Have you noticed how dogs like to show their teeth sometimes? Has your dog just curled his lip up and showed you his teeth? Has it left you confused as to whether he was really smiling or worried he might have been being momentarily aggressive?
It can be hard to tell what's going on in a dog's mind when he shows his teeth, particularly when the flash of his pearly whites isn't accompanied with a growl. What do you do? Take a step back or get the camera out and take a picture of his grin, post it on social media and see if he achieves overnight fame on the internet? Maybe or maybe not depending on the situation.
So why do dogs show their teeth?
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs have very few ways of physically expressing themselves. When they're in a situation they are not happy with and the need arises and if they feel they've got a point to make, they may well bare their teeth. It's a canine way of warning you that your dog is just not in sync with what is going on around him. It may be you said bath and he hates taking one, it could even be he overheard the word vet and is expressing his dislike at attending an appointment. It might be he's done something wrong and isn't appreciating the telling off he's getting and has gone into a self-protective mood because he knows he's in serious trouble.
It's a common misconception us humans have that all dogs are, in general, docile and reasonably good-natured with just some sporadic moments when they display a bout of bad temper. This is not always so. Just like people, dogs come with all different personalities and not always good ones. Some dogs, frequently smaller breeds like Chihuahuas or Yorkshire Terriers, can be quite the divas around the household and as small as they are, don't hold back in showing their teeth to make sure everyone in the household is well aware of who's running the show.
Dogs respond very quickly to human interaction. They love praise and love their owners even more. For a dog to get praise from its owner is like finding a full packet of chocolate cookies in what you thought was an empty cupboard. If, when your pup curls his lips up into what resembles a beatific smirk, you respond by laughing or telling him how clever he is, he'll love it. When you say the word smile often enough, he'll understand it as a command and even though he's not particularly expressing happiness, he will grin to order. Wouldn't it be great if we could all do that?
Encouraging the Behavior
It is quite normal for a dog to show its teeth, but it's not always a desired trait. Think of it from your dog's point of view. Showing his teeth is the only way he has of communicating to you that he's not in the best of moods and it is a sign he wants you to back off and leave him alone. Take it as a definite warning signal and one which you need to take notice of.
If your dog shows his teeth to another dog, he'll be attempting to make his dominance known. The other dog might be trespassing on what your dog classes as his territory and the infringement are unwelcome. Your dog by showing his teeth is telling the other dog in no uncertain terms to clear off.
Sometimes when you have two dogs of different ages in the same household it can cause a tooth-baring clash. If you acquire a playful, boisterous pup which you then introduce into your home, your old dog may not always be in the mood for its antics. When your more mature dog bares his teeth at the younger one, he's letting it know he's not in a playing mood and to leave him well alone.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If your dog is normally very placid and not in the habit of baring his teeth to you, you may want to consider that there is something wrong. He may have hurt himself or have some underlying medical condition which you haven't noticed and which is upsetting him. If you feel your dog may be showing his teeth because he's not well or is in pain, you'll need to consult a veterinary surgeon as soon as possible.
It's easy for a dog to fall into the bad habit of showing its teeth to get his own way if you react wrongly to the situation. If he's asleep in your chair and when you go to move him, he bares his teeth and you back off, he'll be in the dominant role. To reassert your control and stop him showing his teeth, you might want to consider some sessions with a professional dog trainer. They'll be able to advise you on the correct techniques to use to prevent your dog being aggressive toward you.
While we may love the fact our dogs are capable of giving off big cheesy grins more than equal to any super model's, just because they're showing their teeth doesn't necessarily mean they're happy. Though while he is smiling up at you, you might just want to check he's not, in his own doggy fashion, asking you to remove something he's got stuck between his teeth.