My partners dog always shows me his teeth when I come into the house or when I come onto a room after being gone for a while. He seems to be happy to see me, wagging his tail and loves pets.

He is a good dog and he usually listens to me whenever I give him a command.

He also does this when presented with poison (alcohol, cigarette smoke, spicy foods).

I'm wondering if this is aggressive behaviour, or if it is just the way he greets me, and if there is anything that could or should be done about it.

  • Probably just a nervous smile. My lab does it.
    – paparazzo
    Dec 11 '18 at 20:12

There are different ways of "showing teeth". Some dogs adapt an artificial smile from humans that has nothing to do with aggression. Some dogs are rather insecure, which often leads to warning signs and, if these are ignored, to aggression.

We recently had a question about a "cute" video of a dog that was actually stressed. The signs are hard to recognize if you don't know what to look for.

Typical warning signs of stress and aggression are (ordered by seriousness):

  • Averting the gaze and peering at you. You can often see the white part of their eyes.
  • Yawning.
  • Panting with drawn back corners of the mouth. That creates typical "smile wrinkles" as shown here.
  • Rapidly licking the lips with the tongue coming out only a little bit at the very front. This is a serious warning.
  • Growling with and without showing teeth.
  • Snarling with furrowed, drawn up nose, baring the fangs and upper gums. This is one step short of being bitten.

Dog smiling:
Dog smiling

Dog snarling:
Dog snarling

I know a dog that is insecure and displays a behavior that can be best described as "shy". If your partner's dog is like that, you could simply give him some time to approach you on his own terms. That means when you enter your partner's house after a long time, you:

  1. Greet the dog verbally with a friendly tone.
  2. Don't approach him directly.
  3. Sit down where he can reach you and ignore him completely (don't even look at him). Don't move hectically or gesticulate wildly. You can use this time to talk to your partner.
  4. Wait until he comes to sniff you. If he's actually insecure, he might approach you from behind.

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