Muzzle Punches, Air Snaps and Tooth Clatters Revisited

What a great conversation we’ve had about these behaviors in dogs. I originally posted on this topic on October 10th, and the comments in response have been fascinating. For those of you who’d rather not read through them, I’ll summarize them here, and add some information I’ve found elsewhere.

First of all, I did look at some of the wolf literature (still waiting to hear from folks who work with wolves), and I did find that Zimen, an internationally respected wolf ethologist, discusses 2 of these behaviors in his wolf sociogram in Wolves of the World. I’ll add his comments in the relevant section.

MUZZLES PUNCHES/POKES: As best I could, I categorized your responses about the context of muzzle punches into 4 categories: Excited/Playful, Attention Getting, Warnings with potential Aggressive Intent and Affectionate. Here’s how the responses sorted out (as of this writing, there were 81 responses, note some responses contained multiple examples):

Excited/Playful 14

Attention Getting 30

Warnings: 13

Affectionate: 0

The consensus is strong, and I couldn’t agree more, that context and other postural signals mean everything here. Several of you, wisely, distinguished between ‘muzzle punches’ and ‘muzzle pokes,’ the former being much more forceful than the latter. I appreciate that distinction–I am going to start calling much of what I used to call a ‘punch’ a ‘poke’ (is there a song here?). I also agree completely that, as someone quoted me (thank you!) “It depends,” as being the answer to all behavioral questions.

A muzzle punch given to the face from a dog who had been giving you a hard, cold stare directly into your eyes is something altogether different from a dog who pokes you in the back of the leg to, presumably, get your attention. I would be extremely concerned about a dog who gave me a hard, direct stare and then ‘muzzle punched’ me.

It seems to me there are at least three messages here: Pokes: 1) YO! YOU! Pay attention to ME! or 2) YO! YOU! Wanna chase me? Wanna play? Wanna react in some way for heaven’s sake?” and (Punch) 3) I’m warning you… back off. I also think there is a possibly 4th component here related to herding dogs. Willie changed from biting at my ankles as a puppy when I ran to the phone into muzzle punching the back of my leg when I ran to the phone to racing 2 inches behind me while I turned my head and said “Willlllllll……….” to keep him from punch/poking the back of my leg as I run to the phone. I’ve seen this kind of reactivity and mouthiness in a lot of herding dogs. Yesterday Will played with a 6 month old BC puppy who has just started trying to grab at anything that moves, in this case a walking stick. Will does the same thing: pick up a hose, and Will wants to grab it. Pick up a lamb, and Will wants to grab it. In the case of the pup, it was very clear that it was extremely¬† hard for him not to react to the moving stick…..GOTTA STOP THAT THING FROM MOVING!!!

I was interested that Zimen described these muzzle poke/punches (exactly as done to Tulip in the video from the first post) as a wolf “quickly pushing its nose into the other’s fur…”. He categorizes it as a neutral social contact, neither offensive or defensive, and speculates that it relates to “olfactory control.” I’m not sure what he means by that, and I’m not convinced that when dogs do it it has anything to do with scent. Although.. I’ve taught Will to sniff on cue (not exactly rocket science, hey?) and I’ve found that he will often push his nose into something I’m holding him to smell. But then, I’ve taught him “Touch” too, and my guess is that he’s confounding the two a bit….


Excited/Playful 14

Attention Getting 1

Warnings: 11

Affectionate: 1

Interesting difference with “Muzzle Punches,” hey? Several of you have seen your dogs do it in what sounds like appropriate play, but only one of you described it in an Attention Getting context. Regarding “Aggressive warning” versus “Playful”, surely this is yet another example of context and other signals being critical to interpretation. Thinking back (always dangerous), it does seem to me that I’ve mostly seen them in a context I’d either describe as a warning (in response to “Lie Down” for example, with direct stare to my face) or in play. Again, it seems that an air snap from a playful dog with a loose body, partially open mouth, squinty eyes would mean something very different than a dog who turned and snapped at your hand while you were trying to groom. That may be one important distinction: is there any obvious target of the snap, or is the dog just snapping in the air?


Excited/Playful 10

Attention Getting 3

Warnings: 3


Clearly, fewer of you have seen this behavior, and I have to say I’ve probably seen it least of the 3 myself. I have seen a few client’s dogs who stared right at my face and tooth clacked, usually in response to a cue I had given them (similar to the lie down cue above.). In that case I perceived it as a warning. Like many of you, I’ve seen dogs do it when they were aroused, usually during play. One of you mentioned, and I thought this was very interesting, that her dogs did it after their arousal levels increased during play, and the play stopped (arousal inhibition?) for a while after the clacking.

Zimen, by the way, calls this “Snap Clatter,” I lovely description I wish I’d thought of myself. He describes it in the packs he’s watched as an “Aggressive Behavior involving inhibited biting,” and as a “noisy beat made by the teeth when jaws hit together.” It is very different from the much more rapid jaw movement of an extremely excited dog, which most people call Tooth Chattering. By the way, there are 3 other actions that were introduced by your comments: Smiling, Nibbling and the Jaw Chattering associated with “Flehman,” when male mammals test urine for the presence of the molecules associated with oestrous cycles. I think smiling deserves its own post (as requested) and to the commentor whose dog nibbles on her like an ear of corn, Yes! It’s social grooming and is motivated by affiliative and friendly behavior. No fleas on you!

Here are two photos, taken by a vet student friend and colleague (and owner of the lovely Dobbie, Miska) illustrating another posutre described by Zimen: He simply calls it “Imposing¬† Behavior” in which one wolf stands next to another, body lifted as if by balloons, head up and tail up.¬† Miska is the ONLY dog that Will has ever met who is faster than he is, and she is one of the only females he has played with very much (mostly due to who he’s met, I can’t say yet if he has a gender preference). In my mind, Will is absolutely gobsmacked by Miska. He can’t get enough of playing with her, tries to stop her forward motion whenever he can (a few weeks ago he ran in front of her and lunged toward her, she responded with a half a second worth of bitch fury (she was most appropriate). After that, Willie was even more enamored of her (it seemed) but ran outruns around her rather than body blocks, air snaps or muzzle punches to stop her moving forward. He appears to be fascinated by her, but is very nervous–tongue flick-ey, snake headed, Willie’s evil twin-y in the house. (ie, he’s terrified of not being able to control her in the house, which seems vitally important to him.)

Pretty gorgeous, isn’t she! I love Will’s face in this one and the image of 6 month old Max trying to keep up and play with the big kids…. Thanks to Lesanna for the photos! Me thinks Willie’s in love.


  1. Cynthia says

    Interesting summary. I am indeed extremely concerned about my dog who muzzle punched someone in the face. I am doing lots of classical counterconditioning and desensitization, along with management, thanks to your books (cautious canine particularly) and the reactive rover class. It was very scary, but I am grateful he chose to muzzle punch rather than bite. Silver lining, I guess! I wish the person who got muzzle punched had seen the cold stare and rigid body before it was too late. She’s fine, thank goodness.
    My question is: since he muzzle punched because a visitor was leaning over him while he was chewing on a meaty bone (I know, I know), could this be something of an isolated incident due to certain circumstances and maybe he’s okay around other visitors as he always had been, or should I take this as a sign that he shouldn’t be around visitors at all? Hard to trust a dog you’ve seen be so frightening and aggressive, but I never had any problems in the house besides that before, and I’m worried his current lack of exposure to visitors may make the problem worse. Hmmm.

  2. says

    As a data point for snap clatter: I’ve noticed my 5 year old female Dobe doing this lately, except! She pushes the end of her muzzle against the other dog and *then* does it. I added a 15 month old German Shepherd bitch a couple months ago, had not seen the behavior before that. Tink (the Dobe) is clearly *not* being playful or happy when she does it. First she snarls, lips lifted to expose shiney white teeth and the corners of her mouth WELL forward, her body is always stiff (even if she’s lying down) and there is usually a growl first. She does not grab skin when she does it, but it’s definitely not a friendly grooming-nibble behavior.

    The usual sequence is: Tink is lying on the couch and is comfy. Zille (the GSD) also wants to be on the couch, and approaches Tink VERY submissively (gets down very low, ears flat to head, wags furiously, corners of mouth way back, licks at Tink’s mouth). Tink decides this is annoying rather than being permissive and shows teeth at Zille (corners of mouth forward). Zille tries to get even smaller and licks faster. Tink adds a growl; Zille wags faster, lays off the licking, but stays really close to Tink. Tink will then push the end of her muzzle against Zille’s neck and snap-clatter, at which point Zille will fall over onto her side and expose her stomach and neck to Tink.

    I am torn about what to do about it; on the one hand I think I should interrupt before it gets to that point because Tink is clearly annoyed, on the other hand I try to let dogs sort things out if it looks like no one is going to get hurt in the sorting. But Zille is not dissuaded by anything short of an air snap from another dog. She shows very submissive behaviors the entire time, but it’s almost as if she’s being aggressively submissive and invading the other dog’s space, if that makes sense?

    Anyway, sorry about the lengthy comment but it’s fascinating to watch them interact and so hard to know when I should step in and make everyone play nice and when I should let appropriate doggy social interaction take care of it.

  3. Nicola says

    What a gorgeous photo of the three. Will looks like he is having the time of his life. I must admit my Border collie cross has rarely come across anything faster than he is – but he also loves bigger dogs. I don’t know why, but given a choice, his favourite playmate is the biggest dobe I have seen.

    Thanks for the clarification on muzzle punches etc – I like the distinction between ‘punch’ and ‘poke’, it makes the subject much clearer. I’ve noticed my border collie has a variant on a muzzle poke when playing with my Tenterfield Terrier (think Rat Terrier) – he poked her too hard a couple of times & got told off, so now he makes the same movement with a toy in his mouth! No more trouble. The way dogs figure out solutions to problems fascinates me – I was about to separate him from the older dogs when he came up with his own, much better, solution.

  4. Alexandra says

    Andrea- You two dogs sound like mine in the early puppy months of having the second dog in the house. I have definitely seen Copper be “agressively submissive” to Izzy. He seemed to think he could grovel his way into getting what he wanted since he wasn’t big enough to confront her directly. Izzy would either ignore him, muzzle pin him (I let this go ahead as it seemed very restrained and fair), or most commonly get up with this disgusted air of “Fine! Take it! Just quit pestering me!” My friend’s adult dog would have nothing to do with Copper until he was about a year old, and there were always spectacular tooth displays from him to keep the wild puppy at bay. That always seemed more serious to me, and I would intervene if Copper didn’t get the hint after the first air snap.

    I think whether to intervene or not depends on whether the dog that’s being a pest is getting the hint or not. I want my dogs to trust me and know that I will resolve a squabble before it comes to anything serious so that they don’t feel they have to escalate their corrections far enough to hurt any other dog. The other thing I did was when there was any status issue or squabbling over a place to sleep or a toy, that object became mine. I’ve read a book for 10 min in a new dog bed to get the point across. This may be too sophisticated for dogs (?) but they actually share toys and beds now so maybe they dud get it. Or maybe they are just friends now that they’ve lived together for a few years.

  5. Kerry L. says

    Walter, my 6-yr old corgi, uses the muzzle poke to get my attention. At the dog park he uses the muzzle poke/punch to the shoulder to test (to the best of my ability to discern) whether another dog is willing to wrestle with him. If not, the other dog is then ‘off his radar’ and he ignores them totally. Alice, my cattle dog mix, would puzzle poke for attention but I have never noticed either of my other dogs, manchester terrier or chihuahua, using their muzzle in this way.

  6. says

    Alexandra – I’m happy to hear I’m not the only person who has camped out in a dog bed to make the point that we share things nicely! I’ve also revoked furniture privileges when a dog got guardy towards other dogs or the cats. Tink (5yo Dobe bitch) doesn’t try to stop Zille (17 month old GSD bitch) from getting on the furniture entirely, she just doesn’t want Zille in her bubble. Zille on the other hand either fails to grasp or prefers to ignore the concept of “personal space” with other dogs. She only backs off when things progress as far as an air snap, with anything less she just tries harder to be more submissive.

  7. says

    I’m so glad you covered this topic. I have a very submissive JRT bitch who is a love, but muzzle pokes for attention and air snaps when she is excited, and my husband and I have been concerned that all the literature we could find said that these were aggressive behaviors when it seemed clear to us that it was not.

  8. Debra says

    I have always had Aussies and everyone of them use their muzzle to lift your arm as if to say “pet me”. When my children were little they would use a muzzle poke to make them drop their goldfish crackers which they were carrying in a paper cup – almost like a cracker dispenser. (Poke the elbow and the reaction would dump crackers on the ground). It was comical to watch – I never took it as aggressive – it actually seemed clever. They never showed any aggression and in fact the dogs put up with a lot growing up with two small boys. (However I cringe now thinking of all the chase games they played together that I should have better managed).

    My older dog air snaps at flies and bees. I discourage it because I don’t want him to accidently snap towards a person and because getting stung in the mouth isn’t such a good thing either.

  9. says

    Great topic! I’ve often wondered about these behaviors. My Giant Schnauzers have often used muzzle pokes to get attention and teeth clacking as a show of excitement when I mention a walk. Like Stacey, I’ve almost always seen these behaviors described as aggressive when clearly there must be other connotations.

    Parker (he was SO pleased to meet you at the OVMA Conference last spring!), clacks his teeth. Usually one or two loud “chomp(s)” when he’s excited and happy. Both of my previous Giants used the same behavior to display glee.

    Craigen was a master at the muzzle-pokes and -punches. She would poke me for attention, and lead me to whatever she needed at the time, or to initiate play (often with a tennis ball in her mouth). As she got older, I also saw her muzzle punch rude adolescent dogs. The scenario usually included an adolescent dog off leash, running too close, and too fast, with no previous introduction. She would run at the dog and punch on the dog’s rib cage, often hard enough to make it yelp. It was as if she was telling them to calm down and pay attention to their surroundings. I have to say, the other dog’s owners thought it was a very aggressive act (their dog did yelp!). However, I never saw her mouth open on these occasions. It was a clear warning, and it was always enough to teach the other dog to give her plenty of space without any further posturing.

    I’d love to hear what you have to say about sneezes! My Giants have both sneezed whenever I say “do you want to….” Is it agreement or frustration? “Well of course I want to….”

  10. says

    I’m not sure I understand the difference between ‘teeth chattering’ and ‘tooth clacking’. Is the former more like a rapid chatter-chatter after a bark, and the latter more like an air snap where the teeth clack together?

    I *think* I’ve seen ‘teeth chattering,’ in one of the team search dogs, who tends to do it when she’s very excited and READY TO GO SEARCH! It’s bark chatter-chatter, bark chatter-chatter, bark chatter-chatter-chatter. Very rapid tooth movement.

    I’m not sure I’ve ever seen tooth clacking, though I think I understand the difference in communication, based on the posts above. And thank you all for them!

  11. JJ says

    I’ve seen Duke do the teeth chatter thing twice. Both were similar situations and both were clear (to me) instances of arousal inhibition. It was a lot like a hyper-type person being forced to sit still at a meeting. So, the person starts jiggling his leg up and down rapidly. SOMETHING has GOT to move!

    The most recent chatter experience with Duke happened when I just came home from work. Duke is an inside-dog. I had been fortunate to find a young woman to let Duke out and play with him mid-day over the summer. But when school started up, she couldn’t do it anymore. The first full day when I came back from work, Duke went ballistic. He was jumping around and trying for all I could figure out to merge physically with me. When a Great Dane starts throwing his body against you, you take note with a bit of alarm.

    So, I told Duke to, “Sit!” as brightly, but firmly as I could. He actually tried to comply pretty quickly. But, he positioned himself right beside me and sat without even an inch of distance between us. He then, as much as possible while sitting, threw himself sideways to lean against me, pushing for all he was worth. I heard chattering. When I looked down, Duke was shaking a bit and his teeth were chattering. He had sat and tried to be still as much as possible. But gosh, SOMETHING had to move. I love that dog.

    Follow-up: Duke was fine. He wasn’t sick or anything. I fed him dinner and we cuddled on the couch and Duke was just fine. He was fine the next day too. I think it was just too much to go from a mid-day visit to having to stay all day at home.

  12. JJ says

    This is a totally off-topic, but I think you might find it helpful for future blog posts.

    Many of your books and videos talk about humans wanting to hug their dogs and what the dogs think about it. The following is a link to a National Geographic video about an orangutan and stray dog who found each other and apparently had love at first site. There’s so much to enjoy about this video. But what I think you will find interesting is seeing how much the orangutan likes hugging the dog. The dog clearly loves the orangutan too. (Though maybe not during the hugging sessions?) Doggie puts up with it. And that primate must be strong. I find the whole thing fascinating – including the part where the orangutan opens up the dogs mouth with both hands and then pushes a biscuit inside with his mouth. Wow.

    I decided that dogs and primates are simply fated to be together.

  13. ABandMM says

    The more I have read these posts and reminisce about my first dog Morgan, I realized that she probably did “muzzle punch” me, and quite a lot. Morgan used to put her muzzle underneath my elbow to get attention and to indicate she had to go O U T.. She would knock my arm with her muzzle while I was on my laptop, if I was reading, and in the car. I had a seat harness for her, so she was tethered in the back seat, but could stand, sit or lie down.. just not jump in the front seats. So thinking back, she “muzzled punched” me every time we went for a drive, (she would stand in such a way that her head would be under my right elbow, and she would bump my elbow up with her head, pretty much the whole time (and we made many long distance drives!).

    My dog Abby doesn’t muzzle punch. However to indicate she has to go OUT she sits, stares at the door and barks. The muzzles punches were quieter, but the barking is harder to ignore.

  14. Mary Beth says

    Wonderful discussion! Amazing how many little behaviors just aren’t perfectly defined by science yet, huh? I love ethology!!!
    Trish, if Willie loves fast girls, he would absolutely adore my young Lab. She’s 2 1/2 years old and she’s the fastest dog I have ever met. She lopes at a speed faster than most dogs, but then something will get her going and she morphs into super speed. Her whole body elongates and lowers down and WOW, I mean, WOW can she run fast. She’s a lean field type lab with a long back and long tail. She’s a cool dog to have around. I have yet to see a dog react to her in any way. She can bump, push, move, whatever, amongst a group of dogs and they all seem to say, “whatever, that’s Maggie, she can do that”, yet my hound pup can come over and do the same “exact” thing and he’ll get snarled at. Maybe because he’s rude and obnoxious and Maggie is submissive and mushy.
    Context is definitely the key in behaviors. Interesting to think that dogs could offer the same behavior and have it mean so many different things. I’ve been puzzling over that lately. My Weim muzzle punches in a warning manner. He does NOT like you in his face and teaches all the other dogs that they can have anything he has, just don’t get in his face to take it. I have a special dispensation, I suppose, because I can hug and kiss him…oh the things we do to torture our beloved pets. Now, my mushy, wimpy Lab pup muzzle punches too. I HATE that. But its always in that attention getting, over excited manner. Usually part of an overly exuberant greeting. Same behavior, exactly, but totally different context.

  15. Regine says

    I am glad to have founden this forum – so many interesting discussions and thoughts about dogs and people! Please excuse my clumsy english – my language is german, I live in Switzerland, have two dogs: a pyrenean shepherd bitch called Elina and mixed breed Bozhko who comes from Bulgaria where he had a miserable life as a chained guard dog,was rescued from beeing hanged (and still is a very good and often cheerful dog).
    To “Muzzle Punching and Muzzle Poking”:
    My Pyrenean shepherd dog Elina used to bite me in my ankles when she was a beginner in agility. I than stopped and didn

  16. Kim G says

    My Blue Heeler/Pit mix Mimi loves to muzzle poke with a “gift” in her mouth everybody and every baby animal she can find. We noticed it whenever there were new kittens, she would bring them anything she could get her mouth on, paper, stuffed animals, tennis balls, socks, shoes, etc, she would go up to them with her tail wagging like crazy and push the gift into their face. She does this to visitors that she likes too. I have seen Mimi fall asleep next to a litter of kittens with the gift still in her mouth. The funniest thing is the look on the face of the kittens, they look at her like “what am I suppose to do with that?” Several of my dogs have done what I would call a chatter when they get upset with another dog and they suddenly explode in anger when they stop their lower jaw is chattering and sometimes they are drooling. They seem to be clearly upset. Rarely does this come with any obvious warning. My dogs are pretty much a bunch of clowns and thanks to your wonderful insight and writings I have been able to understand many of the behaviors and accept them as normal and address them appropriately. Thank you for your awesome work.

  17. Liz F. says

    So many thought provoking side notes here, but I’m especially left wondering about:

    -Regine’s comment… I wonder if my dog’s leg injury (and insecurity) are behind his muzzle pokes. Close contact does seem to have a reassuring effect, though it appears that my dog muzzle pokes when he’s thoroughly happy and content. I’ll be thinking about it, thanks for sharing.

    -Breed disposition and its influence over dogs’ behaviors (what and why)… If a herding dog muzzle punches/pokes frequently because of different reasons than those of a beagle, then can these other behaviors (air snap, tooth clatter) hold breed-specific connotations as well?

    -Zimen’s speculation on “olfactory control” … I wonder why he thinks it would be necessary for one wolf to push its nose into another wolf for a better whiff. Then again, I hold my nose right up to pie just out of the oven so… maybe. Human noses are supposed to be comparatively lame so I don’t know. Curious.

    -How closely related the air snap can be to tooth clacking… my Nala (mixed breed) is overall truly submissive with other dogs (however as she gets older she is much more ‘actively submissive’ and this may earn her a response from me in the latest post! How much licking is too much?!?) She will do whatever she can to avoid conflict, but if she is done playing and the other dog doesn’t get any of the usual signals, Nala will turn her head away from them and air snap or tooth clack before bouncing away. When she tooth clacks, she only does it twice or so, she air snaps only once, but either seem to have the same ‘”I really don’t want to do this but you leave me no choice” message from her. They seem to be her synonyms…

  18. says

    I am sorry I missed the original question on this one but I have one dog who nose punches other dogs. Never me, just other dogs. It’s always when they are ignoring her and always when she wants them to play. She’s absolutely intolerably rude about forcing other dogs to play with her. Harmless, sweet, despite the fact she is often snapped at by new foster dogs who don’t know her she almost always manages to win them over and she has never been in a fight. But she absolutely jabs the heck out of the other dogs when she’s rip roaring to play and they want to nap it is always hilarious “do you want to play now? How about now?” It’s part of her charm :)

  19. Sonja says

    My ACD mix was undersocialized as a puppy and still shows some fearful tendencies (mostly bark or bark/lunge at loud strangers). For better or worse (I’d say better), she and I were regulars at a couple of dog parks when we lived in Madison, WI. Strangers accompanied by dogs were a-okay in her mind. Go figure. We also took several walks/day when we were city people and entertained a small group of friends on a regular basis. I’ll preface by saying Zoe has not bitten and absolutely adores people once they become familiar (usually two-three meetings).

    About three times (in the year and eight-to-nine months I’ve known her), Zoe has air snapped at unfamiliar people who startled her. Twice, this was directed toward a close relative of mine who is relatively loud, had just moved unexpectedly, and I’m not afraid to say smells funny. My take is that Zoe has no intention of harming my relative but feels threatened and is trying desperately to get the scary person to go away. It isn’t exactly nice or the best way to win over my family though.

    We just welcomed a young (a year or younger) Beagle into our family. She doesn’t muzzle punch. She nose nips. We’re cuddling, I say her name, and OMG, she just bit my nose! She seems happy. “I just bit your nose! Wanna play?!”

    Tooth Clacking fascinate me, mostly because I’ve only seen/heard it in one dog. One of Zoe’s friends in Madison was a Heeler x Border Collie named Chip. Chip tooth clacked anytime he was with other dogs. He played, seemed friendly, never showed aggression, or concerned me in any way. He could be a little intense in his play with lower intensity dogs, but my dog was young, fast, and spunky. I asked Chip’s human what the tooth clacking was about. She said it was just something he did with other dogs and it didn’t seem to mean anything scary. I remember thinking, “I hope he doesn’t chip a tooth!” and that was the end of my concern. It’s so interesting to read now that this is a documented behavior beyond Chip, Zoe’s Madisonian doggy friend. :)

  20. Nancy says

    Murphy, my terrier mix, is sooo annoying with the muzzle pokes. Mostly they mean that he would like something, and because he is half Lab, that “something” is generally food, as in an after-dinner treat.

    Here’s what I’d like him to know, even as I continue to do those little head pats I learned from you, Trish (which I have to repeat with him because, unlike my female, he forges ahead anyway with his original agenda):

    “I can tell you’re right there, Big Guy. I can see you. It’s not that hard, especially when you’re like what, one foot away from me. You’re really not invisible and you’re kind of loud anyway–moving around, sitting, standing, panting.

    “Really, the muzzle poke? Really?”

  21. Vicki Morrone says

    I have a 6 year old male neutered aussie who does muzzle punch and muzzle poke. on different occasions he has done both to the cat, his best bud, female 7 year fixed aussie and me, the master (in theory some days).
    The two dogs off leash and just the 2 of them wrestle and sometimes get a bit what appears aggressive. The female has enough of brodie (male) and teeth clicks furiously at hime and occasionally followed by some sort of growl. Brodie also herds the cat and is very jealous whenever the cat or another dog is given attention. He comes between the person and the animal that is receiving attention. There appears to be no waiting his turn.

    He is also a constant licker. of me when he wants to be petted, when he is getting his leash on. when ones hands are by their side, you name it. he also licks the cat like he cleaning her off prior to taking a good bit (which he does not do, but does try to bite her tail when I pick her up). So Brodie appears to have all these less than desirable traits to get attention without control.
    Other than these characteristics he is a nice dog when not licking or muzzle punching.
    What are your thoughts.

  22. carole says

    When I volunteered at a wildlife rehabilitation clinic, red foxes would always airsnap at me as I set their food on the floor. They did not appear to be frightened of the volunteers who were willing to work with them and they NEVER actually bit anyone. They snapped beside my head as I leaned over. They hid or ignored me as I cleaned up the room or watered. We usually got young adults with terrible cases of mange that cleared up in a few months with ivermectin and they could be released. Another thing about foxes, at releases, they would always bolt from the crate at full speed, run about 50 yards and turn around and look at us and then trot away. No other species ever did this. They were my favorites even though they had such distain for us.

  23. Leah says

    We have a six-month-old female Golden Retriever x Standard Poodle who air snaps and teeth-clacks A LOT. We’ve put it down to joy, and a bit of “you’re not the boss of me”. She usually does it when she wants us to play. When she’s being naughty, we stare her down, not moving. She snaps and chomps, jumping around and occasionally making eye contact. Then she whines or makes a grumpy sound, drops on to her back and bares her belly. We take this as a sign she’s submitting, rub her belly etc. She’s never snapped at anybody (although I will discourage the behaviour in case she ever does it accidently) and has been teeth-chomping since she was a wee thing. Interestingly, she never chomps at other dogs, just my partner and I.

  24. Shailaja says

    Many thanks for this post. As it happened, we tried to adopt a dog just yesterday. She was probably abandoned and was brought at the shelter, a mix of hound and a stray perhaps. I say tried, because we had to give it up as she was not happy in the home throughout the day and was anxious and restless all the time. I, on our part, think we showered too much of attention or her too, which might have been overwhelming for her to handle. :( Anyway, I brought her in the house in the morning from the shelter and let her get familiar with new home, which she kept on parading not sitting or relaxing even for a second. Though tired, she would have water and then back to her parading routine! After I fed, took for a walk and I saw a dog for the first time in my life who was totally reluctant to leave the house! Probably just scared of being abandoned again? :( I had to work with her for one and half hours to get her step outside for a walk.

    Towards the evening, she started snapping her teeth in the air constantly and it was getting a bit scary. My family – my mom and my daughter were scared as I was trying to call knowledgeable people and trying to understand the behavior, finally it was too apparent that being in a totally new surroundings was getting too much for her. I had to take her back to her shelter and once there, there was a total change in her, she was again her calm and sweet self and teeth snapping was gone. As funny as it may seem, once in her own surrounding, she didn’t hesitate to mark her territory as well, which she had not done during the entire day! – which was a concern too – her health wise.

    I happened to see this post about teeth snapping/ clacking and thought that I could share my experience as well. Thanks much.

  25. says

    Good post thanks.

    Unfortunately it’s a bit too arbitrary to come to any conclusions about dog behavior.

    But, it’s interesting to see how people think of their dogs in different situations and interpret things differently.

  26. Natalie says

    Great information! My chocolate lab, Pax, air snaps all of the time. It is never agressive, but only when he is excited or about to get a walk or dinner. He will walk beside me and snap and smile! If I am getting ready for bed and begin to take his bed back to my room to put by mine, he follows me, snapping all the way. I just rescued him in January from very poor conditions, and it took me several days to figure out this was just part of his personality. I tried very carefully to correct him at first, and then realized he is just so happy to be around good people, have good food, that this is just his normal way of expressing excitement. He often goes to the door to remind me of our nightly walks, and will rub on his leash snapping and making all kinds of little grunts and howls. He is such a talker!

  27. Lynne says

    Muzzle Punching. This is a very interesting subject and until a week ago I didn’t know there was a name for it but my dog does it all the time to strangers or people he doesn’t see often when they bend over to stroke him he muzzle punches them on the nose. He’s not aggressive with people so I can only guess it’s just excitement. It’s so frustrating for me as I can’t get him to stop doing it but he doesn’t do it to people he knows well so it’s hard to train it out of it. any advice you could give would be appreciated.

  28. susan says

    Ok. So I don’t feel alone in owning a muzzle poker / puncher. … but what does one do to stop the behavior??!!

  29. amanda says

    I have two female chiweenies that I have had since they were 6 weeks old. They are 1 year old now. I noticed Lily muzzle punched Blackberry in the throat to get her to move out of her spot or so I thought. (They like to cuddle in blankets) I thought this was a dominating behavior and it looked like it would hurt so I put a stop to it. Today, I caught Blackberry muzzle punching Lily in the throat in an attempt to get her to play fight with her when they were on my lap. I do not know how to interpret this behavior. They get along well and they don’t seem to be bothered by the muzzle punching like I am. Any suggestions??? Blackberry is the submissive one and Lily is the more dominant of the two. They have really good temperaments and love children. Lily is more of a homebody with medium to low energy and Blackberry is outgoing and high energy. I am a dog lover and I have not seen this behavior before. I guess I just do not know how to interpret this behavior, should I allow it or not? Is it harmful behavior or playful?

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