We have all seen our furry friends showing teeth in some situations, but do we always know the reason behind it? As their owners, we must understand our pet’s body language and those fine distinctions between a friendly grin and signs of aggression. So, before you begin to assume the worst, you should be aware that dogs show their teeth for numerous reasons, both positive and negative.

Dog showing teeth can be a sign of aggression, fear, excitement, or playfulness, and the following article will explore all of these reasons and the ways to read these and other indicators and help both your furry friend and everyone around it.

stressed dog in a car

Common Reasons Why Dogs Show Their Teeth

Why do dogs show their teeth? While sometimes it is pretty clear that your dog shows its teeth because it feels irritated or scared, often it can be tricky to know if it’s feeling excited or aggressive.

If your dog’s body is relaxed, and it is wagging its tail and showing its ears up, then your pet is probably just being playful. But if its tail is stiff, ears are back, and it’s staring directly at you, it may be on edge.

Sometimes, dogs show teeth due to anxiety or fear. If you believe this is the reason, extend your hand slowly so it can sniff you, speak in a friendly tone, and maybe give it treats to help it associate you with positive feelings.

Your pup’s body language and reactions will differ from other dogs, so get to know them. A professional trainer can counter condition and desensitize it safely, controlling it if it’s frequently aggressive.

Understanding Dog Body Language

If you are unsure how to interpret a dog’s expression when showing teeth, you should also look for other signs.

Pay attention to the rest of the animal’s body language, e.g., the position of the tail and the laying back of the ears, to determine whether it is a friendly grin or aggressive behavior.

A wagging tail and a relaxed, open mouth with floppy ears usually signify happiness. However, be warned if the tail is stiff, the ears are laid back, and the hairs on the back of the neck are raised.

Some dogs show a toothy “smile” when excited, while others only show teeth when agitated. Therefore, understanding dog body language with teeth display is essential, so you must get to know your dog and watch for other signs, such as a tense posture, a fixed stare, or a stiff, slowly wagging tail.

dog showing teeth
dog showing teeth

Signs of Aggression vs. Friendly Behavior

When a dog shows its teeth, look for other signs to determine if it’s being aggressive or friendly.

  • Signs of aggression in dogs showing teeth: Barking, growling, lunging, snapping, raised hackles
  • Friendly dog behaviors, including showing teeth: Play bowing, jumping, tail wagging, licking, pawing, mouthing

Growling, staring intently at you, pinning back their ears, and raising their hackles are also signs of aggression. The body and tail of the animal will be stiff and tense.

When a friendly dog approaches, it will sometimes wag its tail, tilt its head, “smile” by relaxing its mouth, and even drop into a playbow in which it will wag its tail and hold its rump up. They appear loose and wobbly, with upright ears and alert expressions.

Occasionally, submissive dogs will show some front teeth by pulling back their lips and showing their submissive grin. As a result, submissive behaviors such as laying their ears back, lowering their tails, and avoiding direct eye contact usually accompany this behavior.

Each dog has its personality. In most cases, you will be able to recognize if they mean to hurt you based on their body language and other signals. If a dog is aggressive, staying calm and avoiding direct eye contact, loud noises, and quick movements are essential.

Speak in a friendly, gentle tone to defuse the situation. If a dog approaches aggressively, do not turn around and run away.

Breeds and Individual Differences

While it is true that every dog has its personality, breeds also determine their behavior. Some breeds are naturally more territorial or wary of strangers, while others are more friendly.

Smaller dogs, in particular, may show teeth in an attempt to appear bigger to compensate for their size. Herding breeds generally tend to be more mouthy, while Hounds and Retrievers are usually quite friendly. Of course, there are always exceptions.

A significant role in your dog’s behavior is in its upbringing. How your dog was socialized as a puppy and how many positive experiences, like meeting new people and dogs at a young age it has, also help curb aggressive tendencies.

Positive Training to Modify Behavior

Positive training is essential to change aggressive behavior in dogs that show their teeth. Create a training plan for your dog with the help of a professional dog trainer with experience in behavior modification.

It is possible to achieve great success with positive training with time and consistency. In some cases, however, such as when a dog has a history of aggression, additional measures like medication or muzzle training may be needed. To develop a comprehensive treatment plan, consult a veterinarian and a trainer.

Your veterinarian can determine the causes of your dog’s aggression and suggest the best methods of dealing with it:

  • Counterconditioning: The dog is taught to associate positive outcomes with triggers that previously caused aggressive reactions.
  • Desensitization: Your dog is gradually confronted with the trigger in a controlled environment, and good behavior is rewarded.
  • Obedience training: reinforcement of basic commands such as “look at me,” leave it,” sit,” and “stay” to establish you as an authority figure.

Responding Appropriately to Dogs Showing Teeth

If you notice a dog showing its teeth and you aren’t sure what is causing it, avoid sudden movements, stay calm, look away, and avoid staring directly at the dog.

As soon as you notice that the dog’s body has relaxed and is no longer showing its teeth, slowly move away without avoiding direct eye contact.

However, if the dog approaches you aggressively, raise your hands in the ‘I surrender’ position so as not to appear threatening. Speak in a firm, calm tone and tell the dog “no” or “go away.”

Always avoid approaching or petting an unfamiliar dog without the owner’s permission. You can tell if it’s safe by the dog’s body language, but dogs can show their teeth if they feel uncomfortable, anxious, or threatened.


Dog teeth can indicate aggression, fear, excitement, or playfulness. Understanding your dog’s general body language, usual behavior, and temperament is essential. While caution is always advised, you shouldn’t assume the worst.

Also, breed and personality can play a role. So, the more you know about your dog’s unique body language, the better you’ll be able to build trust and keep the peace. With consistent, positive training, many dogs can learn to appropriately greet people without showing their teeth.

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