Dog showing teeth but not growling


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If you've ever come across a situation where dog bares its teeth but is not growling, it may not always a sign of aggression. 

A dog’s body language has different facets, and it can be hard to tell what goes on in their mind. Often, dog owners are left with a lingering question: was my dog smiling or being aggressive? 

There are subtle hints to a dog’s behavior that one needs to get accustomed to for gauging their dog’s body language. Today, we shall discuss why dogs bare their teeth and if it endangers anyone around them.


Why Do Dogs Bare Their Teeth? 

The numbers of ways dogs express themselves are limitless. Some dogs show their teeth to express their feelings. Some dogs are aggressive by nature, so if your dog growls, it’s most likely because it is annoyed by a situation or person.  [source]

An aggressive dog will not hold back in showing its teeth to everyone in the household. Some dog breeds like the Chihuahuas or the Yorkshire Terriers bare their teeth to establish dominance

Other dogs bare their teeth as an appreciative gesture called a submissive smile. A submissive grin or smile is often accompanied by bright eyes and adorable expressions.


Now, if a dog that is traditionally big and robust shows its teeth to a person, it is bound to scare the living daylights out of them.

 Some noticeable differences between an aggressive dog and a dog showing teeth submission traits are mentioned in the table below. 

Signs of Aggression 

Submissive Smile

Rigid posture 

Relaxed body posture 

Growling and snarling 

Lip licking 

Erect ears 

Flatter ears 

High, aggressively moving tail

Lowered Wagging tail

Eye contact

Averted gaze or Squinty eyes 

These characteristics are distinguishable if you look closely at your canine companion. Subsequently, you can make a decision based on its body language - on whether in a certain situation, if a dog showing teeth but not growling is potential threat or not.

Why Do Dogs Show Their Teeth but Not Growl?

If your dog shows its teeth but does not growl, it is probably because it is happy, and it is the canine way of expressing itself. Listed below are some possible reasons. 


In most cases, an aggressive dog shows its teeth to exert dominance over others.

If your dog bares its teeth at other dogs with a rigid and upright posture, then it is clearly showing signs of aggression or dominance.

On the other hand, when your dog bares its teeth with a suppressive smile and calm facial expressions, it is trying to be submissive and friendly. 

A submissive grin can be the most awkward face your dog makes.

It is neither an aggressive, teeth-baring expression nor is it a completely friendly smile.

It looks rather comical and is usually accompanied by squinty eyes and a relaxed body posture. Pay attention to your dog’s body posture – they will either be constantly moving or wiggle in excitement. 

Friendly Gesture


Just like humans, dogs have an affinity for expressing their emotions - sadness, excitement, or happiness. Many dogs inculcate the positive habit of smiling to show friendliness through human interactions.

Experts believe that the submissive grin is a trainable expression as it is an inherently positive trait. 

Even though most dogs display bared teeth as a sign of aggressive behavior, there are times when they want to emulate friendly gestures and inculcate positive and healthy habits.

Sometimes people will get frightened by this gesture, but gradually, you can seek advice from a dog trainer on decoding your dog’s body language. 

You can teach them a more refined, toned-down version of this gesture with positive reinforcement.


Playing Around

When engaged in a playful activity, dogs smile and bark ferociously to showcase their uncontrollable excitement. Most dog owners have seen their canines with bared teeth while messing around with games.

If your dog shows its teeth while playing, pay attention to its posture, which is usually accompanied by light sneezes, low stance, pricked ears, and wagging tails. 

Other dogs are aggressive when exposed to other threatening creatures. Remember not to leave your dog on a leash during play, as this can trigger other behaviors.

They usually greet other dogs from the side instead of making head-on gestures.

If a leash binds them, they are unable to greet them naturally and need to resort to other behaviors like growling, lunging, and jumping.

Shelter dogs are more sensitive than other dogs, so make sure that you treat them with patience and care.

There are even times when your dog wants to get away from other territorial creatures but cannot do so due to the overwhelming leash. To create distance from other dogs, a dog growls excessively. 

So remember, sometimes a dog showing teeth but not growling is not a sign of aggression or anger! 

How to Respond to A Dog’s Body Language

The dog baring teeth body language is difficult to master. There are times when dogs smile to express their respect, and other times they are trying to communicate a message of being harmless.

No matter the reason for your dog’s bared teeth, it is imperative to understand every aspect of its behavior. 

If you are unable to determine or not sure whether your dog is showing signs of aggressive behavior, we recommend seeking advice from a dog professional or veterinarian to rule out any pain-related or medical issues.

Dog experts receive specific training to detect even the most subtle cues in your dog’s behavior. 

If you are confident about your dog’s submissive smiling and are completely sure that it is an act of friendliness or respect, you do not need to be alarmed. However, you should keep observing it and decide whether it is safe to be around other individuals.

Understanding their behavior over a while will help you determine whether your dog is completely safe among other family members and friends. 

Final Words

 A ‘baring teeth and wagging tail’ gesture does not always hint at a negative, aggressive notion. Sometimes dogs want to express their friendly emotions, which often come across in a canine way to other creatures and humans alike.

The submissive grin is a polite way of them saying they are not a threat, and remember - a dog showing teeth but not growling isn't necessary a bad thing too. It's very contextual.

We hope that this article was enlightening and helped you make an informed decision. 

about the author

Frank Harrigan

Frank loves tacos and dogs - the good, bad and ugly sides of dog ownership.

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