3 reasons why your dog bares its teeth: it’s not always a snarl

Szénási Szimonetta

2023. November 24 - Photos: Getty Images Hungry

If a dog flashes its teeth at you, better back off before it bites you! Or not? Teeth showing is not always a sign of aggression.


Your four-legged companion communicates with you using his body language. How you interpret a signal is important. For example, do you know what it means when a dog shows its teeth? If you’re not sure, read on!

1.) Warning

The dog can show almost its entire set of teeth by pulling back its lip. This is a reflexive action in response to certain situations. But what exactly does this signal mean? Often it is a warning: don’t approach! And if you decide not to retreat despite this powerful signal, the dog may well decide to use his teeth.

This is usually accompanied by sound effects and the dog’s ears pointed to the sky, tails held taut and slow-moving, spastic posture can also help to decipher the code. From this you can be sure the dog not flashing its teeth at you out of good humour.

2.) Like a smile

However, it is more nuanced than that, because in many cases it is an expression of cheerfulness. It is more like a smile. In this case the dog’s body language is also calm, its muscles and ears relaxed, often licking its lips.

3.) No stress

In other cases, this gesture is used by dogs to appease each other. In situations where something is stressing your pet out, it wants to get rid of this unpleasant, distressing feeling as soon as possible. They may also have a smile on their face that shows teeth, more like a grin.

For this reason, it is also known in the literature as a ‘submissive grin’. Its purpose is to relieve tension and to signal to the animal that it is not a threat and that there is no reason to fidget.

However, if this submissive behaviour does not work, a frightened animal can easily become aggressive. For this reason, you should never ignore this signal and try to eliminate the trigger as soon as possible, which could be a strange animal or person, or an unpleasant living situation.

When should an expert be involved?

If a dog shows its teeth often and not in a good mood, it is likely to escalate to aggression sooner or later. This is why it’s a good idea to consult an expert – a trainer or a dog psychologist – who can help you understand the reason for the signalling and find ways to wean your four-legged friend off this behaviour.

A smile can be taught

Dogs that smile for pleasure can be taught to do so on command. Because a charming smile makes every dog even cuter, it’s worth a try. All you have to do is praise your pet every time he bares his teeth in good reason, and use a command word such as “smile”. You can even reward the happy dog for it, so that the knowledge is retained even more quickly.

aggression anxious dog bite the dog dog body language dog smile dog teeth

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