin irritations, such as rashes caused by allergies.
  • Comb his fur regularly as it helps to prevent fleas from colonizing their fur
  • Try skin grooming your dog once a week by dry bathing. If your dog has sensitive skin, check with your vet what products you should use.
  • Clean your dog’s paws using pet-friendly wipes to remove dirt

Relieve boredom

If your dog does this out of boredom consider providing more mental and physical stimulation. Increase the length of his daily walks and try to take him to a park where he can get more exercise and play with other dogs. If the dog must spend many hours on his own, you should buy him smart toys, like puzzle feeders, or a nice juicy bone every now and then.. Kong toys are very nice as you can fill them with nice frozen treats and this will keep him entertained for a long time. 

Consult a dog trainer or an animal behaviorist.

Train your dog to stop flea biting you

If your dog flea bites you as a way to show affection you should be very tactful when training him to not nibble at your skin all the time. You don’t want to hurt his feelings. 

Don’t pull your hands away

A sudden movement may send the wrong signal. Your dog might think you’re playing with him or it might trigger his natural instincts. If you pull your hand away suddenly, he might take it as an invitation to pursue it more vigorously. Try to be subtle about it. Keep calm and leave the room, as a way of showing him his flea biting doesn’t make you happy. 

Don’t yell at your dog

He’s not doing anything wrong in his view, so yelling at him will only make him confused or scared.

Don’t hit your dog

Hitting your dog is never OK. If anything, he’ll learn to play rough and bite harder the next time. Physical punishment only leads to fear and aggression. He may get the message that you don’t like flea biting, but try other more aggressive behavior

Use positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the best way to train a dog. Push your dog’s muzzle aside gently. Wrap your hand around his muzzle to stop his flea biting you and pat him on the head. Use a soothing voice to convey the idea that you prefer it when he doesn’t nibble at your skin. Release the dog’s muzzle and offer a nice treat if he lies down quietly and doesn’t flea bite you anymore. 

Closing thoughts

If your dog flea bites you, try to understand why he’s doing it. In most cases, he’ll do it out of love or as a form of playing with you. You cannot blame or punish him for that.

If your dog has fleas, get rid of them and your dog will be less inclined to nibble at you or himself. 

If it’s a sign of boredom you should take it seriously. Find ways to increase mental and physical stimulation. 

Last, but not least, remember that a dog explores the world with his mouth. It’s a natural thing for him and you shouldn’t be upset about his nibbling. Try to get him interested in a new chew toy so he’ll leave you alone.  

Photo credit

¹ Photo by Tony Alter on Flickr