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Interpreting the Dog’s Mouth
Clues to behavior and emotion

When assessing dogs, I often look at the mouth. With such a strong interest in canine aggression, I have spent a lot of time looking at this part of dogs’ bodies, and wrote about my observations recently in my local newspaper.

The basics of interpreting the internal state of a dog from the mouth involve the following questions: Is the mouth open or closed? Is the dog panting? Does the dog display an offensive pucker, a fear grimace or a tooth display?

The answers can enlighten you about whether a dog is happy and relaxed at the moment, rather than feeling anxious or perhaps fearful. The mouth provides clues about the amount of confidence a dog is feeling as well as the likelihood of going on the offense and behaving in an aggressive way.


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.

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