Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
What's Up With Dogs Chattering Their Teeth?
Why in the world do dogs chatter their teeth? You may be wondering about this behavior at one time or another out of your years of dog ownership. It could be you just happen to hear the noise of your dog's teeth clacking against each other when you grab the leash, or perhaps that chattering sound is heard when your dog is sniffing a particular spot. What gives?
First, a word of clarification is warranted. In this article, teeth chattering refers to the noise produced when dogs open and close their teeth quickly in sequence, producing a similar noise to when humans feel cold.
The teeth chattering noise is often short lived. By the time you look at your dog, it often has already stopped. Teeth chattering should not be confused with air snapping, a behavior seen in dogs when they open and close their mouth as if biting the air. Air snapping is different from teeth chattering and is often a warning sign of a potential bite.
Teeth chattering should also not be confused for the teeth clacking noises made when dogs are playing side-by-side and engage in a lazy game of what's known as "jaw sparring."
Also, it's important to clarify that, as with many other odd doggy behaviors, we can often only make a few assumptions because, until Rover can talk, we won't ever be able to get into his head and deduce what's really going on, even if we were blessed with special psychic powers. However, we can sometimes make some educated guesses based on the context in which these behaviors occur.
So next time you hear that teeth chattering noise from your dog, make sure you pay extra attention to what is happening. Chances are, you may get a better insight on what is triggering it. In the meanwhile, here are some reasons why dogs chatter their teeth.
Dogs Can Actually "Taste" Smells...
In case you didn't know, dog noses are blessed with about 300 million scent receptors compared to a human's mere 5 million. Yes, we can call them noses on legs or walking noses! So when your dog is sniffing a spot, he's not only smelling, but there are chances he's actually "tasting the smell."
You see, on top of having a powerful nose, dogs also have what's known as the "vomeronsal organ." This organ is shaped like a small pouch and is located between the nasal and vomer bones which are located at the roof of the dog's mouth. The main function of this organ is to send chemical messages known as pheromones, which dogs leave behind as an act of communication. The organ therefore receives these messages and relays them to the brain to several specialized compartment relating to mating, communication, social situations, etc.
Now, you must know that dogs also have a little duct known as the "incisive papilla" which happens to be conveniently located behind the dog's top incisor teeth.This duct connects the dog's nose with his mouth.
So when you see Rover concentrated on sniffing a spot, he's carefully analyzing the scent. If you see your dog chattering his teeth while he's sniffing it means that he's basically sending large scent molecules towards his incisive papilla (with some help from the tongue). Then, those scent molecules will reach those special areas of your dog's brain and your dog may be making some decision making based on his findings. Perhaps he'll just urine mark on top of the area or leave. There you go, now you know why your dog poses a deaf ear when you call him while he's sniffing! He's super concentrated!
Jacobson’s Organ is a “sense of smell” receptor that is actually not receptive to ordinary odors. Rather, the scenting nerve cells of the organ are quite different from those in normal olfactory tissue in that they respond to a range of substances that have large molecules, but often no detectable odor.
— Dr. Randy Kidd DVM
And It's Often a Male Thing...
As you may already know, pee in the dog world is much more than just excrement; indeed, for dog kind it is used as a form of communication. And this is why you can commonly see dogs sniffing electric poles, lamp posts and fire hydrants: these areas are frequently urine marked by dogs.
Urine tells dogs a whole lot about the dogs who have left their droplets of pee-mail. These drops of urine act like social messages, a canine's style of Tweeting or posting a message on a Pinterest board. What exactly can dogs tell from sniffing some urine? Until dogs can talk we won't know for sure, but it likely tells the dog about a dog's age, sex and reproductive status.
Male dogs in particular are often eager to sniff urine and female dogs to determine if they are in heat. Instead of a date and movie, a female dog deliver pheromones through their urine. Cool, huh?
Teeth chattering in this case, allows the dog to carefully analyze the smell and determine if the female dog is in heat and if she is, perhaps even at what point she is. Is she receptive or at the "I am not ready yet" flirty stage? The teeth chattering behavior in this case, for those horse people out there, is somewhat similar to the flehem seen in horses. Some dogs may also foam at mouth while chattering their teeth. For neutered dogs, you may notice the same chattering behavior. Just because they are neutered doesn't mean they won't be interested in certain smells!
Your dog may lick up a small sample of urine and then chomp his jaws slowly up and down, sometimes foaming a bit at the mouth at the same time... Intact male dogs are especially likely to sample urine; it's sort of like reading a girlie magazine or visiting an online dating site.
— Caroline Coile
Dogs May Be Head Over Heels in Anticipation...
Besides mating season and intact male dogs, there are so many reasons dogs may chatter their teeth and scientists have still yet to crack every secret in canines. But yet another cause a dog may chatter his teeth is in sheer excitement.
You may therefore observe teeth chattering in dogs while you're pouring dog food into a bowl, coming in the door to greet your pet, or even pulling out a leash for a walk. This is very similar to the feeling you get when a pizza man knocks on your door, yup, lots of anticipation for those pizza lovers out there!
Also the anticipation of play might cause some occasional teeth chattering as well, as an upcoming fun training session. Does your dog ever chatter his teeth when you get the clicker out? If yes, kudos to you for making it so much fun!
When a dog's teeth are chattering this isn't a sign he is cold, but generally indicates happy anticipation. A dog who is expecting an especially good toy or who's in the middle of an exciting play session may chatter his teeth.
— Matthew Hoffman, Dog Speak
But at Times,Teeth Chattering May Be a Sign of Trouble
OK, don't want to be a party-pooper, but sometimes teeth chattering in dogs isn't one hundred percent safe in certain situations. Your dog could be in stress or trying to signal that something is wrong.
Prolonged teeth chattering could be caused by a dental or a neurological problem such as seizures/tremors. And it could be something as light as an allergy to something your dog may have sniffed.
Always play it safe when it comes to your pet's health. If you ever think anything is wrong, it is highly recommended you bring him/her to the vet.
On a lighter note though, in more cases than not, teeth chattering is nothing to worry about. In many social situations, it's just as common as talking. Whether it's playing, sniffing out a potential mate, or sniffing another dog's territory, it is always good to allow your dog to exercise his vomeronasal organ. After all, it's there for a reason, so why not put it to good use! Happy sniffing!
We see teeth chattering in dogs for a number of reasons. One may be pain in the mouth, bad teeth. Another is a trigeminal nerve irritation similar to shingles in humans. It could be central nervous system problem and similar to a seizure.
— Dr. Denise Colgrove
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: My 12-year-old Lab Rottie cross is chattering uncontrollably, and his body is trembling all over. It's like watching his brain go into meltdown mode. Do you know what's happening to my dog?
Answer: This should warrant a vet visit to check for seizures or some other neurological issue.
Question: My 12 year old dog chatters his teeth a few different times before he falls asleep but that's the only time he does it! So I'm not sure if he's just old and his age finally caught up with him. What do you think?
Answer: Many dogs smack their mouth/lips a bit before falling asleep, it could be your dog chatters his teeth in the same way. Perhaps, it's just their way to relax and get ready to nap or there is a functional reason, like clearing the mouth of saliva. Of course, dogs chatter their teeth also when they have dental problems/mouth problems, so if you see it happening in other contexts or more frequently, report to your vet.
Question: My (entire) male dog sniffs/licks the ground when his mum (neutered) urinates, then pee’s on top of it. His teeth chatter and he drools. Is this normal and what does it mean?
Answer: Yes, it's very normal for a dog to sniff/lick urine and then chatter teeth and drool. As explained in the article, it's the way dogs can analyze smells in detail. By licking and chattering teeth they are sending the scent to their incisive papilla which is found on the roof of the mouth which communicates with the vomeronasal organ where it can be interpreted. Many intact male dogs do this and it can help them analyze female urine and other interesting information. Drooling/foaming at the mouth is common too.
© 2016 Adrienne Farricelli
Ashley on July 01, 2020:
my 8 year old lab has chattered since he was about 1 yr old. The first time i noticed it, he would do it after catching a squirrel. He'd catch it, be super excited and play with it, then accidentally kill it and seem upset. He'd come to me chattering.
Now he does it anytime he smells or licks one of his wounds. From a cactus sticker to a recent surgical laceration. It seems he's started doing it more and more often with things that upset him and he won't stop until I comfort him.
Is this normal to mainly be associated with stress?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 06, 2020:
Hi Amanda, it may help to keep him away from dad so he can develop his own independence and bloom into the dog he was meant to be. Sometimes when dogs are so fixated on repeated behaviors, they need us to intervene to prevent rehearsal of these behaviors (the more the dog practices them, the more they become established). So try to separate them and spend some time with this dog establishing new routines such as playing with interactive toys, brain games, training, play with you, walks etc. Here are some exercises to increase confidence in insecure dogs: https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Dog-Behavior-Exercises...
and here are some impulse control games; https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Understanding-Dog-Frus...
Amanda on June 06, 2020:
I have a father and son jack Russell x. The son is constantly got his head under his dads carriage, checking his pee and chattering his teeth. It’s all day, every day. He’s been an out of balance dogs since arrival; I’ve had to have him at behaviour classes as he’s been so imbalanced. I wonder if it’s related to needing constant reassurance that things are okay? His 8wks socialisation was off as the pups where never separated from the mother, plus an imbalanced border collie was a major part of their home. He’s now a lovely wee dog, I’d just like to work on getting him out of being so heavily reliant on reassurance from dad. We have a Cairn terrier too, but he doesn’t do it to him.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 09, 2020:
At 10, a vet visit should be important to rule out teeth chattering in dogs due to some underlying health problem such as a dental issue.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 09, 2020:
It could be there's an issue with his anal glands and some anal gland fluid may have been released on the bed. This smell may intrigue him, causing your dog to chatter his teeth.
Raylene on May 04, 2020:
My 10 year old rottie mix just starting chattering her teeth and drooling at the same time.. I just go over and pet her and then it will stop.. It is breaking my heart she is my baby.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 19, 2020:
Hi Kristin. I wonder if perhaps he emptied his anal glands on the bed and the smell is intriguing him causing him to chatter his teeth. That may explain the butt chewing as well.
Kristin on April 18, 2020:
My 5 year old male dog woke up from his nap, smelled his bed, started chattering his teeth, and is fixated on one spot of his bed. He's insisting on licking that specific spot. He's been trying to lick his butt alot her lately as well.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 09, 2020:
Hi Steven, most likely your other female dog is chattering her teeth as a way of analyzing the smell.
Steven Garlington on March 08, 2020:
I have 2 female miniature aussies when one of them goes into heat the other one will sniff the one that is in heat and her bottom jaw will chatter what does that mean
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 16, 2020:
By licking and then chattering, most likely your dog is better able to analyze the smell since the incisiva papilla is located behind the incisor teeth. My male Rottie used to "sample" smells this way too, but he used to do it mostly with mail and used books.
Rita Vassar on February 16, 2020:
I'd like to know why my male dog only licks up a sample of male urine, then chatters his teeth. Is this common? He's 4 years old and recently neutered. He's been doing this for years.
Devika Primic on January 28, 2020:
You have a broad knowledge of dogs behaviors and habits. In every detail of a dog's health and signs of all unusual behaviors. I learned lot from your hubs thank you for that
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 28, 2020:
Annabelle, if when he sniffs is the only context that evokes the teeth chattering, most likely, he's analyzing the smell as described in the article under the section "dogs can taste smells." Of course, if this has you concerned, tell your vet about it to have his/her opinion.
Annabelle on January 27, 2020:
My 1 year old French Bulldog has been chattering his teeth since he was very little. I’ve always wondered if something’s wrong when he does it. The only time he chatters his teeth is when he finds something to sniff and starts licking — if I pull his head away from whatever he’s licking, his teeth start chattering. I don’t know if this is normal, strange, or just a quality of the breed (frenchies tend to have health issues). It would be great if I could get any insight.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 11, 2019:
Aundrea, Most likely, they are in the REM stage of sleep and they are dreaming. Who knows what they're dreaming about, maybe that they are eating something tasty. Of course though, if you are concerned, it doesn't hurt to report this to the vet, just to get their professional opinion.
Aundrea on December 01, 2019:
I have two cane corsos, one male and one female aged a year and a half and ever since they were younger they always click their jaw but its only ever when theyre asleep. Ive never seen them do it while being awake (unless i have treats ready in hand to give them) should i be concerned?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 16, 2019:
If this bother the other dog, then it does need redirected to another activity.
Laura on July 06, 2019:
My 9-year old Border Collie does this when she “gets after” my (larger) 2.5 year old Heeler/Catahoula mix for hogging the ball or binkie she wants, it trying to take the one she has away from her, or when they’re playing and he gets too rough with her. She snarls and snaps at him, sometimes getting his muzzle (no blood, ever) he cries (just a little one) and pouts, and she will chatter her teeth for a couple minutes or until I pet her and tell her she’s ok. I’ve associated the behavior with her being stressed or scared.
Velda on July 06, 2019:
My male dog chatters his teeth after licking my other male dogs private and urine. He does this so often it makes the other dog uncomfortable. Does this behavior need correcting?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 05, 2019:
It may be just excitement or maybe a bit of anxiety or just your dog's way of carefully analyzing the smell. Only time will tell how well he will adjust. It sounds like you are doing everything right and that he is delicate is very good. Create positive associations with the baby, (eg. when baby cries and you walk around, drop some tasty treats, feed treats when you use the stroller or when your baby starts crawling etc.) I have a couple of articles on getting dogs used to babies crying and crawling. Keep on monitoring carefully.
Laura Benoit on April 03, 2019:
Please help! I just brought home a newborn. My pit bull is super interested. I tried everything like bringing home the baby sent, wrapped a fake baby in a blanket, set boundaries before the baby came home, and played recorded crying, but he didn’t understand. I let him come close. He is delicate. He licked his hand, but of course I don’t let him too close for any long length of time. Then, he started chattering his teeth. Is this a bad or good sign? He has done this with me before too. Thank you in advance!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 29, 2018:
Beth, if this happens in context with his excitement, it just sounds like an emotional response; however, if you suspect seizures, you're better off recording it using your phone or camera and showing the behavior to your vet.
Beth on November 27, 2018:
My Male Pitbull does this when he gets excited. He isn't aggressive and he doesn't bite but i worry it's seizures maybe.
Hailey on October 13, 2018:
My female pit bull does this and I’m not sure why. She never does it when something is exciting. She’ll just randomly do it when she’s laying down or walking down the hallway in the house. I have seen her do it in stressful situations also. She’s never bitten or been aggressive towards anyone. She’s also never had a seizure. I’m kinda worried about her
Kristina on September 03, 2018:
I have a Maltese mix whose 3 pounds and had teeth removed about 1 year ago this month which then caused seizures from brain swelling, and tonight for the first time his teeth started chattering he's never done that before should i be concerned? Any ideas on what i should do
Louis on August 02, 2018:
My 4 year old patterdale / cocker spaniel cross will sometimes lick the genitals of my 4 month old pug. After doing so he will chatter his teeth for a small while. I am completed baffled by what drives him to lick and chatter. It seems to be an ongoing thing.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 22, 2018:
If your dog chatters his teeth when he smells something bad, consider that for us the smell may be "bad" when for dogs it may be intriguing. Dogs are drawn to smells that make us retch.
Dolly on April 10, 2018:
I have a 4 yr old male chuahua. He chatters his teeth ONLY when he is smelling something bad. Another dog or cat's hind quarter ( foul smell, I assume) or he has found an " invisible" stain on the concrete???
Very informative article. I had wondered why he did this for years. Do cadaver dogs do this, I wonder?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 25, 2018:
CP, so cute, sounds like he loves cheese!
CP on February 23, 2018:
My 2 year old Maltese starts chattering his teeth when we give him a tiny tiny peice of cheese for a treat. Once we give him the first peice, his teeth chatters for a 2nd peice :) We believe this is normal, and it's so adorable to see him so excited to get a peice. :)
Lynn L on February 11, 2018:
Our dog’s teeth chattered after a massage. She’s Almost 11 so following a lengthy snowshoe yesterday we noticed her moving slow this AM— stiff joints like us!!! She was happy to receive rubs and then her teeth started chattering - hopefully a sign of sheer delight!
Sherry Knigh2 on January 13, 2018:
My dog minnie has been chattering her teeth alot. She has been going through some medical problems such as losing her her fur, due to allergies. I don't know what to do for her I noticed her teeth are bad would it hurt her if i rubbed some orgel on her teeth and gums
Shirlnga on November 12, 2017:
Could be, Adrienne. She's like me, doesn't do well with meds.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 11, 2017:
Interesting Shiringa that your dog chatters her teeth when she's on antibiotics, who knows maybe it's from a side effect like having an upset tummy from it?
Shirlnga on November 10, 2017:
My springer spaniel does this EVERYTIME she's on antibiotics! No other time.
Madison on October 31, 2017:
My dog just gave birth within the last hour and she tends to over lick them. When I tell her no, she looks at me as if she’s nervous and concerned then her teeth start to chatter for about 15-25 seconds. It’s her first litter so I don’t know if this is normal for her, any advice or insight?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 25, 2017:
I would keep an eye on this behavior and if it makes you uncomfortable have a professional come in your home for an assessment.
Lindsey Williams on September 23, 2017:
I have a mix lab. I recall when she had puppies, she would chatter her teeth at anyone that handled her puppies (other then myself and my husband). That was the only time she did it. Now fast forward 2...3 years later and I've had my first baby and occasionally I find her chattering her teeth again, at me or at the baby when I go to pick the baby up. Should I be concerned at her warnings? My dog, Nala, is 4.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 18, 2017:
It is difficult to say why your dog started teeth chattering, if she seems like she is acting sick or the behavior concerns you, it's always best to see the vet.
Vicki on September 14, 2017:
My 2 year old started chattering her teeth shortly after she had puppies it stopped for about 3-4 months and this past week she has started doing it again she has also started her heat cycle 2-3days ago... What could be causing it should I be worried?
Megan S on September 05, 2017:
Our black lab only chatters her teeth when I am getting her food ready!! It is something new the last food days! We have never noticed it. Seems very wired!
Rushelle on May 08, 2017:
I just gave my 3year old male pit bull a little bit of milk, & he came over and cuddled up to me, & started chattering his teeth & also was lightly whining, sighing.... anyone know why?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 07, 2017:
Lyndsey, it's hard to say what her emotions are without seeing it happening. It can be just excitement but it can also be anxiety or arousal from predatory drive (yay, a squeaky toy that moves!) which can be obviously problematic. it definitely is an exaggerated response but it's expected being that it sounds like your dog never met cats before. I would thread with caution and always assume the worse, and if you decide to adopt the cat do very gradual introductions (like keep kitty in crate) and keep your dog on leash for safety to get used to each other's smells. Rub towel on cat and then let dog sniff it. Kittens are easier to get used to dogs than older dogs to kittens, but you can never be extra cautious!.
Lyndsey on May 05, 2017:
Quick question. My dogs have never really seen cats before..well my neighbor had kittens (I'm a huge cat person..the fiance is a dog person). Anyways I really want a kitten...today the neighbor and I brought over one of the babies (held it close so she can see, hear and smell but that's about it). Her teeth were chattering and she was kind of foaming at the mouth. My neighbor held the kitten out a little and my dog licked its butt.. and than continued chatterng.. I'm super confused if that's a good sign or bad sign??? She was jumping up and down like she was excited... but she is a guard dog so I'm worried if it's more of an aggression thing? I know she wasn't snapping because I've seen that..it was teeth chattering.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 29, 2017:
Mia, I would suggest seeing the vet so to see if there could be an underlying medical problem causing your dog's teeth chattering when falling asleep.
Puckroger on April 21, 2017:
My Dobermans teeth chatter, only when she's resting not sleepy. Weird it's been going on 2 1/2 month, I took her to the vet she would bite you if you examine her mouth
mia on April 21, 2017:
my dog is 14 years old and sometimes when shes trying to get to sleep her teeth just chatters , is it old age and is there a way to stop that so she can have some peace
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 09, 2017:
Del123, That's interesting and kudos for you for putting your investigative hat on and finding out what was causing your dog's teeth chattering!
Del123 on March 26, 2017:
My dog had teeth chattering / jaw tremors for two years. Vet visits came up with nothing. It was especially bad when she was resting and falling asleep. I recently determined that it was a wheat allergy - including wheatgrass. I would have never realized had I not had some friends visit who gave her pretzels as treats, and she was much worse that night. Since she eats field grass in the summer I've been putting wheatgrass in her food during the snowy winter months, thinking it was good for her. Instead I've basically been poisoning her for two years. When I stopped the wheat-treats and wheatgrass, tremors immediately stopped. My recommendation: check everything your dog is eating, and try changing it all up. E.g. some dogs are allergic to chicken, etc.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 21, 2017:
Megan, it's hard to say why your dog is chattering her teeth without seeing the actual behavior. It may just be a reaction to your baby's smell or it could be a sign of excitement. Perhaps there's a bit of anxiety mixed in, if she's expecting you to step in and say "no" if your dog's next move is usually trying to lick her face. If it happens only and exclusively after licking your baby's hands, it's likely unlikely a health problem, but it never hurts mentioning it to the vet. It's good you are always careful how they interact, and it's important that the behavior you are seeing is differentiated from snapping, which is something that can mean an impending bite. When in doubt , it's always best to have a professional intervene for an assessment.
Megan on February 21, 2017:
My dog is 6 and lately she chatters her teeth after licking my babies hands... I say "no" when she tries to lick my babies face and pull her away- She is not aggressive towards the baby but this is the most interaction they have had to date, my daughter is only 5 months and has just started noticing our dog and joys having her hands licked so I figured this is a good thing- but my dog is definitely a little jealous (she will take a baby toy if I'm nursing or playing with the baby and not paying attention to her) so I'm careful about how they interact etc. But I've never seen this behavior in my dog before and I'm concerned. She doesn't seem anxious when she is interacting with baby, she is happily licking babies hands and then it's most like her jaw locks, she can't open her mouth, they chatter long enough that I hear it and then see it- so maybe 10-15 seconds, her ears go flat and I can tell she doesn't like the teeth chattering. Her teeth seem fine... What could this be? Behavioral? Or should I see my get?