Have you ever seen a dog who sniffs a spot and then starts chattering his teeth? This curious behavior has many wondering about it. The noise produced when the dog chatters his teeth is similar to when somebody is cold, with the teeth rapidly clicking against each other repeatedly for a few seconds. Teeth chattering in dogs shouldn't be confused with snapping, which occurs when the dog opens his mouth to deliberately "air bite" when he's feeling threatened, protective or irritated. Snapping is a dog's way of telling a person or another dog that he has teeth and that he'll have no problem putting them to use if the situation warrants it. In this article we'll be taking a look at the reasons behind dog teeth chattering after sniffing and other various causes for those teeth clicking episodes.
Wine Tasting for Dogs
Have you ever attended a wine tasting event? If not, it's interesting watching the behaviors and reactions seen in famous wine connoisseurs as they're analyzing the best wines.
Tasting wine is truly an art and those wine experts are blessed with the most refined, trained palates out there. They'll typically start off by pouring the wine in a glass and taking a careful look at the sample.
Afterward, they'll take a brief whiff followed by a deeper inhalation to take in the aroma. They'll pause for a bit and then finally they'll take a sip and swish the wine around to fully enjoy the aromatic flavors.
It has been said that over 75 percent of our sense of taste derives from our sense of smell, which explains why when we have a cold we cannot taste food as we normally do.
Back to dogs, when dogs are sniffing an interesting spot, they are carefully analyzing it. Blessed with up to 300 million scent receptors (us humans have a mere 5 million ) a dog's ability to smell must surely dazzle the best wine connoisseurs on earth! The teeth chattering noises in dogs when sniffing are therefore a means for them to carefully analyze and 'taste" the odors.
A Matter of Pheromones
Dogs are blessed with a vomeronasal organ, a special organ that allows dogs to "taste" smells. The vomeronasal organ is a pouch-like structure that's located between the dog's vomer and nasal bones with a special duct located at the top of the dog's roof of the mouth. This duct is called the "incisive papilla."
The vomeronasal organ's main function is to convey chemical messages known as pheromones which are purposely left behind by other dogs for reproductive or other social purposes.
To receive these chemical messages, since they're non-volatile, it's necessary that they travel to the dog's vomeronasal organ so that they're relayed to important parts of the dog's brain responsible for coordinating mating and other basic emotions.
When dogs are seen chattering their teeth and perhaps even foaming at the mouth, they are basically gathering these large scent molecules towards their incisiva papilla with the help of their tongue (tonguing) so that they reach the vomeronasal organ and then finally the dog's brain.
"When tonguing, the dog's tongue is pushed rapidly against the roof of the mouth with the teeth sometimes chattering and expressing profuse foam sometimes collecting on the upper lip. Tonguing is frequently observed after a dog licks a urine spot or "tastes the air" following the exchange of mutual threat displays between two rival males” " ~Steven Lindsay
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As Seen in Intact Male Dogs
We know that "pee mail" tells dogs a whole lot about other dogs. Male dogs, especially intact male dogs, are the "sniffers par excellence" and not surprisingly they are the ones who are more often seen engaging in tooth chattering behavior.
This is likely because they may be sniffing female dog urine and analyzing it to determine if the female dog in question is in season. They may also teeth chatter when they are directly sniffing a female dog's rear area.
Female dogs don't go out telling males, "Hey I am ready!" Instead, they deliver their pheromone-rich business cards discreetly through chemical messages found in their urine.
If the female dog in question turns out being in heat, teeth chattering may also take place in male dogs to manifest their excitement about the pleasant "discovery."
Interestingly, neutered males and female dogs may also engage in dog teeth chattering behaviors when they are analyzing scent and the scent doesn't necessarily need to be urine to trigger this behavior.
“Dogs read about the world through their noses, and they write their messages, at least to other dogs, in their urine.” Stanley Coren
Other Things to Chatter About
While many dogs are known to chatter when they are smelling a urine spot, dogs may chatter at other times for other reasons.
A common cause for teeth chattering is when a dog is anticipating something. The teeth chattering may therefore take place when the dog is watching the owner prepare a meal or when the owner grabs the leash. It's a behavior that's perhaps quite similar to seeing a wiggly little kid who can't sit still.
Some dogs are known to teeth chatter when they are anticipating a training session or during play. Sometimes two dogs may be seen playing together lying down next to each other raising their muzzles up and clacking their jaws. A lazy play session for tired dogs.
As in people, dogs may also chatter their teeth when they are cold or anxious about something such as an approaching dog or a stranger.
Finally, teeth chattering in dogs may be a sign of a dental problem or a neurological problem such as tremors or focal seizures affecting mostly the mouth. If your dog is chattering his teeth and you can't figure out why, play it safe and have your dog see the vet to rule out any medical causes for the behavior.
Dog Teeth Chattering
Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Adaptation and Learning, By Steven R. Lindsay, Iowa State University Press; Volume One edition (January 31, 2000)