Body Language – The Mouth




We always have to look at body language in context but the mouth has a lot to say!

When your dog’s mouth moves from relaxed and open to closed, this can be a sign that your dog is processing something they are concerned about. If they are standing comfortably but with a closed mouth, do a small prompt to see if they can disengage.

If their mouth remains closed and gets tight, where you can see wrinkles or ridges around the corners of their mouth, it’s time to interrupt and help them move away. Their stress level is definitely going up.

If your dog pulls their lips back all the way to show their teeth and their mouth is open, this may be to cool themselves, or may indicate concern or uncertainty. This is especially true if they are panting and it isn’t hot. Take a look around for things of concern and do what you need to help them relax.

Some dogs will keep their mouth closed but raise a corner of their lip to show a portion of their front teeth. They may even pull their front lips up high to show all of their teeth. This is a warning. Your dog is asking for space so you should back away and ensure that others do the same.

A more subtle communication with the mouth is the tongue flick. A tongue flick is when your dog’s tongue goes straight out, over the nose, and back in the mouth. It happens without any contact with food. A tongue flick usually indicates a level of uncertainty or discomfort in that moment, and more than one tongue flick, especially in combination with a head turn, is a good sign of increasing stress.

When your dog does a tongue flick, stop and note what they might be responding to in the environment – what do they see, hear or smell? Is it your movement, another dog, a person, a sudden change in the environment?

If you see multiple tongue flicks, look at changing what is happening to reduce stress for your dog. If you are petting them, pause and remove your hand. If you are on a walk, cross the street. If you have guests, ask them to sit down and stay seated while you help your dog move away.

Learn what your dog’s mouth is communicating and you’ll be on your way to speaking dog!

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