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Why Do Dogs Show Their Teeth When Playing? Surprising Facts!

Most pet parents have seen their canines show their teeth at one point. Whether they are around their food bowl or playing, there are many reasons dogs show their teeth.

While it would be pretty awesome if our dogs could verbally speak to us, one of their primary methods of communication is through body and facial language.

Showing their teeth in certain situations allows them to express their feelings. Sometimes it is simply a sign of respect as if they were smiling.

Many of us have seen our pets’ lips pull back and their teeth visible when playing tug of war with our pups. This is a natural reaction and not always an alarm for concern.

Other times they might be on the edge of attack. Learning to read your dog’s behavior will be highly beneficial in the long run for pet ownership. 

Keep scrolling below to read more about why your canine may show their teeth during playtime.


What does it mean when a dog shows its teeth? 

Dogs show their teeth for various reasons, and this is usually dependent on the situation as well.

It’s essential to understand why your dog shows its teeth for training purposes.

For example, you don’t want an aggressive dog showing teeth to other dogs. But you also don’t want to punish your dog every time they show their teeth. Sometimes, they may show their teeth as a sign of playfulness. 

Friendliness

Sometimes our dogs will show their teeth to extend friendship, which may be to humans or other dogs.

When showing their teeth to other dogs, it will be easy to tell if they are doing it aggressively, based on their body language. Think of it as a smile shared between people.

Friendliness

Submissiveness

This one may surprise some pet owners, but our dogs sometimes show teeth as a sign of submissiveness, mainly if directed at their owner with a direct gaze. This may be their way of submitting to you as their alpha.

They are essentially accepting you as their leader. Strange but also extremely sweet and cute.

Good Ole’ Messing Around

Again, whether during playtime with you or another dog, this is a typical time for dogs to show their teeth.

Sometimes dogs even wrestle around and very lightly nibble at each other’s ears as a way of playing. Observing your dog for traits like calm body posture, relaxed ears, and no growling will be signs your dog is simply playing. It is a pretty distinct energy our pups tend to give off when they feel threatened versus feeling friendly. 

Aggression  

Aggression, in this case, can be caused by different factors. Dogs may show their teeth on a leash if they feel approached by another dog or person.

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Aggression is their defense mechanism and natural territorial spirit kicking in. So, leashes are always recommended in a space with many dogs because you never know how your canine may react.

Feeding time is another typical time for dogs to show their teeth if they feel approached. This is a way that they resource guard and, again, is a natural and primitive instinct.

It’s always recommended to keep kids and other dogs away from your pups’ feeding area. Pain is another factor that may lead to aggressive teeth showing behaviors in your canine.

Just like humans in pain, our pups may feel confused, irritable, and scared. This can lead to extra sensitivity and aggression. This may need to be checked by a vet. 

Note: If you believe your dog is constantly showing their teeth due to aggression, we highly recommend that you look at our 7-part series on how to correct every problematic behavior in 10 minutes.


What to do when a dog shows its teeth? 

This is where understanding your dog’s body behaviors come into play. At the same time, it is always recommended to stay clear of a dog showing its teeth, especially if it is not your dog.

If you know your pup is playing and not in an aggressive mood while showing his teeth. Then there’s nothing really to do.

On the other hand, if you have a naturally aggressive pup tending to show its teeth, removing yourself from a threatening situation is the first important step. Sometimes dogs can be trained with clickers or shock collars.

Dogs that tend to show teeth and are naturally aggressive with no direct cause may have experienced trauma in the past, especially if they were adopted from a shelter. The best practice is to contact a dog trainer or behaviorist to help with an aggressive dog that tends to show teeth. 


How to differentiate between a playing grin and aggression in dogs?

There are two primary reasons dogs usually show their teeth. One that is less commonly talked about is the submissive grin dogs will often exhibit.

These are accompanied by behaviors such as lip licking, eye gazing, and relaxed body posture. Usually, their ears tend to be floppier and their tails more relaxed.

Our dogs will often exhibit this grin during playtime or to show friendliness towards their owners. This shouldn’t be a reason for alarm and can be a pretty cute way for your pup to let out a smile. 

When dogs are in an aggressive state, showing their teeth will often accompany other behaviors. These include vocalizations such as growling or barking.

Dogs will also often snarl and drool as well. Some of the body language signs of aggression in dogs are rigid ears and an erect tail wagging back and forth.

Dogs may become aggressive and show their teeth for a host of reasons. This includes fear, pain, defensiveness, and protection.

Remember, our dogs are territorial creatures. At the end of the day, canines are animals, so it’s always important to be cautious of a dog showing its teeth if you are not 100% sure of its intention. 

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Dog breeds known for showing their teeth 

While all dogs show their teeth, whether during playtime or times of aggression, these dog breeds, in general, tend to be naturally a bit more aggressive. Aggression and showing teeth can include snarling, biting, growling, or even lunging other dogs/humans.

Knowing the general temperament of our dogs is an excellent way to read their behaviors when they show teeth. If you know you have a particular breed that tends to be a bit “snappier,” it will be easier to regulate how you respond. Whether during playtime or in a difficult situation, it’s good to be cautious about a few of these breeds below.

Chihuahua

Despite their size, they are only averaging about 4-6 lbs. Chihuahuas are known to be some of the most defensive dog breeds around.

At the same time, they are very loyal and sweet to their owners. Many Chihuahuas get the name “ankle biters” for a reason.

Their small size probably has them in defense mode more than some other breeds. They can be great “alert” dogs and often bark at strangers.

Often Chihuahuas showing teeth will make it very known they are in an aggressive state. If you find yourself around a Chihuahua showing teeth, it may be a good idea to get away from the situation.  

Rottweiler

Rottweiler

Rottweilers make phenomenal guard dogs. They are loyal to their owners. These large-sized dogs average about 80-120 lbs.

Make no mistake, Rottweilers may be known for their aggression, but you will often see them show their teeth in times of play. That being said, these short-haired breeds reigning from Rottweil, Germany, definitely have an aggressive side.

Rottweilers are recommended for experienced canine owners. Be mindful of their body language when they are showing teeth. Their size and power have the potential to be overdominant, some owners may opt to use shock collars when taking their more aggressive Rottie out in public. 

Jack Russell Terrier 

Jack Russell Terriers are our last breed featured here. They are playful yet aggressive when need be. These are very high-energy dogs bred initially for cattle farming.

Their inherent nature to be outside as a hunting dog can surely make them aggressive when someone approaches them improperly. It is not uncommon for Jack Russell Terriers to show their teeth when they are scared. This behavior will also be accompanied by the body language of hunched back ears and snarling. 

Final Thoughts

Overall, dogs may show their teeth for a variety of reasons. Of course, aggression is never a behavior that should be encouraged, and if you notice this, it may be good to speak with a dog trainer.

Our pups have several different ways they communicate with us. Understanding your canine’s body language and facial expressions is an excellent way for pet owners to understand their dog’s needs.