A dog showing his teeth is typically a measure of aggression, but it may also signify playfulness and excitement. Fear, alarm, protectiveness and illness can cause aggression. With patience, you can discourage and correct this behavior so your dog and the rest of family can live in harmony.
Identify the context of the action. While typically a sign of aggression, some dogs bare their teeth because of excitement. In fact, Dalmatians are prone to “smiling” when they are excited. A flash of teeth accompanied by growling, fixed gaze and tucked-under tail is a sure demonstration of aggression. The same gesture accompanied by a wagging tail, raised hind quarters and stuttered yelps typically signify playful excitement. Do not correct innocent teeth baring.
Identify the cause of aggression by monitoring your dog’s response to various stimuli. This may take a few weeks. If he bares his teeth at strangers approaching, this is a sign of fear. If he does it when people enter the home, this is a sign of territorialism and protectiveness. If he does it when eating, this is a sign of food aggression. Note the causes of his aggression and note the physical gestures that typically precede him showing his teeth. These may include growling, whining and holding his tail still.
Leash the dog so you can control his movement. Using the information you’ve gathered, create a controlled scenario in which your dog is likely to show his teeth.
Distract the dog by calling his name as soon he shows a pre-emptive gesture. For example, growling. If this proves unsuccessful, a gentle tug on the leash should suffice.
Issue verbal praise and a treat each time he diverts his attention from the recipient of his aggression to you. This teaches him that when he looks to you, positive things happen.
Expose him again to the aggression scenario and repeat the process until you are confident of reliably getting your dog’s attention.
Repeat this exercise for 20-minute periods every day. Once you can safely control your dog verbally, practice without the leash. Over time, your dog will associate the stimulus that has been causing his aggression with the positive outcome of receiving praise and food treats. This will neutralize the motivation for showing his teeth.
- Consult a veterinarian if you have no luck neutralizing his aggressive gestures. Hard-to-correct aggression might be caused by illness or pain. The dog doesn’t understand the source of the pain and so associates it with stimuli in his environment. For example, if experiencing pain at the same as meeting a new visitor to the home, the dog may associate that pain with the visitor and respond aggressively.
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.