Clacking teeth, an audible clicking or chattering of the teeth, is usually innocuous, although when present with other symptoms, it may be a sign of disease. Understanding the cause of this behavior can help you communicate better with your dog and respond to his needs. If you are concerned the clacking might be due to a disease, consult your veterinarian.
A Case of Nerves
One common reason for teeth clacking in dogs is general arousal, which may include nervousness, excitement or anticipation. If you see your dog clacking his teeth when strangers are around or when he's waiting for you to throw the ball, arousal is the most likely cause. If the reaction is due to anxiety rather than anticipation, remove your dog from the situation.
Much like humans, dogs may also clack or chatter their teeth when they feel cold. If the clacking is accompanied by shivering and cold temperatures, you may have your cause. Dogs with thinner coats and lower body mass are more likely to shiver in response to cold temperatures. If you believe your dog is suffering from hypothermia, low body temperature, get him to a warm room and cover him with blankets.
A number of medical conditions may result in clacking teeth as well. A condition known as shaker syndrome, or idiopathic cerebellitis, can also cause tremors throughout the body, leading to the teeth clicking together. If your dog is having tremors while seemingly calm and warm, consult your veterinarian. Partial seizures, specifically in the jaw, may cause teeth clacking while your dog remains conscious. If he is unresponsive to you during this behavior, seizures may be to blame.
A dog may also clack his teeth as a part of a submissive display to his owner or another dog. If this behavior is combined with laid back ears, wide sweeping tail movements, crouching, paw lifting or appearing to smile, he may simply be trying to tell you that you're in charge. Lip licking and nuzzling or licking you are other signs that your dog is trying to greet you as his pack leader.