I am not sure if the title is more reminiscent of canid communication or some strange, alien kind of cookies, but let’s go with the former. I’m writing this post because I’d love your interpretation of 3 canid behaviors that we’ve been discussing in the comments on one of my posts. I had mentioned a “muzzle punch” somewhere, and in response one commenter inquired if an air snap or muzzle punch was more predictive of a potential bite. Here, in part, is my response and a video with a great example of a muzzle punch from one dog to another: [“Muzzle punching” being a quick forward motion of the muzzle, jaws completely shut, making contact with another individual, “Air snaps” are when a dog moves exactly as if biting, but bites the air instead of an individual or object. Some people just call these ‘snaps’, meaning the mouth opened and shut but there was no object between the jaws. “Tooth clacking” is when the mouth is opened and shut rapidly several times in a row, and there’s a very clear noise of teeth snapping together.]
Here’s from my comment:
“I’m not sure anyone knows the answers about comparative levels of intensity [of the 3 behaviors] and whether they are universal or not (some dogs seem to only muzzle punch, some only tooth clack or air snap.) I do know that “muzzle punching” can be done at varying levels of intensity. Will does it on occasion on the back of my leg when I have run into another area and (I suspect) am not doing what he wants me to do. I take it as a slightly rude, but not aggressive “Yo! You!” It most often happens when I’ve been moving fast, and I suspect in his case it also relates to his strong-eyed herding tendencies.
I don’t say that as an excuse; when Will does it I’ll turn and say his name in a quiet but shocked voice and go back to working on teaching what I do want (Will go slow when Trisha goes fast). His “punches” are more like taps–they can be felt but are not in the slightest bit painful. In 20 + years I have seen one or two dogs punch their owners so hard that they caused discomfort or pain, but that seems very rare to me as I look back on it. Usually they are much more benign. I would love to know what others think of them, how they are interpreted. . .
I’ve always taken air snaps and tooth clacking (mouth opened and shut rapidly, very clear noise of teeth snapping) as more of a threat than a muzzle punch. But I’ll have to think long and hard about why I say that. I”m going to write some of my friends who work with wolves and ask what they observe. Tooth clacks usually seem to be given as a dog is directly facing a person, often looking right into their eyes, and they have always felt to me like “Hear that? Those are teeth! Big, white, sharp, bit-ey teeth! And I know how to use ‘em!” This is not the same as a dog who is doing “tooth chattering,” which is a much faster action, sounds more like the dog is shivering, and usually seen in dogs who are highly aroused and barely able to contain themselves (could be aroused in any way). I don’t see “tooth chattering” as a social signal, while I think “tooth clacking” is. Air snaps also occur more as threats to me than muzzle punches. There’s just something about a dog purposefully (I would argue) keeping his or her mouth shut that I find meaningful. I would LOVE your thoughts on this, and I’ll do some more research on it next week. The video is at the end of this post (of Kalladin, an adolescent collie and Tulip, my Pyr, at the farm in the “play pen.
Meanwhile, back at the farm: Not much time at the farm now, leaving in a few hours to speak at the Border Collie National Specialty. Lassie threw up 5 times this morning, oh dear oh dear. I know.. dogs throw up a lot, but you know, she’s 15+ with compromised kidneys. I talked to my vet, gave her pepcid, extra water for dehydration. She seems fine now, wanted breakfast (gave her a tiny amount as a test, all went well), so I’ll wait and see, but damn I just hate this….. she’s probably totally fine. I’ll keep you posted.
Here’s the video (watch closely, it happens FAST! I use it in seminar to train trainers to be good observers!):
I know you are primarily discussing aggression here, but in my own inimitable style I will throw in something only remotely related. 🙂
I have a seven year old cocker spaniel named MacGregor who was horribly abused by a prior owner – he even has a healed skull fracture. Another of his problems is terrible back legs and hips – he has blown out both ACLs and had surgery, as well as having conformation problems making his back legs significantly longer than his front legs, now causing arthritis to develop.
I had always associated teeth clacking with aggression, but MacGregor clacks his teeth when he is upset or in discomfort as well. It is not teeth chattering, but a steady, deliberate, conscious clacking. When he gets my attention the clacking slows, but doesn’t stop. I will then go over and pay attention to him to determine if he is just upset about something one of the other dogs has done or if he is in pain. Attention or anti-inflammatories are provided and MacGregor goes on about his business.
MacGregor also experiences twilight seizures – those jerking motions that happen in the stage between awake and asleep when he is completely relaxed. I first thought the teeth clacking was associated to the seizures but the clacking clearly happened when he was alert – sometimes overly alert. 🙂
I pay close attention to all my dogs behavioral patterns – they are as different as a houseful of kids (which I no longer have lol). MacGregor is the caretaker – the eyes for the blind dogs and the herder of the others – so he tends to be a little high strung sometimes. He definitely lets the other dogs know when they have displeased him but he is not aggressive.
This is MacGregor standing in the yard.
Kathi D says
None of my own dogs have been “air-snappers” but my sister-in-law’s dog did it all the time and SIL saw it as affectionate! I will say that it never “seemed” threatening, and the dog never followed through with a bite in all her 14 years of life. Sadly, she (the dog) died this year from cancer.
Those looked to me like forleg punches, not muzzle punches!
Sorry…foreleg, not forleg.
Hmm, I have to say that both my teeny JRT and I can attest to the muzzle punches of my two year old Australian Cattle Dog actually hurting. I take the Dr. Dunbar view and squeal like she is killing me thus hopefully giving her the idea that to non-cattle dogs that behavior is unpleasant and gee, people (and 11 lb jack russells) are so darn delicate you just have to be super careful with them or they’ll break!
An empathetic ouch for barrie, and i love the response to communicate that it hurt (but do be cautious, some dogs seem to be ‘set off’ by squeals and become more aroused).
And look carefully, the muzzle punch is there… it’s from the collie and it happens REALLY fast, all paws on the ground. There is the foreshadowing of one when he ‘turns to face’ and touches Tulip with the tip of his muzzle, but then there is a very clear, sharp and abrupt muzzle punch after that. See it?
My 11 year old pit bull mix regularly air snaps at me when we play, and I have never viewed it as threatening. I even snap back at him! The rest of his body language is clearly in play mode, he is happy and excited. In all our years together, he has never once made any contact with his teeth. Of course, I wouldn’t want to engage in this type of play with a dog I didn’t know very, very well!
The muzzle punching is something my Pekingese does. It is hysterical to watch, since the little guy has no muzzle! He does it to the back of my leg as I am walking, and I take it as, “Hey… hey… hey Mom…. hey.” He does it when he is wanting to wrestle and play. No, I don’t correct the behavior, and yes, I do play with him. *blush* Then again, for me, getting on the floor and playing with my dogs is the best part of my day. 🙂
Interesting stuff. I was discussing on email with my father that my next dog will likely be a Doberman. He (is not a dog person) related a story to me how a gal in his office used to come to work with black eyes, saying her (Doberman) dog would jump up and jamb his muzzle into her face. Apparently hard enough to cause pain and bruising. Not being a dog person my father was advising against getting a Dobie based on that incident. Also, I occaisionally dogsit for a coworker who has a Terrier (I forget specifically which kind). He will chatter his teeth (not snap) but usually when he is sleeping. Very seldom have I seen him do it while awake. I hadn’t put a lot of thought to either scenario. I’m eager to see Trish’s followup info on this, and others’ comments. I didn’t realize the muzzle bump was a common thing. My Sheltie has never done it.
My “rock bottom” for my aggressive dog Gustav was what I considered a muzzle punch to the face of my mother-in-law. He was chewing on a bone and she began to lean over him and pet him behind the ears. Just as I opened my mouth to say “back off!” he did the cold hard stare and froze, then leapt up snarling and punched her in the face with his nose. It gave her a bloody nose and the rest of us a near heart attack. However, he didn’t bite her and certainly could have. We’re not even totally sure if his mouth was open or closed. Of course, since then we’ve been really cautious and keep him crated or on leash when people are over, and are taking the reactive rover class (starts next week). Maybe this wasn’t really a muzzle punch after all? Hard to characterize. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what was really going on, I find Gustav a very difficult dog to read.
My dogs both regularly air snap during play. They will also clack their teeth together, but they don’t do it repeatedly. Copper, my lab, will poke me with his nose to get my attention if he really has to go out to potty and I engrossed in the computer, but it’s what I consider a gentle nudge to get my attention and he only does it for that reason.
From the aggression standpoint, in my lab mix Izzy’s younger days, before I worked through many of her issues with a professional trainer, she once gave an extremely scary air snap combined with a snarl at my mother-in-law who had inadvertantly leaned over her while she had a bone. The whole family saw it, and we were all very shaken by it. I have absolutely no doubt that it was a very serious warning which would have been followed up by a bite if my mother-in-law hadn’t backed off. She never did muzzle punches, but did give a few dogs inhibited bites which were aggressive in nature but didn’t break the skin.
Maybe various dogs have their own preferences for how the issue warnings? A muzzle punch vs an air snap and how serious a threat it is probably varies a lot for an individual dog and the specific contest. It seems to me that your favorite behavior answer, Trisha, “it depends” might be best here? Just my layman’s speculation here.
ps – please excuse all the typos… just one of those days I guess.
Kathy S. says
My Scotties “clack teeth” frequently while playing with each other and me. One Scottie clacks his teeth at me as part of his “Dinner’s on the way!” happy dance. I don’t think there’s any aggression involved in these situations.
Susanne Bark says
What a great video, so much information about both dogs emotional state! I so admire your sweet old dog Tulip, wish there were more dogs like her. Straight after muzzle punch and forleg half- mount she quickly and calmly says ” Hey, don’t do that” with a quick growl, forward movement and owning the space between them, whilst graciously still wagging her tail. My bet is Tulip could see that muzzle punch coming a mile off and already had estimated exactly how much force to use to calm/diffuse the situation.What a good teacher she was…
I take my hat off to the collie owner holding the leash as loose as she could and not letting her body freeze up.
Did the Collie engage in play with Tulip during that encounter after they were let off the leads?
Sending you and Lassie positive vibes from Australia, hope it was just a little tummy upset.
I’ve not seen muzzle punches as aggression, but I’ve certainly seen my dogs (Dobermans) using them to be *rude*, usually to me. My female didn’t do it as much as my male, and he finally gave up when he got to be a couple years old and had more self-control and more practice dealing with frustration when I didn’t do what he wanted me to do. But it was more like a little kid whining “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. MOOOOOOOM.” and then poking at Mom when she still doesn’t react in a desireable fashion.
My dog muzzle punches the cat – very much like the Collie does in the video. I really think she does it to get a reaction from the cat: he swats at her and bites her, which only encourgages her more. It is almost like she accepts the swatting as an invitation to play, and begins to play w/ too much intensity. I’ve never thought of her behavior as an indicator of a bite, but I certainly think that the behavior is attention seeking, and perhaps her way of testing to see what she can get away with (guess that sounds rather anthropomorphic).
Also, I’ve never seen her muzzle punch the older, larger male dog in the house. Maybe she has, but I don’t recall it if so.
During my college courses as a vet assistant I was taught in behavior class by the trainer that I ended up working with during my dobie’s puppy years, that muzzle punches could be a precursor of where an aggressive dog is going to bite in addition to being a signal of rising arousal. I’ve always seen it as the equivalent of a person shoving someone away from them.
Cadie Pruss says
One of my shelties
I have a pit bull named Mushroom who one day started tooth clacking in a fit of excitement. Nothing else in his behavior or body language was aggressive or threatening, but he had this horrible wrinkled snout and gnashing teeth (fluid body, full-body wagging). Shortly after that, I had a friend and he was thrilled, so he jumped up onto the couch that she was standing next to and started clacking his teeth. She wasn’t that amused (scary pit bull!!). At that point I put it on cue and tried to get it under stimulus control. Now he only does it as a trick (and I only ask for it in certain company!)
I’d never seen a dog do that before- clack teeth in a non-aggressive manner, and I still haven’t seen another.
He’s also a big muzzle puncher of other dogs when propositioning them for play and they’re ignoring him. He has never muzzle punched me or any other person to the best of my memory.
My dog is quite fearful and did some air-snapping when people tried to pet her. We’ve done a lot of counter-conditioning, so years later, she now thinks strangers may carry cookies and is much more obliging, though she still ducks her head if they try to pet her. But a couple of months ago, when my husband had Old Pup in the park, a little girl asked to pet her. My husband explained that our dog was shy and didn’t like to be petted. The little girl was not to be deterred, and during subsequent conversation, sidled closer to our Old Pup, and surreptiously tried to pet her back. Old Pup turned and air-snapped in her direction. My husband said the little girl’s eyes grew round and she turned and left.
Old Pup also air-snaps at the cat, who she is quite jealous of.
Like Sarah’s dog, Old Pup air-snaps in play. I actually encouraged her to do it in that context (yikes, am I bad owner?); she only does it when I’m rubbing her back or belly and I tell her, “Chop!Chop!”, and she snaps to have me continue stroking her. I’ve taken pictures of her, and her muzzle doesn’t seem to wrinkle like the pictures I’ve seen of snarling dogs. It kinds of puffs out.
I’ve only seen my retriever do a sort of teeth clacking when she had a very uncomfortable sore on the side of her face. It wasn’t directed at anyone and I took it as a sign of general discomfort. She did it lightly as she walked around but it was teeth chattering. I’d be interested to hear an interpretation of it. It’s in the line of CJ’s comments. 🙂
Also she does light muzzle punches when she wants something. A sort of indication to me to take notice. She does it to people and inanimate objects… usually a playful woo woo follows it if it isn’t acknowledged.
I’ve only experienced tooth chattering in a few really drivey dogs that are highly aroused and focused on a high value object/toy that they are waiting for. These dogs are ones with a fairly high degree of training and a sound “out” command; their chattering is accompanied by the vibrating sit stay. lol
My terrier dogs and I have a few terrier friends that are air snappers, but it is accompanied by barking/talking and play posturing. Those same dogs when very excited to see me do the same thing, but have never put their teeth on me and I do not feel that they would. For them, at least, it is excitement and joy and always followed by gentle abundant kisses.
I have seen the air snapping from some very “nervy” dogs that I have met – usually German Shepherds uncomfortable in their guarding role. The difference from the other behaviour described above is that the body posture is much stiffer and the tone of the bark much more sharp.
The muzzle punchers I have met that have done it from the front (face on) have been very assertive dogs and, for me, this behaviour was more serious than an air snap. They came into my space and after punching me, they stayed very close and very still.
The “muzzle punchers from behind” that I have encountered were usually the “hey lady, hey, hey, I dropped my toy” or “hey lady, pay attention to me” types. (especially the little doxies – actually doxies are snout bonkers from either side…whether it be love or give me attention lol)
My deceased Malinois did a lot of teeth clacking as a joke with me. She only clacked at people she really liked and then rarely. The clacking seems to be fairly common in the Belgian shepherd breeds/varieties and mostly done as a joke. Those are big teeth when the dog jumps in the air and clacks them in your face or ear.
My 13yo Australian shepherd air snaps quite dramatically, and it’s definitely a warning. She doesn’t really know what to do if the recipient of the air snap continues to do whatever she was telling him/her not to do. The hard part now is that with age she can no longer gauge distances as well so the snaps sometimes contact.
My 8mo Aussie will occasionally gently muzzle punch in the back of my knee if she wants more attention. She also tries to stop the lawnmower and (wheeled) garbage cart by biting them. Her teeth chatter at that point.
How funny. Just tonight my husband and I were comparing notes on how our Kelpie (herding dog) “pokes” us in the back of the legs. It doesn’t hurt whatsoever, but it sounds like what you are describing as a “muzzle punch.” She usually does it as we are walking to the utility room where her food is kept. We interpreted it to mean she is herding us into the room in hopes that she will get some kibble.
We have also seen her do it to the cat when she wants to get a reaction. We typically have good cat-dog relations in our house, so it seems all in good fun. Sometimes the cat will respond and play, sometime not. You know how cats are.
My Sheltie boys get “trembly jawed” when smelling at bitch in heat or the cat’s behind. Sometimes their teeth clatter when this happens. IS this similar to the tooth clacking?
Ah, sorry. Just reread your post. You do describe the difference between tooth chattering and tooth clacking. I see the difference.
Hope Lassie is well.
I have a 2 year old yellow lab and he will muzzle punch my husband. I don’t feel it is an act of aggression in any way. It is usally occurs when my husband and I been wrestling or horsing around, Scout comes to my aid and splits us and then might jump around at my husband, muzzle punches, or play bite, which in turn gets my husband playing with him. So I think Scout has learned it is a way for him to initiate play with my husband and is an attention getter.
With my sisters dog who tires faster than Scout, I have seen Scout sniffing Finn’s side and then give him a quick bop to try and get him to play. His body language shows relaxed but again trying to initiate a romp.
Susannah Charleson says
I have a little Pom who definitely uses the muzzle punch as a back-off, usually with other Poms his size or smaller. He doesn’t do this with the Golden (they have a checkered early history together), but where Jack once was a pretty benign dog in the brood, he has become more territorial about his spot next to me — this particularly became true after I got sick — and doesn’t mind muzzle-punching a usurper. As long as they weigh 6 lbs. or less. }:>
Meanwhile, I have another tiny, tiny very aged rescue Pom (all of 4 lbs. on a good day; 3 lbs. most others) who does love his dinner and who would, I suspect, muzzle punch the back of my ankle if he had the strength and vision to do it. Instead, he stands back there and leans forward, putting the cold wet of his nose right against my skin. If I have socks on, he’ll weasel his nose under the lip of the sock. He SO knows what he’s doing. This is feedmefeedmefeedmefeedmeyoucouldfeedmefeedmefeedme. Not much of a muzzle punch. More like a muzzle press. But 10 years ago, I’ll bet the little guy punched with the best of ’em.
Interesting! I have never had a dog that would do that until I got my Standard Poodle puppy in May this year. He muzzle punches the older dogs to get a reaction from them – I take it as an invitation to play (or picking at the older dog to make them play). It is almost always delivered right behind the front leg of the older dog as the Collie in the video demonstrated.
Jennifer Hamilton says
My dog lifts her lip and air snaps in both negative dog interactions (get out of my face you rude dog) and positive dog play (go ahead, try to pin me to the ground, I dare you). Until this blog, I thought I knew the difference in body language between the aggressive lip curls and snaps and the playful ones…but now that I’m thinking about it, it would be hard to tell them apart in a snapshot…you would probably need to see the activity leading up to and following the behavior to know for sure. If watching them in context, most anyone could tell that one is driven by fear emotions and the other by play intentions. However, both are accompanied by head freezes, both are accompanied by whale eyes…which until now I never thought of as part of dog play vocabulary. In the play version, her body posture is slightly more curvy and if she is standing up,, her tail carriage is up and wagging slowly (although usually she is sitting so the tail is not moving). Maybe it’s the same as watching a football tackle vs. someone getting mugged on the street…context is just as important as body language. In the past, I thought body language was key, this post has helped me understand the equal relevance of context for too.
Jennifer Hamilton says
P.S. In case you’re thinking, “oh my…maybe her dog isn’t really playing but sending signals that she wants the play to stop or is feeling overwhelmed”…I know for sure my dog is playing. As she has gotten physically more disabled, she has upped her intimidation factor when playing with other dogs. She loves to wrestle and take down and be taken down. Since she lost her strength to take down other dogs, she was ending up on the bottom a lot. My sense is she developed these more aggressive looking behaviors in play as a way of reverse handicapping…giving herself more strength in the mind control department. My Doberman dances around jumping in and out between the air snaps, lip curls, frozen body posture and whale eyes to try to get an opening to grab her neck and take her down. This dance can go on for over 10 minutes until either the Dobie finds an opening and takes her down or the Dobie decides to self handicap and flips on her back so my disabled girl can jump on top of her as if she took her down herself. Either way it turns out…they come back at each other for more.
My Shepherd-mix puppy, Lucas, will muzzle punch my six-year-old Staffie mix, Emmett, in an attempt to cajole Emmett into playing with him. More often than not, Emmett simply huffs and walks away. There have been a handful of incidents, though, when Lucas escalated from muzzle punches into air snaps, to which Emmett responded with a stern correction. Based off of Emmett’s reactions to Lucas’ behavior, I’m inclined to agree that the muzzle punches are an annoyance not to be taken as aggression, but if it escalates into the air snaps, then the behavior crosses that line.
Susannah Charleson says
Ah haha … the tiny old rescue guy, Tupper, just did the cold-muzzle-petition-for-a-snack maneuver on the back of my ankle. He did it three times in succession, like Morse. The *coldest* little dime-sized muzzle punch ever. Or is that doink-doink-doink a punch?
The message is definitely not play and not back-off. More hey-Hey-HEY! (you up there) (feed me!) (again!)
Muzzle punches are part of Ranger’s standard play repertoire. It has always seemed to me the equivalent of what you might see on a playground with children when one runs up and tags another running off shouting “Tag you’re it!” Ranger will engage his friends in this fashion, rushing up to them, muzzle punching and dancing out of the way as if daring his friend to try to catch him. I haven’t seen him do it to a dog he doesn’t know well just those that he plays with often. Occasionally he has done it with his humans in a play context, if one of us has been running with him and he wants the running to resume (sadly his humans have no where near the stamina of this herding dog). When he wants my attention and I’m doing something else he will touch me with his nose. It always struck me as the same sort of gesture I’ll use to let my husband know I need his attention for a moment when he’s concentrating on something else; I’ll stand next to him for a bit to see if he notices on his own and when he doesn’t I’ll lay my hand on his arm. Ranger’s nose touch seems to me to be the same kind of polite interruption.
Ranger does use air snaps and these are more serious. It happens in the context of me working at snarls in his coat either with my fingers or his brush. I know it is a reaction to having his fur pulled and the resulting pain. When my daughter was little and I’d be trying to comb out the tangles from sleep she’d cry out and try to grab the brush. Of course I try (tried) never to hurt either of them but not always successfully. One day when Ranger, for some dog reason, had rolled in the agrimony herb and gotten a coat full of agrimony burrs for his trouble I deliberately ignored his warnings to stop working them out of his coat (I’m not sure whether it was stupidity on my part or intense trust in my dog) and when repeated air snaps had no effect he took my wrist in his mouth. I took that very serious warning and stopped but I was pleased that even though I was deliberately hurting him and ignoring his requests that I stop he did not do anything more than physically make me stop, no pressure from the jaws, no clamping down in any fashion just the lightening fast grab and the clear message that he’d had enough and I would stop now because the consequences could be very bad if I didn’t. I doubt I’ll push it that far again and I certainly wouldn’t encourage anyone else to take that sort of risk with my dog or with any other.
From my experience with Ranger I’d label muzzle punches as attention getting and play initiating while air snaps are definite warnings.
Liz F. says
In response to the phrase from this post: …
Quickly, but with fascination at all the comments, I love Liz F’s “nose poke”.. I completely agree that the word “punch” implies a certain amount of force, whereas a “poke”… well, that’s an entirely different matter. When I come up for air on Tuesday I’m going to summarize the comments and do some more research. (But right now my d*&%& apple butter won’t finish cooking down to butter thickness; it seems determined to continue at applesauce consistency no matter how long it bakes in the oven. Clearly some training is in order….)
My younger, working Border Collie has always included tooth clacking when play with my older BC gets a little intense. This dog was bred to work sheep (and is working quite well). Ever since I brought him home at 8 weeks, he has included tooth clacking when the play gets intense. It seems like he’s saying “I could bite you!” but he never does, and the play between these two has never escalated beyond play. I have never seen him do it to people, other dogs, or sheep…it’s only part of his play repertoire with my older, spayed female. They typically both seem to agree they’re done playing shortly after the tooth clacking occurs!
Muzzle punching and air snaps are NOT part of his repertoire…just tooth clacking!
Shalea Rhodes says
Definitely an interesting post! My pretty-much-blind velcro-dog greyhound has in the two years he’s lived with us had the habit of touching the back of a leg with his nose on approach, and I’m never sure quite what he means by it. Sometimes it seems like he’s just following very closely and can’t tell that the person he’s following has stopped, sometimes it seems like a request for an ear scritch, and sometimes it seems like he’s just trying to confirm a precise location for reassurance (though he’s mostly a fairly confident dog). It’s generally just a very light touch and not particularly demanding (he doesn’t escalate or repeat if he doesn’t get a pat), and he is, as mentioned, quite the velcro dog (didn’t read the “aloof sighthound” memo 🙂 ).
My previous greyhound used a sort of sideways air snap as an invitation to play (ears forward, “smiling” eyes, partial play bow with a soft wagging tail, head turn away and air snap).
And the tooth-chattering thing is very common in greyhounds.
My cardigan girl air snaps all the time, but it is always in play, or when she is trying to get someone to play. It is accompanied with play bows. Now, I have seen another dog do an air snap, but that was accompanied with other negative signals, stiffness, curled lip, as a warning. It is probably a more complex signal than can be read just by the snap alone.
Kate T. says
Today I learned that muzzle punches are 1) painful when done with intention, 2) can be a pre-bite warning and 3) can be done in conjunction with a tooth scrape (not sure that’s the name, but I’m talking about what a mother does to a pup when she’s really not happy with a behavior or to immediately end rough play).
I am a canine massage therapist and also distribute canine orthotics and prosthetics for OrthoPets. I met my client at her son
Susannah Charleson says
I’m thinking maybe Tupper’s is a muzzle-poke. He’s an insistent little man, but one of the gentlest souls going, so maybe that doink-doink-doink on the back of my ankle is more poke than punch.
We have a Lab on the search team who barks and teeth clacks when she’s revved up to search. A lot of energy, a lot of chatter going on. As soon as she’s released on command, it stops, and she’s off and running. Fast.
I also wonder if a behavior I’ve always called “little tiny bites” is teeth clacking of sorts? I have a rescued Pom who does it, and my sheltie (love and miss you, fella) did it, too. Often with a blanket or a toy, the dog looks up at you and rapidly bites whatever he’s holding in his paws. Tiny, nonforceful nibbling bites and very rapid — usually somewhere in the middle of play. Is this teeth clack with object, or a different thing altogether, I wonder?
Jennifer Hamilton says
While neither of my dogs teeth chatter or teeth clack, we do see it on some dogs at our pet resort. Taking into account context, we generally see teeth chatter as high arousal or excitement (which of course can escalate to aggression, but by itself does not appear to have aggressive intentions behind it). We tend to see teeth clacking, however, as a warning of aggressive intention, similar to an air snap. In my experience, air snaps tend to be up or to the side and are more common, where teeth clacks are typically forward moving toward the dog in question, are less common and only seen in certain dogs. We do see play air snaps a lot, however, I don’t recall ever seeing teeth clacks as play, unless the play is starting to escalate beyond a dog’s comfort zone and the dog appears to be trying to stop or slow down the play.
While I see thousands of muzzle ‘pokes’ for attention or to solicit play, I must say I have never seen what I would call a muzzle “punch” with a purely negative intention. I am very curious to see what that looks like. In a video…like the one descibed at the vet office.
Susannah Charleson says
I am realizing there’s a difference between teeth clack and teeth chatter. I’ve seen the chatter. I don’t think I’ve seen (by descriptions here) the full-on teeth clacking. The Lab on our search team teeth chatters before a search.
My previous Shepherd used to snap at her friends, Storm & Thunder, when she was trying to initiate play. Since it was always accompanied by clear play posture, I never gave it too much thought. And I am *definitely* familiar with the nose poke! It always seems to be used as a reminder when I’m oversleeping (in their opinion) or late in feeding them their dinner but never hard enough to be characterized as a punch…more of a “Hey Mom…aren’t you forgetting something?”
Shalea Rhodes’ entry reminds me that Shadow (GSD) used to touch her nose to the back of my aunt’s (bare) legs. My aunt would always react as if she’d been goosed and I swear Shadow did it because she thought it was funny. As far as I know she never did it to everyone else but inevitably if my aunt were staying over and happened to be wearing shorts, watch out!
Barb Stanek says
My experience with clients’ dogs has been that muzzle punches are done with purpose and accompanied with hard eyes and an “I mean business” attitude and body posture. The last dog that I worked with (German shepard, husky, chow mix) muzzle punched and was eventually euthanized for biting people. The dog would muzzle punch when approached and from behind.
My eight year old PWD doesn’t do any of the three behaviors. However, he had extensive surgery as a young dog. I’m sure that his temperment has been molded by those experiences.
My two and a half year old PWD teeth clacks and air snaps. Her clacking and snapping always occurs when I interrupt a play session with my eight year old. The clacking and snapping are done at me with direct eye contact, but not a hard eye. It’s more like, “Hey, I was having a great time. Why don’t you play with us instead of stopping the fun!” The air snaps are usually accompanied with a rush of air and a “Humphrf” type vocalization — all with soft body language and a high arousal level.
Interestingly, my 2.5 year old is the one that I suspect might bite if cornered. She is very direct with delilvery people. She barks fiercely and makes wide circles. I don’t think that she’d attack, but if she were cornered, she may bite. She never teeth clacks or air snaps when she’s barking at people whom she perceives are invading our space. And she is highly aroused in these situations.
I too have a cattle dog who occasionally muzzle punches my calves. Apparently I am not moving quickly enough to get to the “fun stuff”!
Trisha, could you please discuss the habit some dogs have of what I call “smiling”? The dog lifts his top lip to expose his upper teeth while his tail is wagging madly. It can be quite frightening at first glance because it certainly looks like the dog is snarling altho no such noise accompanies the lip curl. In my experience, this only happens in dog-human interactions; I’ve never witnessed it in dog-dog situations. I have had English Springer Spaniels for years and have seen it in a few of them. I would imagine other dogs exhibit the behaviour too, but I haven’t seen it. It seems to occur in dogs who have a soft personality when they are in situations where they are a bit unsure of themselves. Is this an appeasement gesture of some sort?
Lisa G says
I have a very submissive Golden Retriever who is very food motivated so there have been times when I have had a very tasty treat in my hand and her bottom jaw is just chattering away. Never have I seen her teeth clack or air snap until I got my puppy. Now, when they are at a high state of arousal and my Golden girl has air snapped a couple of times. It never seems aggressive, just as part of play.
A friend had an aggressive Ridgeback who used to muzzle punch her all of the time, sometimes painfully. He was a very big boy and was abused in his former home so when he was upset his muzzle punches were hard and intentional.
One of my dogs does muzzle punching, particularly with strangers. He is a Corgi/Shepherd mix and does this to get attention and I agree that it’s rude.
One of my other dogs does tooth clacking when she plays with my other dogs; she also will do it with me when she’s really trying to communicate (such as I need to go outside, etc.). It is not very rapid though. I’ve never interpreted it as either more or less aggressive than muzzle punching to me, but just rudeness.
Air snaps are a warning to me that the dog may choose to bite if the warnings are not heeded. I guess I consider air snaps leaning more towards an aggressive choice.
Mikey's mom says
I’m glad to finally have a name for my female Lab’s rude punching behavior. She punches me (or anyone) with her stuffy when she wants something or when she wants things to proceed faster. Usually this is at dinnertime, and I’ve taken it to mean “hurry UP!”. I’ve thought of it as rude, and either take her toy away for a few minutes or I put her on a down stay. If she doesn’t have the toy, she won’t punch. Taking away her toy is about the worst punishment she can think of, except maybe missing dinner.
My Afghan hound girl muzzle punches me in the back when I am sitting at my computer. I’ve always taken it to be a “pay attention to me now!” behaviour. Generally I try to ignore it. 🙂
As for the muzzle punch in the video, I see it at about 16 secs into the video. Hope that’s not giving the game away. 🙂
“Tiny, nonforceful nibbling bites and very rapid “… I wonder if what you’re describing is what I’ve seen called “corncobbing” or “love nibbles”, something very different from muzzle punches, which seem to have both aggressive and non-aggressive intents from people’s descriptions. As far as I know, the corncobbing behavior is always an affection thing.
This post caught my attention because my working bred Aussie has a habit of muzzle punching the backs of my legs too. I’ve reprimanded him for it a few times and it has diminished since he’s gotten past his teenage months, but he’ll still do it every now and again. The interesting thing with him is that I’ve heard that there are several dogs in his pedigree (his grandfather, aunts, etc.) that have exibited the same behavior.
So I found it interesting that not only were other dogs doing it, but that there might be some kind of hereditary part of it. The only time this dog of mine has tooth clacked was to turn a cow’s head instead of biting it, but I chalk that up to a working behavior. Still a warning!
Wendy W says
I was totally surprised to read that so many dogs choose their human’s legs as targets for muzzle punches, given that my collie/shepherd/retriever/whatever mix often makes me search for the bulls eye that must have been painted on my butt. These “goose-ings” most often take place as I walk to the kitchen to fix her dinner, and seem to indicate nothing but a joyful and somewhat wicked sense of playfulness. I’ve never noticed her muzzle punching another dog, but have watched her ignore the muzzle punches of a German Shepherd who gets annoyed when she visits and then spends more time with the Shepherd’s toys than with the Shepherd.
Trisha – thank you so much for your blog and books. I’ve been reading both for some time now and have learned so much from you. I also love the new videos and all of your photos, which so wonderfully illustrate the seasonal beauty of the world north of here in semi-tropical Houston.
My border collie mix who reached almost 5 years of age exhibiting a new behavior air snapped twice at one of my cats as he raced out the back door one day (he is an inside cat). I was stupid and did not recognize the warning and 15 minutes later, Jelly walked up to Frankie, pounced, and grabbed him by the head. She broke his jaw. After 5 weeks of tube feeding Frankie is OK and I instituted a new management program of separation and muzzling in the house when the cats were awake and about. In an earlier post you posed the question of whether more help was need in vet’s offices as far as recognizing and treating behavior problems. Hell yes, in my vet’s office. Jelly had fear aggression issues with dogs. I worked with a wonderful person, Pia McGovern of K9-Insight, in classes to counter condition and we had made progress. But Pia moved back to Sweden and there is a huge void left in the services and classes she provided. All Jelly’s life people would look at her, back up and say PIT BULL. So, I found a pit bull trainer and rescuer of some note in the SF bay area and brought her to the house to consult and help me. She took one look at Jelly and said BORDER COLLIE and no pit bull. Do you see irony here yet? Hated all her life for being pit bull, the trainer hated her for NOT being pit bull. It was a highly unprofessional visit. She said she saw signs of unstable excitement that could or would transfer into human aggression, talked about how wonderful pit bulls are and border collies are not, and had us walk some circles around the front yard. In the hour visit, she never came near Jelly or touched her. Said she had never seen such a better trained dog that the problem was one of bad genetics. At one point she turned her back and walking away from me I heard her mutter under her breathe “You have a big problem here.” I attempted engaging the Dunbars, but they said I lived too far away. A month and a half after the Frankie attack, Jelly began exhibited troubling behaviors, fearfulness of things like a bin of dog cookies and over the top frenzy at the door when someone left a leaflet. Then one morning in a state of high excitement, Jelly jumped up and bit me in the upper arm when I stepped past her rather than throw the ball. It was not a grab for the ball; it was a bite that produced deep bruising, but no skin break. I felt we had no where to go and a member of the household is in chemo therapy and could not sustain a dog bite. I put my darling dog down on July 27 and even today I have trouble breathing the pain is so sharp and the self-doubt so soul-crushing. It all started with two air snaps–click, click.
I’ve got two Australian Cattle Dog mixes who nose-bonk (muzzle ‘poke’) affectionately, and a foster ACD right now who gives a good muzzle punch with 100% affection (accompanied by a leap and nose right to your face. It’s all love….but we’re working on it). The air snaps I’ve seen thus far have generally been over a toy or other goodie, and have been clear “back-off” warnings. I haven’t seen the teeth-clacking yet. Fascinating comments on this post!!
Dutch's Mom says
Wow! I never realized *everyone* did this! LOL My 8-month old sheperd-border collie mix likes to play “herd the person” along the side of the house when I take out the trash. He seems extremely delighted when he surprises me with a muzzle punch and I jump and screech (I’m usually only half-awake and it’s o-dark-thirty in the morning). His favorite x-marks the spot seems to be the top of my thigh, just below the cheek! One day, he was especially feisty and tried out a soft nip that sent me straight up in the air and woke the rest of the neighborhood dogs up! I’ve always thought of his muzzle punches as “hey! pay attention mom!” or “play with me!” – never as aggressive, but sometimes rude if it follows immediately after I stop petting him and he wants more.
I’ve seen lot’s of muzzle punching, teeth clacking, and air snaps when he plays with his 2 brothers and 1 sister at my sisters house. They are almost always in play-mode when teeth clacking, though sometimes one will get a bit snappish if they are tired or don’t want to share a toy.
He’s is my first dog in a long, long time and the only one I got as a puppy and oh boy! Is he better entertainment than 500+ cable channels! LOL
These are really interesting stories! I am almost 100% certain that my cattle dog, Jellybean’s, muzzle punches are totally a herding thing and she is driving me towards where she want me to be. I yelp then give her a look and say, “Jellybean, that was not cool” although it is often less politely worded than that 😉 ask for a sit and wait until she is calm before we proceed to indicate that 1. it hurt and 2. it was not appropriate in the circumstances. She hasn’t done it to me in a month or so so perhaps that approach is yielding the desired results?
On the air snapping and the above comment about the Belgian Malinois. I just lost my mal to a brain tumor in August and am without a mal in the house for the first time in 13 years which is eerie to me but there is a reason they are affectionately known as “maligators” because every mal I’ve ever known does that jumping up and snapping their teeth right by your face thing. Obviously the mal could take you down if s/he wanted to and/or bite the nose right off your face so I would be curious to hear what Dr. McConnell believes this behavior to be about other than the general joie de vive in being a large, powerful, athletic animal who can leap into the air and freak silly humans out?
It is fascinating to see all these similar stories from very different people about very different dogs.
Oh, and Jellybean’s muzzle punches are generally to my lower thighs in the back and she plows into the JRT from the side.
oh my, Tulip is beautiful! I am normally far too shy to post comments to blogs I read, but this one was just too interesting to pass up! I’ve always seen “muzzle punching” as rudeness, to either fellow canine or human, and “muzzle nudging” as a request for attention and an affectionate gesture. Granted, some are stronger than others– my male Bernese would lift elbows right into the air, as does my little female GSD. I do see them as two very different actions, but as a commenter pointed out, context is important.
I have seen this in the past with a particular GSD (my girl’s half-sister, though I have not seen my Tacoma do this) who wanted to play with and/or get a rise out of her chocolate Lab roommate. It was a decidedly rough jab and bonk with her nose, accompanied with staring intently at the Lab with a waving tail (it seriously looks like “huh huh huh? are you gonna play? are you gonna??!”), as well as sort of kicking her with a stiff foreleg (like the collie in the video, but without the attempt to mount). The Lab was older and didn’t feel like playing, and growled for the GSD to beat it. Given the context, it was definitely play, though clearly more fun for one than the other! The GSD held her body back on her haunches slightly, as if to turn tail and run in case she got into TOO much trouble.
Currently, I work as a group play coordinator at a boarding kennel, where I have the opportunity to see a wide range of interaction behaviors (lucky me!). It is particularly interesting to me that you’ve attached this video, as I most often see the “tooth clacking” in a rough coated Collie we have in group play, and I had begun to wonder if it was a herding thing. However, there is a 1yo yellow Lab (ha– coincidentally, they have the same name, Jack). I love that you made a distinction between “chattering” not being a social signal, and that “clacking” is. With these particular dogs, the clacking is utilized as a correction for when the play gets too rough, accompanied with a lowered, snaking head movement in the direction of the other dogs, with flattened ears and usually slightly squinty eyes, though they do not make a huge effort to connect. Most often, the Lab then sneezes it off (by the way, this is a dog who smiles deferentially when he receives a verbal reproach from us). The clacking is incredibly disconcerting to watch, and to hear, but effective in giving the dogs a chance to breathe– and they do go back to playing immediately after, or remove themselves to take a self-imposed timeout. I suspect that a real problem would arise if the dog on the receiving end takes it personally and rather than backing off for a moment, starts a fight (I think this is where our skills at reading the dogs come in, to deflect everyone before arousal goes sky high).
As far as interspecies, we recently had a 9mo Ridgeback mix added to group play who is quite big for his britches. He plays with abandon with the 5yo St. Bernard all the other dogs are intimidated by (most infuriating of all, she likes to pick on and tease the dogs that are afraid of her and clearly gets some sort of entertainment out of it), and even when she’s had enough, he doesn’t take the hint. I’ve “detained” the Ridgeback pup for being too rough with the other dogs, which really just means having him sit for a moment rather than flail around like a lunatic. The very first day we had him in group play and he got this kind of timeout, he looked me straight in the face and muzzle punched me in the crotch (delightful, eh?). I don’t remember if I then said “no” or asked for another sit, but he repeated the motion. SO, the end of my story is that I have always seen muzzle punching as plain old rudeness, that is met with varying degrees of tolerance on the part of the receiver. It’s been very interesting to read what others have thought of it!
I’m thrilled to have found your blog, and enjoy it as much as I enjoyed your books. I look forward to reading more, on this topic, and many others. =) Hope Lassie is feeling better.
My sheltie does an air snap/muzzle punch combo at me all the time. But I’m pretty sure it’s in play, though I don’t quite remember how it all started. He’d propel his muzzle at my face (when I’m eye level), lips slightly curled and snap at the air just in front. When I was training him to “kiss” me with a lick on the lips, it was a pretty scary experience – I had to do it with my eyes closed else I would definitely move away!! He does muzzle punch softly on my leg if he wants attention. I much prefer this to being nipped.
I’ve seen another sheltie do the teeth chattering thing before. It was pretty constant and seemed more like a psychological or neurological disorder than a result of anything behavioural. It was in training class and we had swopped dogs. She would take treats from my hand just fine and during the whole time I was handling her, the teeth chattering didn’t escalate into anything.
The only one of these three behaviors that I’ve ever seen my dog perform is something like a muzzle punch, and I’ve only ever seen it with humans. Frankly, it’s more of a nudge. Her head is pointing down and she’s almost lifting it up when making contact with my arm or leg in some effort to get my attention. All 4 feet are always on the floor and she is already standing next to me when she does it, so there’s no momentum behind it at all. It’s similar in intensity to the poster who said it’s about the same force as the dog simply extending it’s neck. Just enough to get your attention. ( And half the time it’s that cold wet nose that gets my attention, rather than the nudge! )
She may not be a good subject for studying how these behaviors relate to aggression between dogs, however, as she is not one to give any sign beyond a microsecond of a stiff, upright posture and then she’s on the other dog, getting him by the neck. OR maybe her absence of these ‘normal’ signs prior to outright aggression does make her a useful subject because she seems to have flunked Dog Speak 101??
I have a GSD mix as a foster dog right now who when frustrated will lay down and air snap. I hesitate to use the term “air snap” here because it doesn’t come across as aggressive at all. A common situation where it happens is when we’re doing shaping. She gets annoyed when the behavior that earned her a treat previously stops earning her a treat. She often repeats the old behavior over and over with great intensity. When that doesn’t work, she will often look at me and rapidly close her mouth in a snapping motion (I don’t hear teeth when she does it). Anthropomorphizing, it comes across as “you are sooo frustrating I wish I could just bite you,” but in a playful tone. This isn’t done close to me, so it doesn’t seem threatening. She often does it after laying down, because laying down often gets her rewards (Two 50 lb dogs in a 1000 sq ft house mean we encourage laying down quietly whenever possible!)
I had a husky who used muzzle punches to the nose to get people to stop staring at his beautiful pale blue eyes. It didn’t matter what you told people, they insisted on leaning over him and staring at his eyes as they commented on how beautiful they were. He decided the easy solution was to leap up and slam into their nose since that never failed to get them to back up.
Oh, I thought of one more muzzle punch incident. It was my mom’s dogs. She had 6 at the time.
A pet sitter had come to walk and feed them. An adolescent male was making a beeline for the sitter, and in a fairly menacing manner. The alpha bitch got to him before he reached the sitter and with one muzzle punch subdued him. According to the pet sitter (who was a vet tech (at my mom’s vet, so the dogs knew her) and breeder herself, so I somewhat trust her description), Abby knocked her muzzle full-force into the adolescent male and he immediately stopped in his tracks and turned the other way. At the time, I just thought of this as an appropriate correction in a pack. Hadn’t considered it in terms of a specific behavior. Interesting.
Jenny Haskins says
I don’t think that teeth-clacking has anything at all to do with aggression. It seems to be more uncontrollable excitement, and often goes with increased salivation. I have seen it in dogs when they encounter a bitch in season.
In my experience air-snappers are less likely to bite than other dogs — the air-snapping is a “keep away from me” communication. And in my dog’s case is followed by a rapid run-away if the other dog continues to approach!!
Today at the dog park there was a very rude boxer puppy probably about 9 months old. He wasn’t listening to any of the other dogs when they told him he was playing too hard and finally Ranger and another dog took either side of the boxer and I want to say explained it to him I’m not really sure how else to put it. It was a couple of adults dealing with a rambunctious child and saying “this isn’t appropriate chill out.” Among the other things they did was to teeth clack every time he tried to rear up or climb on them. As audra above put it it was a correction when play got out of hand. I’d never seen or heard Ranger do this before but this is the first time I’d seen him dealing with an over exuberant puppy that just wasn’t listening to the more subtle cues to chill out.
I learn so much reading your blog and the comments. Thank you!
err im just wondering about my dog. when i have a ball or big toy she play bows and ‘clacks’ her teeth together. she’s never bitten me before, but i’m just curious. i always thought that the teeth clacking was more of a “come on let’s play! throw the ball!’ sort of thing.
another odd behavior i don’t understand: sometimes she’ll duck her head between my legs and keep her head there when i’m petting her. she does it with the rest of my family and sometimes other people, but i don’t understand why she does it or how she’s feeling. hahahaha i’ll even move over her and she’ll turn right around, open mouth and curved body and wagging tail, and will proceed to try and duck her head in again.
both behaviors i thought were very cute, but i just want to make sure she’s not unhappy or uncomfortable. sorry if someone discussed this and i missed it. im in the middle of class and don’t have time to read all of them.
also when petting my dog she sometimes nuzzle punchies me. though it’s more like a nudge, and usually she will simply poke me with her paw. sometimes i’m wondering if she’s saying ‘stop touching me’ when she paw pokes me. i read something about that and it was associated with the dog yawning and licking it’s nose in response to being touched. it touched the person back, but he/she seemed to say ‘please stop’.
of course my dog also nudges me if the paw poking doesn’t work, that or she just walks away. i-i just kinda want some clarity about this subject…. i wish everyone a wonderful day, and thank you for your time.
Mary Beth says
How fun to read about all the different types of dog interactions! What that says to me is that tooth clacking, chattering, muzzle poking and punching are all very common behaviors amongst a wide variety of dogs, but just like human behavior, the exact same motion might have a very different meaning depending on the totality of circumstances (for instance, your spouse punching you on the arm in play versus someone else putting up a fist in warning or someone actually punching you)
Kind of like in play dogs growl, bite, and pull all sorts of things off that might have been considered highly aggressive if it hadn’t been an agreed upon play session between a couple dogs.
Somewhat related, I have a 13 month old hound dog who is so RUDE. While he respects the social signals of the other dogs, he doesn’t ever quit. For instance, he’ll paw, poke and prod another dog to try and take their toy. The other dog will growl, snarl, clack, etc. and the hound pup will back off the minimum distance he has to, but then he will go right back to poke, paw, prod, etc over and over and over. Eventually, he’s so darn rude and pesky, the other dogs just give up and give him what he wants. They move on to a new toy, and he starts all over, dropping the toy he gained and trying to get the new one. I really like to let the pack work out their own social rules, but I’m starting to have a hard time leaving the duck tape over my mouth and sitting on my hands. He’s flat out obnoxious, despite being willing to briefly obey the showing of teeth and growls of the other dogs.
I know he’ll grow out of all this, but am I on the right track? should I just stay out of it?
One thing that I think is interesting is that ‘play styles’ tend to run in family and breed groups to some limited extent. Allthe smooth collies i know muzzle punch in highly aroused play but do not airsnap or clack pretty much unless they are REALLY annoyed (ie, older bitch and juvenile male being uppity type situations.)
My spitz muzzlepunches with her mouth open,and it HURTS. she’s getting better about it, but she’s still a demonspitz.
I had never had a dog that nose poked. I first noticed my now 11 month old ACD, Kash, poking our Siamese cat. I thought of it as a ‘come on cat….do something’ . Sometimes the pokes were quite hard and I would correct Kash. As he has incredibly high drive Kash is never left unsupervised with the cats. Although his poke has become more of a light touch or nuzzle it can escalate if he doesn’t get a reaction. His self control and frustration tolerance are getting quite good and something we work on a lot. I have never seen him nose punch our older BC or to any other dog. He will do it to me, usually when I’m on the computer. I, too, think of these as a “hey Mom, Mommmmm, MOMMMMM’ sort of thing.
Kash also tends to do it when he anticipates that we’re getting ready to do something fun…….like when I start setting up one of the agility pieces we’re learning.
uhh with the paw poking and muzzle nudging, i meant that if i stopped petting her she would do that behavior. i’d pet her, stop, then she’d poke me. i just wanted to clarify that…. i’m rather an idiot sometimes and forget to add these things. she’s a 6 year old labradoodle! (or poodledor)
it’s kinda odd…at her age her fur is still fluffy and soft like a puppy. i always thought it would get a bit coarser, but it hasn’t.
How’s life for everyone?
I just can’t get enough of this topic!
I don’t know that I’ve experienced or observed muzzle punches, but Sophie (lab) is not stingy with her muzzle pokes! She does it for attention or to make a request, and can be quite forceful about it if ignored. She has been known to shove her muzzle under my arm and flip my arm into the air if she needs me to wake up. Hey, it’s better than cleaning up dog poop, LOL. She muzzle pokes Harry (boxer) to solicit play, and has poked Mikey (cat), as well.
Harry air snapped at me once. I had given him Benadryl for hives, and he had a terrible reaction to it. He became hectic, for lack of a better term. He paced incessantly, wanted to go out, wanted to come in, couldn’t settle… At one point, he jumped onto the couch (a big no-no) and when I gave the “off” command and moved toward him, he air snapped. I was really taken aback! It has never happened again, and I honestly feel he was “not himself” at the time.
Both dogs air snap in play. In fact, we call exuberant dog play “wrestley bitey-face”. It sounds like death and destruction are imminent, but it is super-fun for the participants.
I have never heard teeth clacking from either dog.
Sophie will “nibble” at my face if I am petting her, and I take this as an affectionate behavior. She also “nibbles” if she gets over-stimulated and excited, which happens easily with her. It is like tiny, light, rapid, touches of her teeth and lips.
Jackie E says
Just read through all the comments and haven’t seen this one yet: After eating dinner (or a tasty snack, outside of a training situation), my Puggle will touch my bare leg with a cold, wet nose — which I interpret as a “thank you.” But it is not a punch at all, just a touch. His Yorkipoo friend pokes him with a toy to initiate a game of tug. Seems to me that dogs’ use of nose/muzzle to communicate can reflect all the complexity of dog-dog or dog-human relationships.
Thanks for a wonderful, wonderful blog!
kim g says
is this air snapping and muzzle punching a herding dog thing? never had dogs that did that,until these 3 lab/collie/spaniel/sheetland sheepdog mixes. the 2 littermates, male and female, do it back and forth when playing ,roughly i might add. sometimes it escalates and they grab each others necks and pull. they also seem 2 box each other a lot. though when they play w/our 5lb chihuahua and 8lb jap chins they r gentle. go figure. i think part of it is they are littermates so they are rough with each other. male lab mix who does have fear/agression issues will teeth chatter if he gets upset/stressed or after play that got to rough. no air snapping or muzzle punching at people.
in response to Jackie E: oh!! good point! Our GSD does this and my boyfriend interprets it in the same way– as a “thank you”, while I shrugged it off. I think I interpret it more as a nose-bump to check on us because she eats in the kitchen, and then comes to find us in the family room afterward, or whatever room we’re in. Her thank yous are usually especially cold and wet because she takes a drink of fresh water after eating! And also accompanied by a lot of licking if we let her (but that’s a difference of habit more than anything else, she’s very deferential to me especially, and licks a lot).
My brother’s border collie mix really punches with his muzzle. Often it is in the eye, if he wants you to get up in the morning. Or if you stoop down to pet him, he might jump and punch you. He’s a lovely dog in most ways, but that is a bad habit his people just tolerate. In fact, he broke my sister-in-law’s glasses once!
My Havanese uses her muzzle to hurry me along. She used to nip my ankles. I stopped that by abruptly sitting down and pointedly ignoring her by reading a magazine for 5 min. That happened about 3x before she got the idea that nipping stopped our forward progress! I don’t mind the occasional nudge now, when she’s excited for our walk or to go outside.
Em Bee says
I was referred over here from a border collie site. My dog is fairly dog-reactive. He’s come down from having complete meltdowns at dogs 25 yards away, to being able to handle a dog being pretty close but not touching. He particularly dislikes face-to-face long meetings – the direct contact seems to set him off.
Watching this video, the behavior of the young dog made me really nervous. I know that Buddy, in Tulip’s place, would have made a move to drive that other dog off. The nearly-head-humping the back shoulder is a HUGE inflammatory move to my dog. Frequently, a “nice” meeting is ruined when a younger dog makes a move like that as a precursor to humping, which Buddy Will Not Allow. Sometimes, the other dog barely makes a move forward, and Buddy jumps into full correction mode.
Now, I’m wondering if my dog is responding to muzzle punches from other dogs. I can never tell what the sudden move is that sets my dog off, but he could be anticipating that. (On the other hand, he’s got a scar on his nose, a remnant of his early life, so he could be anticipating a swift and painful bite, as well.)
Em Bee says
Oh… and just an aside. I’ve got a dog who very deliberately tooth chatters. It only happens when he’s stumbled on the urine marking of another dog he finds very interesting. He will lick at the spot and then open and shut his mouth very rapidly, as if his teeth are chattering. At first, I thought this might be completely nerve-related, almost like a seizure. But now, when I watch him, I really think he’s trying to take in more of the scent/taste that he’s observing. Someone I know theorized that dogs make this motion to send more of the chemical (scent) to the vomeronasal organ, which is above the roof of the mouth. Now, when I watch the dog, I imagine the tooth chattering behavior to be almost like the behavior of a wine connoiseur who is sniffing the wine, then sloshing it around in his mouth to better appreciate the aroma.
Shalea Rhodes says
I was reminded on my walk this morning that Gryphon (practically blind velcro-dog greyhound) also does something like a tooth clack, but the only time I’ve ever seen him do it is in reaction to something he’s smelled. We walk around my suburb but we’re right on the edge of farmland and some large wooded areas, so he could be smelling one of the other dogs that get walked in the neighborhood or he could be smelling fox, deer, possum, etc. He’ll become very interested in whatever it is, really burying his nose in it, and then makes sort of a clomping noise (slower and louder that his chattering). It’s certainly not directed at me, but I have no idea what it means either!
This topic fascinates me and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it and observing my dog and others watching for the behaviors. One of the dogs Ranger likes to play with is a Border Collie who is all about circling the other dogs at play as if she’s rounding them up. Sometimes Ranger will just run around with her, other times he’ll try to herd her in the other direction and recently he added a new method of annoying her. They have a complex relationship where on the surface it appears that he is harassing her and she is very frustrated by it. However, since I’ve seen her deliberately spot Ranger and run past him to get his attention when he’s occupied with something else and he’s never acted like this was anything except play for him I’ve concluded that this is just how they play together. But back to the new style of play. She’s really fast and used to being faster than anything else in the park except the greyhounds and she can outlast them without even trying. Ranger is also very fast and being nearly twice her size has long legs that really eat up the ground. I’m sure part of the reason she likes to run circles is because Ranger has to keep his speed down to negotiate the turns due to his greater mass. The other day he was chasing after her and would lunge forward, break, and snap his teeth together inches from the tip of her tail giving a fierce sounding deep woof then accelerating again. She’d respond by briefly pulling in her tail, hunching her body and picking up the speed. They played this for probably a good five minutes before taking a water break. It was like two kids playing I’m gonna get you. He never even came close to grabbing her tail although he was acting like he could at any minute. She could have varied her route at any point to make it harder for him to get close but she never did and I suspect after her burst of speed to pull away she was slowing down again to a speed where he could almost catch her–hard to tell as it was happening at such speed. I couldn’t decide if he was teeth clacking or air snapping but whichever it was was being done in play.
The more I observe the more convinced I am that the context and other cues are necessary to understand what the behavior signifies. When I’m nervous, irritated or excited I tend to bounce on my toes. If someone reported that they’d seen me bouncing on my toes you could bet I was experiencing one of those emotions but without more context and detail it would be impossible to guess which one. It may be that I bounce in different rhythms or at different speeds depending on which emotion it is–I wouldn’t know as I’m distracted and don’t pay attention. It would be very difficult to describe exactly what to look for to determine which emotion it is simply by describing the physical manifestation. And if many many people exhibited the same behavior (bouncing on toes) when experiencing those same emotions but they all did it a little bit differently it would become even more complex to try to describe it. I think that’s what is happening here. One person’s muzzle punch is another person’s muzzle poke, etc. I’m finding absolutely fascinating. Thanks for starting this discussion.
I have a 5 year old corgi/keeshund. She will airsnap and teeth clack prior to barking at me for attention. I always thought it was a preliminary behavior. We’ll be staring at each other and she starts with an air snap or two. If I do nothing, she will give a couple of tooth-clacking. If I still do nothing, she’ll let go with a quick bark or two. She does this often. I sense no aggression in this behavior, at least not aggression that I need to fear. She just wants attention.
My 2 1/2 year old Canaan Dog did the nose punch straight into my eye when she was a puppy, necessitating an ER visit and a change in my contact prescription. But it wasn’t aggressive, it was during a playful moment and there was some bad body mojo on my part.
She and the 10 month old BC male have both poked me in the eye with their noses but again, I’ve never once thought it was anything but a lack of body awareness. Other than that, I haven’t noticed any nose punching behavior.
As for the teeth clacking, the CD (Sasha) did that for the first time last year when I took her in for her first chiropractic adjustment near the end of agility season. She was fine with everything from the tail forward until he started working between her shoulders. She stiffened, her back quarters bunched slightly and she twisted so that her mouth was just an inch or less from the dr’s hands where she did the teeth clacking.
then she stopped and stared at him. it was very clearly a warning. “that hurt, don’t do it again.” no growling that i recall. the dr. backed off, fed her treats until she was clearly relaxed again and then he was able to do the adjustments while i cradled Sasha’s head against my chest.
She’s only done it that one time.
My 11 mo old Sheltie does the teeth clacking but not in an agressive way. She is usually happy and excited and is trying to contain herself. I also think it has something to do with her herding instinct. She will nudge when she wants something and is trying to get my attention. The nudging and clicking do not appear to be aggression. She is trying to communicate with me. Lets face it, she does try to communicate with us in the only way she knows. She is very happy and high energy especially when we put on walking gear, then she knows that is park time. “Oh boy, time to run and play ball”.
I have a Belgian Tervuren(a herding type) who I take to the dog park at least 5 days a week. I see alot of behavior from her and other dogs but notice as stated previously certain breeds are prone to certain behaviors. My female will muzzle punch like the collie in the video when she’s feeling particularly fresh; the other day there was a golden who she followed around trying to play and when she kept ignoring her she muzzle punched and ran away(curving around watching the golden chase her but acting amused) she looked so proud of herself and still kept on annoying the golden until the golden gave in and played chase with her for 30 minutes. I equate muzzle punches with snotty brats saying “HA! I poked youuuu!” and muzzle nudges with brat behavior of “PET ME!”. Her and a Belgian Malinois/Lab mix(mostly acts like a Malinois) male played air snaps and literally snapped and growled for a solid hour at the dog park two days ago. Someone else walked over to watch and was amazed he said “They look and sound like they’re killing each other but they do not even make ANY contact what-so-ever”. All Belgian Shepherds I’ve met air-snap and clack when excited.
I have a one-year old pit bull who loves to jump at anyone when excited. I’ve never known a name for it but it is like he catapults himself at the person with like a head-butt. He does it to us all the time if we’ve been gone and when we come home he is so excited that’s the first thing he does. We are expecting it so we can tell him ‘down’ repeatedely to avoid it. With strangers however, he greets them with a wagging tail, very excited and then pow – to the forehead. THen he comes down and continues sniffing him. There is never any agression, growling, snarling – just pure friendliness. However, just recently a man came walking into our yard and all the dogs (we have 3 – two puppies as well as the pit) and they all surrounded him smelling, etc. The pit did his thing but missed the forehead and hit his check and it split the skin to where it was bleeding slightly. Now the man is suing us. No stitches were required and the split in the skin was caused from the force of the hit and not from a bite, in fact he worked the rest of the day doing his surveying work. It wasn’t until he got home that he called us and said he was filing a claim and hoped we had insurance. The sheriff is a good friend of this guy so that doesn’t help matters. Was this a case of muzzle punch? and is this considered a ‘friendly’ gesture? And how do I prove that if this goes to court?
My 3 yr.old Aussie (possibly a mix-not sure, as he was a rescue) will leap many feet into the air from a stand-still, and sometimes will (as I call it) Eskimo kiss a person (nose to nose bop). He NEVER does it to me, only to other people. It seems that when he’s standing next to them and they look down at him, and ESPECIALLY if they lean over and look at him, up he goes…sometimes he touches and sometimes he doesn’t. His demeanor, most of the time seems happy and this seems like a greeting, though once he did it to somebody who just whacked him in the face with a small plastic rake, and in that instance, I think he was stressed and wanted out of there. I’m wondering why he does this…..and what can I do to prevent it? Someone recently told me the phrase “muzzle punch or poke” which I’d never heard of….Is he trying to create safe distance????? Is he wanting to say hello? All of the above??? I tell people to turn their heads and look away when he does this and this usually “breaks it”….if he gets too amped, I just leash him for 10 minutes or so, which brings him back to calmness.
My sheltie used to punch me in the back of my leg, where the knee bends, whenever I was hurrying through the house. Usually when I was trying to answer the door or the phone. I always read it as part of her instinctive need to herd things. I miss her very much and especially her “bopping” as we called it.
We had to purchase a spike collar for our 12 lb female Chihuahua mix to protect her from the new male Malinois muzzle bumps. The Malinois is noted for muzzle bumps and he would use it to annoy the Chihuahua into playing with him. Once we actually found a true spike collar that fit the Chihuahua, it put a stop to the muzzle bumps. We felt that the 60 lb Malinois needed a more appropriate playmate than the 12 lb Chihuahua and picked up another Malinois from the shelter that was a female 6 months old. The younger dog air snaps at the older dog all the time while they are playing – all in good fun. She will also air snap at us if she thinks we should be playing with her – she has a natural mischevious face. I have never seen the older Malinois air snap at all and the young one never aggressively. Other than this breed, I have never seen a dog air snap before and that is what led me to look up the behavior. The two Malinois play VERY agressively with each other and most would think it was a knock down drag out fight to the death, but when I say stop, they do and look at me like “how come”?
My husband and I adopted a border collie x about a month ago. We think he is just about six months old. From the moment I picked him up, he started air snapping at me. He also, I think, does the muzzle punch. Several times now, he’s jumped or lunged at me and hit me so hard in the face with his nose that his nickname is Zinedine Zidane. It hurts. He also likes to tug at my clothing, nibble on my face and paw at me. It usually happens after I’ve been petting him, but sometimes I’ll simply be sitting or lying down. I am very concerned about this behavior and would love more insight into what it means. I hope Dr. McConnell posts a follow-up!
Terri from Boise Idaho says
My dog does the air snap but just when she is playing or excited. To Kate, you have a herding dog and he is just nipping at you because he is the alpha and he is controlling you. If you dont get him under control you will not like him much later on. Cesar Milan “Dog Whisperer” says exercise daily with that breed among others. Why dont you look for a doggie day care or a dog walker 3 or 4 times a week? You will see a change if it is done right. Good luck with him.
hi my dog snaps at me when i use the hairdryer on him and when i use the vacum cleaner barks
and when i touch his noses he bites if you blow air him snaps!
what could this be could there be training for this?
I just reread this article and all the comments. I am surprised no one mentioned teeth chattering as an expression of happiness. My BC chatters when he is getting held and petted. It is not excitement, arousal, or anything other than simple happiness. He is the third dog I’ve had that does this.
I have 2 blind and deaf Cocker Spaniels (1 English 1 American) and they use up close air snaps (just touching or missing the fur) all the time with each other to express any kind of dislike or disapproval of the other’s behavior – you are in my space, I want that bed/bowl/toy/… now, whatever. With a sighted dog, the bitch will use staring, posturing, lip lifts and regular air snaps for the same purpose (in approximately that order). The male just avoids trouble with other dogs – to the point where when he doesn’t know if there are other dogs around, he sneezes on a regular basis just to signal that he doesn’t want trouble.
Just read this. My kelpie has two types of teeth clacking/air snapping. One is at dogs he wants to keep away from him. It’s with head down, bristled shoulders and rump, tail up. He turns and gives a few clacks at the dog following and keeps moving.
The other type is out of sheer excitement in anticipation of fun, after waiting patiently for my day of work to be over. He jumps, barks, if I don’t start throwing things right away ( I try to warm him up before any type of fetch or such game but it’s not easy), gets a BIT in my face, and you can hear him clack teeth and snap jaws, SORT of near me. This is from being highly stimulated but it’s not a threat, though I am sure an accident could happen if he jumps too close to my face someday, so I get him to sit. He’s all smiles and panting his butt off, exhausting himself before the fun begins.
We have just got another greyhound and had him for a week, He air snaps in the evening when he is half asleep and looks quite distant when he does it. He also sometimes wakes up and does it then goes back to sleep. I wondered if it is a way they would communicate with their mother when young as he was quite nervous when we first got him.
I’m so disappointed- the video was completely missing – just a blank space in the article. I have a 3yr old dobie – an absolute wonder of a dog, extremely intelligent and affectionate. He does “all of the above”. Muzzle punches directly in the butt, always when I’m walking away from him, usually heading to the kitchen. I’ve always interpreted it as a hint to grab him a cookie while I’m heading that way. He definitely packs some heat in those punches and when I turn around he meets my glare. But again – I’ve never felt threatened by him. He will also air snap & clack teeth. We’ve always felt it was a way to get attention, to try to tell us that we’re “not listening” to him, as it always happens when we’re engrossed in the television. He’s NEVER punched or air snapped at anyone else except those in our immediate family. Again, I must emphasize it has never felt threatening. One more thing – he pinches (Doberman Pinscher??)! Again, this is similar to a muzzle punch, except it’s a real pinch – hurts enough to bruise and he does get a correction for that! He mostly always pinches my husband and rarely other members of the family.
Debra: Shoot, I don’t know why the video won’t play for you. I just checked and it ran on my computer. You could try going to Youtube directly… type in my name and muzzle punch, maybe that will work.
We have an English pointer/boxer mix (I think!) and it sounds similar to what Debra says above. I get “teeth clacking” when our dog wants something (food, water, to go out, play, etc.). I ask her what she wants and she shows me. They are a communication for us, and not the least bit aggressive. If I do NOT see what she wants for longer than a minute or two, and don’t say “no” or “go lay down”, I then get extremely gentle “muzzle punches” on my hand or knee as a reminder that she is there. She only does that if she needs to go out, more like she is saying, “I know you are busy, but I really need to go out”. I really don’t feel it is aggressive at all, she is just communicating and doesn’t bark unless there is someone at the door. She will also put her head on my knee for attention and it is all done in a similar manner for her. I think it may just depend on the dog and their temperament! If she were to do any of those things in what seemed to be an aggressive manner, I would get rid of the behavior immediately. I think if you feel it is aggressive, it probably is aggressive.
We have a dog that we found this last December. He clearly had owners before hand but they made no ever to find or claim him wherever they may be. He appears to be a labrador/staffordshire terrier mix and overall he’s a sweet, energetic, playful big dog. He does these air snaps however and I can tell he is a little possesive of his food and toys. He has not bit me, but he has growled and is very snappy when I try to play fetch with him he is willing to try to jump and get the toy from my hand before it is thrown. I graduated from Animal Behavior College (a dog training course) but I still have a lot to learn. What do you suggest that I do to modify/eliminate this behavior. I would also be happy to hear of any books or video’s you suggest me reading/watching to improve my knowledge of dog training. Thank you very much, I hope you have a blessed day.
I don’t know what else to do, here. I have a pitbull/Vizsla mix. It started out with the teeth clacking whenever she would get super excited about playing with her ball. At first, I thought it was so cute, but then she began jumping and muzzle punching. I gave her a bit of obedience training to try helping her, but soon the sound of the clicker incited these “fits” of clacking and muzzle punches. It continued to escalate from there, several actions setting her off. During these fits, it seems like she can’t control herself, like she is just so wound up that she can’t stop.
This year, she finally crossed the line and bit my girlfriend. The first time, my girlfriend was playing with her. After that, it happened again when I was coming home. I can’t leave her alone with my girlfriend anymore because she will get bitten. Almost everything sets her off. We both try to distract her with her favorite toy, but it isn’t always where we can reach it (before she reaches the frenzy stage). A couple of times, she has had a fit directed at me, but I am usually able to control her enough to get her into her crate, where she proceeds to muzzle-punch the crap out of the door for a few moments.
My girlfriend is terrified of the dog. Am I making a mistake trying to deal with this, or have I already passed the point where I can do anything about it? Please….please help me.
Allyson: You absolutely need to contact a trainer or behaviorist. Be sure to find one who understands 1) how to use humane methods to teach the dog other ways to behave and 2) someone with the skills to evaluate what’s going on with the dog: How much is learned? How much is related to physiology (diet, hormones, etc). Go to apdt.com for a local trainer, to animalbehavior.org for a behavoirist or search for a veterinary behaviorists in your area. Please go get professional help asap.. paws crossed for you.
I found reading this very interesting &
informative. I have a puppy I brought home at 6 weeks of age. Her
mother died giving birth at an emergency clinic. The puppies that
survived were hand raised & adopted out of a shelter when
they began eating puppy food. A few hours after we arrived home, I
saw my 1st jaw snap/teeth clack. My pup is 13 weeks old now and not
a day has gone by without it happening. Her nickname became Gator
The Demon Dog because of the sound she makes. I understand about
the importance of the 7th & 8th weeks for a puppy, where
they learn from siblings and mom what play fighting &
biting is about. She only knows one type of biting & has
had no clue what other dogs body language means. The last is a real
shame because all they’ve wanted to do is play. She’s slowly
learning and as an Australian Shepherd/Australian Cattle Dog mix,
she’s high energy and then some. I’ve had Aussie mixes for over 20
years and never have I had to deal with one who bites. I don’t
consider myself any kind of expert on the breed but I did know the
intelligence, manic energy & fight for control would be
part of her. But to have it all come with a mouthful of teeth isn’t
quite frightening but close. I don’t worry about myself. I worry
about other people & do stress her age, teething &
biting to anybody wanting to interact with her. Kids, I explain to
parents AND try to make kids understand not to rush up to a strange
dog. I’ve felt alone with everything because when I went to sign
her up for puppy pre-school I was told I had to wait until she was
at least 10 weeks old & had her puppy shots. Now I have to
wait until the next class begins. I had a 7.4lb dog when I brought
her home. Now, I have a 25lb dog who is only 3 months old. I’ve
learned there is a difference between the mouth opening &
closing and the gator snap. She communicates with the gator snap. I
can hear her in her crate before I’m out of bed just a’clackin away
to herself. When she’s excited she’ll look at me and clack two or
three times. When I’ve irritated her or she doesn’t like something
I say, she’ll look at me and give a single clack. She clacks to
herself also, like she’s talking to herself. I’m more concerned
with the silent opening and closing of her mouth because it occurs
in play & when she’s wired and usually I get bitten. She
does occasionally nip like any puppy and was mouthing pretty bad
yet hardly at all now. We’re working on the whole no jumping thing
& I know from experience not to wear anything I don’t want
holes in. She is very submissive approaching people, loves
everybody she comes across especially kids. But I’m tense with her
around kids because I’m afraid she’ll mean no harm but bite anyway.
I hate the thought of a muzzle yet I know it might be a possibility
if I can’t find a way to curb her biting. I’ve tried everything
suggested & nothing seems to work except behaving like a
mama dog with a misbehaving pup and sometimes, muzzle correction.
Strong-willed & stubborn I know its my job to teach her
who’s in charge & reinforce if necessary. I don’t know what
I’m doing right or wrong. I do know I spend most of the day with
her. We have play sessions and learning sessions disguised as play.
A couple walks a day, time to run around in crazy dog mode, play
and train indoors as well as out. Started signaling me when she
needs to go outside on a bathroom break beginning of last week so
the only time she’s confined in her crate is when I go to bed or
have to leave the house. I don’t really know what else to do for
anne d. says
So I know this thread is several years old at this point, however, I’d like to poll people on their thoughts about a different behavior I am trying to understand better. My dog occasionally rubs the outside of his teeth against my arm or leg. His teeth are generally closed or only halfway open, and he leaves just a little wet saliva on me. It seems to be an affectionate behavior, but I’ve never seen or heard of other people’s dogs who also do this. Has anyone else experienced this?
I have a three year old JRT mix. We’re his fourth people. Info that I was given was that he was abused by first owner and abandoned. Second person took him in, and was then unable to keep him after a year. Third person had him in a crate for a few weeks where he must have felt felt prey to 7 very large dogs. (He’s terrified of large dogs, and will bark and warn them to go away. If the threat remains, if allowed, he would tear into one to protect himself, possibly starting a terrible fight). We know from a distance by his behavior even which small dogs he will be able to greet without his immediately being pushed over his anxiety threshold by observing his tail set and wag, little whimpers and whines.
He has taken to a particular neighbor’s dog, a two year old male Dachshund/Chihuahua rescue. They are well matched in size, energy level, and even same play growls. They play as if litter mates, and let the other know when enough is enough as a mother would her pups.
He will slink under bumpers of cars if we walk through a parking lot, alert, looking over his shoulder, remnants of his having to flee and be on guard. He was terrified of rain and thunder, and we rarely saw him the first month we had him because he would hide when there was even a threat of rain. With lots of work and encouragement, he now stays out in the open in a room, or even on couch or bed with us.
One communication behavior extremely exaggerated in him is the head turn to signal his need to avoid confrontation, mainly displayed to humans, though also when with others who have dogs present with which he does not want approaching him. If the head turn is ignored by a dog, my little guy will growl and sometimes muzzle punch. (Happens so fast, though I have managed to never let it go beyond that, and will even remove him if other owner doesn’t then keep dog far enough away. I try to avoid situations that would allow the punch in the first place). There have been a couple of times when he displayed the head turn to people where he did a muzzle punch with teeth gritted closed and lips curled, striking with closed teeth in warning. It’s obvious he does not want to bite, though definitely warning that he will if feels threatened further. He had been very touchy about his legs and feet, and on a couple of occasions when startled by touch did same tooth closed punch to me. A “no”, then touching him insane way, showing that he would come to no harm stopped that.
He has become somewhat vocal, which we’re seeing as a good thing, since he obviously wanted to interact, though was as if unsure it was allowed. We still have to tell him it’s okay to eat, as he will hang back waiting to see whether allowed. He will nudge bells hung on the door to let me know he wants to go out. On occasion, he will nudge me, (light muzzle punch), behind my knee to get my attention, actually, a very gentle, benign behavior. Depending on circumstances, I can tell him to wait or not now, and is not becoming a problem. For him, it’s just another form of communication.
He does lift one or the other front leg at times, kind of shaky, though not like with full blown seizures. He yawns excessively, though does not always seem to be an indication of uncertainty or anxiety. Appears to have some little head tremors, that, again, could be taken for anxiety. I’m a bit concerned that it’s more neurological, either related to JRT heritage, or from having been previously injured. Some of his protective and anxious behaviors have seemed indicative of leg and tail pulling; who knows how the little guy was jerked and pulled around. We did have x-Rays done because of excessive choking, coughing, and some reverse sneezing to rule out collapsing trachea. No collapse, though determined he does have a sensitive neck/throat that is obviously permanent. (He’s walked on a harness).
With all his quirks, he’s a joy. Would not trade him for anything.
My dog does this when I’m petting her and stop petting and step away she jumps in the air and snaps at my face. I can never catch her while she’s doing it to punish her because it happens so fast. I’ve gotta work on that. And she still jumps on me. And chases the cats! Soon as I let her off the leash in the mornings she takes out after the cats. I hate that!!! It’s so aggravating. But she sits really well on command. And she’s learning stay pretty well. Except when she sees a cat. She’s a black GSD. I love her!! But those are my problems!!!!
Meg P says
I have a two year old JRT named Monkee. She is a transplant from a family that couldn’t care for her. She was full of destructive behavior at first but that changed with positive attention and focused energy. I have seen a multitude of behaviors. She is super intelligent. She knows about 25 commands with hand signals. I have used ASL as her hand signals. Between her behaviors, vocalizations, and ear and tail positions, she communicates how she is feeling effectively. She only chatters her teeth during heat or sniffing a urine spot. I think of it like she’s studying a scent with a heightened arousal level. She muzzles punches usually when wanting something really bad always playful, similar to a “Please, please, Pah-leassssse..” I have only seen an air snap a couple times but it was when she was exceptionally excited but a little annoyed, non-aggressive, similar to, “Now…please”.
We just got a new dog over the weekend, She is a Rat Terrier and almost 6 months old. She does this air snap to us and our other dog but it seems to be over excited playful thing. There is no aggression at all, she just is too in your face when wanting to play. I’m going to check with the vet on what I can do to stop her from doing that.
I have a 13 year old South African breed Boer Bull. I think they are from the mastiff family. She is large (at least 45kg) and 13 years old. She had surgery to remove a cancerous growth from her hind leg this weekend. I brought her home on Monday night and she has consistently woken me up at least 3 times each night since, by shoving her rather large face into mine, as I’m sleeping. The vet informed us that her liver is enlarged and their is evidence of cancer throughout her body. I am giving her medication for pain and have tried to take her outside each time she wakes me in case she needs to relieve herself but she does it again. Does she just want a cuddle or could there be something wrong?
I have a 4.5 month old pit, Igor. He’s never showed real aggression, or any aggression for that matter. He is gigantic, over fifty pounds. He chatters his jaw and quickly clicks his front teeth at completely random. He doesn’t air snap per say. I play rough with him and he opens his mouth and jumps putting his entire mouth on my forearm with no pressure. He nuzzle punches as an alternative to biting during play with my wife and I. Our granddaughters 4,2, have no issues with him. He runs and chases and plays ball w them, even sleeping on top of their butts AMD legs to keep them safe at night. But damn he will kiss my babies to death. They grab and wrestle and toss. They drag him by his legs all around the bed and the use him as a pillow, not a peep or flinch or nothing lol. Igor is an awesome little.guy. very clingy has sep3ration anxiety when I leave. He’s my child
Sandra Davis says
I have a question,
I have a 3 year old German Shepherd, she is a very mild temper dog ( if human I would call her a blonde ).
For the last couple days she has been whining for no reason that I can see and clicking her teeth then she come to me bumps me, I go look see nothen. Now we do live in the country and we have alot of coyotes and they have been known to come on our back porch.
Is it possible she trying to protect me.
Saray Koch says
Now, this comes as a shock to me that some of these are aggressive behaviors. But, I’m having the “muzzle punching” issue with my newly rescued shelter dog. When I lived with my mom, we had two golden retrievers (male: cooper and an English golden female: Lilly). Copper was the laziest thing but Lilly loved attention and loved to play. When we would play, she would grab my arm or try to dig me out of the blanket. But, she never once bit me. She would also do the snaps at the air like that. I would snap back and we would play with each other like that constantly. I see my current dog’s muzzle punching the same way since he only ever does it while he’s playing.
Now, with him, you can get your face in his food bowl without problem. You can pick him up, grab his collar, etc. no problem. There are some slightly aggressive behaviors that are concerning (he has bitten without causing real damage to two dogs) but they don’t all seem intentionally aggressive. For example, he likes to mouth and he put a cut in my lip. I don’t think it was on purpose since he didn’t actually bite me. It was more of he lunged at me to grab my face, as when we play he will grab your hand but almost never bites hard enough to even pinch you, and his tooth smacked my lip. I’m not justifying his behaviors and please keep in mind that we’ve had him for two weeks and we are working hard to stop some of these behaviors (I don’t mind the grabbing of the hands for example since that’s how I play with him).
Now, I have to say that I am concerned about a lot of what he does even if it is play. Mostly because he doesn’t understand what a human can handle- particularly during play. He was abandoned for a year and he’s only 2 so he didn’t have much human interaction during the learning phase of his life. He’s so clumsy too, he once jumped off the couch and down the stairs (we’re in an apartment and the couch sits at the top of the stairs) to chase a ball. And he’s a pit-bull/retriever mix. He has such a powerful body that it makes him dangerous even when he’s not trying to be. I recognize this and it’s why we need to curb these behaviors before he does hurt someone other than me intentionally or otherwise.
So, why am I commenting? I need to know if my perceptions of this behavior are wrong. I don’t see any warning signs with the mouthing or the punching to signal anything more than aggressive play. I’m not going to pretend that he can’t, or won’t, attack someone so I need some outside insight.
My german shepherd will clack her teeth when she’s playing. Usually she does it when I’m about to throw her ball for her or if she wants to play fight. It seems to be more like she does it as a playful taunt. It’s just a quick “snap snap” motion. It looks more like barking than biting though just without any “woof” to it.
She can bark btw. She has her playful, high-pitched yippy barks that sound more like a terrier. Then there’s her deep barks that she does when she’s being protective of me.
My corgi does all three behaviors. He does them when he’s not getting his way so I instinctively felt that they were rude gestures. He, of course, does not get what he wants if he acts in such a manner.
I’ve got a 5year old Belgian malinois that is very well mannered highly trained and air snaps have alway been like the few guys before posted a high drive let’s go play throw the ball playful type gesture while hoping around waiting for you to go play with them….the teeth chattering is usually discomfort muzzle punches my dog doesn’t do unless wearing a muzzle which I won’t put my dog in a muzzle unless testing to make sure she will bite without wearing a bite sleeve bc if I send my dog it my dogs getting the bite the person could have listened and prevented it but air snaps my dog does when excited and ready to go play I def don’t view that as a threat but a happy dog wanting to play but the closed mouth teeth chattering is discomfort in ever case I’ve seen.
B Carr says
Air snaps and muzzle punching are part of the play between my female JRT and my male JRT. They never bite each other. I consider it normal play between them. They have been together for three years and never a bite. Just lots of air snapping and muzzle punching in play.
The tooth clacking you speak of. At the dog park a while back, my male was aggressively approached by a larger dog. He began the tooth clacking – it was something new that I’d not heard before. It appeared that he was letting the other dog know to back off. Which the dog did and there was no more bad behavior between them.
My female JRT is still “intact” and goes into season every nine or ten months. She was an unsuccessful breeder which is why I was able to obtain a beautiful, to-standard dog at a modest cost. She comes from a wonderful line and was a part of a pack owned by a breeder who had a football field sized area for the dogs to live in. I kid you not… A very lovely farm setting with well maintained kennels etc.
My male dog is neutered. However, he still tries to mount her and breed. What I’ve noticed is that he does the teeth clacking sound in his “mating dance.” He definitely is not doing it to be menacing. Have you ever heard of tooth clacking in this sort of situation? It’s very strange in that he has only done it this time around.
Tooth clacking is generally believed to be a sign of arousal, so you can see it in a variety of contexts. Makes sense in both the examples you gave, right?
DIANE BASSETT says
I fostered a ACD who both snapped and punched affectionately, and I too yelped and then wimpered and looked devastated. She was soooooo sorry– she literally put her paw on me and nuzzled her head into my chest in apology. But I reminded her every time our heads got close together– I made it obvious to her that I was worried and was proceeding with caution, and she totally understood and abstained from it. It struck me (ha ha) as affectionate and also sort of impulsive and playful. So as her impulse control in many areas (not lunging at squirrels through the window, for example) got better, this became one of those things that she also remembered not to do. She was a joy to foster and is now available for adoption here: https://southwesthumane.org/adopt/dogs/dog-details/?id=77207
I adopted what can best be described as a Foxhound/Shepherd mix when he was 4 years old. He has always tooth clacked as his primary method of communication with us. He does it when he wants to get our attention for any reason: needs to go out, hungry, wants affection, wants us to throw the ball, etc. It is always non-threatening and his lip is not curled. He has never snapped or bitten anything, ever. If we ignore the tooth clacking he might try to “talk” to us or make soft barks. I’ve never encountered a dog that did this before. Now we are quite desensitized to it but people always mention how peculiar it is and remind us that our dog is “weird” lol. He tends to have some low level anxiety and is a bit leash reactive, but is otherwise a healthy, normal, playful dog. I’ve always wondered if there are other dogs who tooth clack! Thank you for starting this thread.
I found your site looking for info on teeth clacking.
My male Jack Russell does this at the dog park when another dog gets in his face. It never escalates into aggression.
Now he is doing it at his “sister” Jack Russell who is in season at the moment. He’s only started doing it during this cycle. He’s fixed BTW but still seems to be teeming with testosterone. This time I think he is doing it out of excitement, not aggression.
Oh yes, I agree that clacking is related to arousal. Arousal, of course, can lead to good things or bad, so a dog can be both aroused and happily excited, or aroused and aggressive.
My wolf-dog tooth clacks when he really, really wants something or he sees something he loves to eat…like the little bit of people food he gets when we are done with dinner, or when he sees bread. So it is not aggressive, even when he does not get what he wants. It is just the way he has of telling us to please, please, please let him have that!
George Privette says
I realize that I am really late to the party here, but we acquired a rescue dog from a shelter this year, after our old lab passed away in April. Our new dog was said to be a nine month old lab mix when we got her in June. We immediately noticed that she chomps when she’s happy. I’ve always had dogs all of my life, which exceeds seventy years, but I had never before had or seen a happy chomping dog.
I decided to count her chomps one day when I took her for a walk around the block. The result was over fifty chomps in a four block walk!
Lily is sixteen months old now and still chomps when happy but not as much as when she first arrived. My wife and I find it an endearing trait, not threatening in the least. She is a sweet seventy five pound girl now and a good companion for Lucy, our eight year old lab mix.
I just wanted to share this positive experience of dog chomping to let other dog lovers know that it’s not always a bad thing.
George, love the happy chomping story!
We have a 4 year old Dogo Argentino that likes to “clack” her teeth when she really would like you to get her dinner or breakfast. It’s quite amusing, it’s almost like she’s trying to speak but the volume isn’t there, just the clack of her teeth. It’s a very non-threatening communication tactic she’s using.