Dear Labby – Teeth Baring

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Dear Labby_oldDear Labby,
When our two dogs play, Tally dances all around Taj trying to engage her. Taj being the older dog stands and looks at her, taunting her energetically, and every now and then she’ll give her a bit of a chase, which is exactly what Tally is trying to get her to do. This morning, Tally bared her teeth at her – not aggressive at all, she was totally happy the entire time, wagging her tail etc. but she did it a number of times – is it a dog smile or grin ? What is that ???

I wonder because Tally loves other dogs – but she didn’t pass her temperament test at the kennel because of baring teeth to other dogs – but now seeing her do it to Taj, I’m wondering if its not just a human like greeting or invitation?

I’d appreciate any thoughts your readers might have on this.

Teethy Tally

Dear Teethy,

Baring of the teeth by a dog can mean a variety of things depending on the situation. In this playful situation, it most likely means just that, it’s playful fighting and isn’t an indication that Tally is about to bite, it’s just her way of playing.

Your keen personnel most likely sees the baring of the teeth as a precursor to a bite as it frequently is – a growl, then the lips come back and then the dogs strikes – but it is not always the case. A dog may also pull their lips back into a submissive grin when they are afraid or when being submissive.

The best way to determine which of these behaviors Tally is exhibiting is to observe her other body language. If its an aggressive posture, you will see her body become rigid, her tail stiff and straight and it will most likely be accompanied by some vocalizations, a growl or even a bark.

If it’s submissive, the dog will display other signs of submission, such as averted gaze, lip licking, moving away.

I’ve never had a dog that has exhibited this behavior, although Tino use to like to bit & nip at the heels of his friend Lucy when they were playing. I will open it up to our readers for their thoughts and experiences. Anyone else have thoughts or advice for Teethy?

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  1. Good answer Labby…Dog body language needs to be taken as a whole…If Tally is in all other ways expressing fun and play I for one wouldn’t worry about the teeth…I think another indicator would be Taj…Was Taj at all concerned? If it was aggressive behavior then Taj would have reacted in some way…Shelter personnel do need to be extra careful due to liability issues
    GizmoGeodog recently posted…Sneak Preview of “Punk’d Puppy” Video #ShakeItForwardMy Profile

    • I agree – I think you shouldn’t focus on one aspect of the picture – it has to be looked at as a whole. Thanks for the input.
      mkob recently posted…Dear Labby – Teeth BaringMy Profile

  2. Chessies “smile” all the time. It is a breed characteristic. There is no aggression in the smile. I think barring teeth with a growl or other aggressive posturing would mean something different as you say.
    2 brown dawgs recently posted…This ‘N That ThursdayMy Profile

  3. Our golden Sheba used to do this a lot when playing with her brother. We would just kept a close eye on them, as you said, for other signs of aggression. We would sometimes break them up too, just to be on the safe side, if they started to get too rowdy and did too much of that. We never had any problems between those two, but we were always cautious.
    Jan K recently posted…Wordless Wednesday – TV TimeMy Profile

    • As with most anything, you have to pay attention! And like kids they can just get overwhelmed in the moment, so you have to step in. Thanks for the feedback.
      mkob recently posted…Dear Labby – Teeth BaringMy Profile

  4. I agree! Sometimes it’s hard to know if it’s aggression the dog is displaying but if he displays signs of playful behavior then it’s nothing more than just friendly rough housing.
    Michelle Liew recently posted…Dealing with fighting dogsMy Profile

  5. We’ve seen a lot of Katie’s teeth since Bailie arrived. Bailie is constantly in Katie’s face , so Katie shows those chompers and growls as if to say, one more time and I will bite your head off. She never even comes close to biting, but it is her way of saying enough. Me, I don’t give a warning, I just pop up, put my teeth on that little one and pin her down so she knows I am the boss. But every situation is different and you have to know you own dogs.
    emma recently posted…Retro Fun | GBGV | Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

  6. Labby, your answer is — how do they say it now? — “spot on”!! One must look at the whole picture — body language, facial expressions, and situation — to assess the intent. And it really helps to know your own dog as well. I like to watch the dogs at play to see their individual moves and “mood swings” and learn how to spot potential trouble — and redirect their attention when necessary — between them.

    • That’s it – you have to be observant and know your dogs.
      mkob recently posted…Dear Labby – Teeth BaringMy Profile

  7. Good answers Labby!

    I never saw a dog do that before until Blueberry came along. The first time she did it to me I freaked out a little and got away from her. I googled it and watched the rest of her body language next time she did it – it’s just her way of playing with me and now I think it’s way too cute although I’ve yet to capture it in a photo because she’s too fast for me!
    Blueberry’s human recently posted…ViewpointsMy Profile

  8. Great answer Labby. I too think it sounds like a smile. Some do it also when really happy. Nellie will smile when really really happy, usually after she hasn’t seen me for awhile. Gambler roo’s when happy.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…This ‘N That ThursdayMy Profile

  9. My boy Faolan is an expert at teeth baring. He does it in play, he does it submissively. He is not aggressive, just ornery.

  10. Thanks for hopping on with TNT this week! Good question Teethy. It’s hard to figure out whether this teeth display is playful or a sign of aggression. Definitely up to the sapien to read and understand the signs of the their pup.
    Ruckus the Eskie recently posted…This N’ That Thursday: Do Our Sapiens Love Us Too Much?My Profile

    • That seems to be the consensus…some dogs will show their teeth and as long as the rest of the behavior is playful…well it’s likely playful!
      mkob recently posted…Dear Labby – Teeth BaringMy Profile

  11. Hey Labby

    I’m no expert on teeth baring as I don’t do that, but most days when I go next door to collect my buddy Cosmo ready for our run I bark at him just to get him to bark back at me, if you didn’t know us you’d think we were fighting – I don’t do it to any other dog, I’m always super polite! Mum always tells me to stop being silly and then I sit and wait for her to put his harness on like a good doggie!

    So, I think you’re just having fun, like me….

    Wags to all,

    Your pal Snoopy 🙂
    snoopy recently posted…Time out!My Profile

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