Dog Behaviors

Bared Teeth in Dogs | Understanding Dog Body Language

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by Amie Taylor

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Like humans, dogs also express their emotions and feelings through body language and other non-verbal ways.

It might be a conscious or sub-conscious action. Your dog might or might not be aware of its non-verbal expression of emotions.

There are tons of ways they try to communicate their feelings with you; the key to understanding them and your dog better is just to pay a little more attention and keep learning every day.

With an observant eye and a keen mind to explore more, you will become an expert at understanding your dog in no time!

To understand a dog’s body language, let’s take ‘bared teeth in dogs,’ for example. Inherently, people assume that a dog baring its teeth must always mean a warning, but that is incorrect.

There can be other meanings behind this action, which we cannot understand due to our lack of observation and knowledge. Before getting deeper into the topic, let us clear the basics first.

What does ‘bared teeth in dogs’ mean?

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Bared teeth are an action in a dog’s behavior where it bares its teeth so that all its teeth are visible, and the lips get curled backward/upwards.

It is often a reflexive action to a particular situation that they might perceive as danger, pleasure, or threat. So, in simple words, it means an expression similar to snarling or smiling.

This behavior can hold a lot of meanings, but on a broad level, it is grouped into two groups: aggression and affection.

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Bared Teeth as a sign of aggression

When a dog bares its teeth for sending a warning, it is a clear sign for you to back off immediately.

It could mean that they are perceiving your action or the situation as a provocation and would become aggressive if it does not change. It is never a good idea to provocate a dog who is already being aggressive and baring its teeth.

Baring teeth are the dog’s way of telling you that ‘if you do not back off now, they will hurt you, and it will be painful.’

Thus, the wise thing to do is give the dog some space, let them calm down, and the situation becomes a little more tolerant.

You do not need to worry about hushing them or bringing them treats when they are aggressive.

Yes, giving treats is a good way to divert their attention, but that way is completely subjective and highly depends on the situation. 

How to handle it?

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For example, if the dog is barking and growling because you have unintentionally physically hurt him. Then it is not wise to bring treats in front of him at that time.

In the spur of the moment, if you indulge too much with the dog when it is aggressive, it can be misunderstood by him and make the situation even worse.

The better way out is to leave quietly without making any comments or actions directed towards to dog.

After a while, when the dog is visibly calm around you, you might approach him with a caring demeanor and share its favorite treats.

Bared teeth as an expression of affection

There are times when dogs try to be affectionate by baring their teeth. Although it is a rare behavior, it does exist in many dogs. It is a type of submissive behavior.

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Hence it is difficult to find in alpha dog breeds. But if you are lucky enough, you might witness it even from them.

In dog words, it could mean it might not know you, but it respects you.’ Or ‘It acknowledges you as a respectful leader that It will follow.’ Yes, you are right. It is like an honor when your dog bars its teeth as a form of affection.

How to handle it?

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The sad part is that people often misunderstand affectionate tooth baring for aggressive behavior.

And as they are in the mindset that the dog is pissed off at them or is trying to make them stay away, they leave.

Imagine how heartbreaking that would be when the dog is sincerely trying to show its love and respect for you, and you just leave him alone without any acknowledgment whatsoever.

It is sad. To avoid such misunderstanding, you need to be more observant. As stated earlier, pick on the cues in your dog’s behavior that make an aggressive behavior different from an affectionate one.

For example, it is an affectionate behavior if the teeth-baring is coupled with lip-licking and averted eye gaze or a wagging tail.

Also, if the dog seems to have a more relaxed posture and its ears are flatter than in an alert mode, the dog is trying to share happiness than aggression.

Bared teeth as a form of guilt

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Sometimes, when a dog is being scolded, it would pull back its lips so the whole set of its teeth is visible. They are not snarling at you, nor are their eyes seeming happy. So, what does this mean?

Baring one’s teeth while being scolded or reprimanded is different from being affectionate or aggressive. It displays their guilt and admittance to the mistake or problem they created.

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Often, this behavior is coupled with a lip-smacking and drooping tail. They might even try to avert their eyes from you but still look at you from the corner of their eyes. These puppy eyes are commonly associated as an expression of apology by the dogs.

Adding to that, baring one’s teeth in a guilty situation also means that they are trying to tell you that they are not a threat, which was not done intentionally. 

How to handle it?

You need to understand that your dog might be at fault, but this situation is stressful for him to handle, and they do not want to face it.

It can also mean that they cannot comprehend the situation and want to be out of it.

Yes, disciplining your dog is important, but doing that at the cost of instilling fear and stress in him is not the right way. You need to understand that your dog does not want to harm you.

They are just not accustomed to the surroundings or how things work, just like we need our time to build an understanding of our do’s and don’ts. Dogs, too, need some training, and punishment is not advised at the time of failures.

Sometimes, you also need to be calm and explain and teach them how and why their behavior is affecting your behavior and causing a problem.

Thus, there is much meaning behind a particular behavioral action of a dog, but the essence of understanding it is always to be calm and observant.

The more you look for clues in their behavior, the more you will be able to understand them and live with them happily.

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