You are here:

Canine Behavior/Raised upper lip.


Shelby is a 2 year old Australian cattle dog, mastiff mix and when she goes to lick someone, mostly me, she raises her upper lip as if in a biting motion before, and just before she reaches her target she will than lick, why does she do this and how do i train her out of it?

Thank you for your question. Some dogs will do what is called a submissive grin as they approach for intimate contact - especially with someone they like very much and when they're very excited.

A submissive grin is when their upper lip up and back to expose their top teeth. The front teeth definitely are exposed during this and often the molars along the side will be exposed as well. To know if this is a submissive grin as opposed to a warning signal, we have to take context into account because teeth showing as a warning can sometimes look similar. But when we look at body language, it usually becomes very clear.

In a submissive grin, the body is soft and wiggly, tail wagging, eyes are bright and with a soft expression. They'll look right at you for brief periods of tiem. The dog is typically bouncy and will often lower their head slightly (though it may be fleeting as to how long they lower their head) in a bit of a play posture.

If it's a warning signal, the body is stiff, the eyes are hard. The tail is not likely wagging, or it's wagging low and stiffly (not a full wag from side to side). The ears may be pulled back and they are either staring at you hard or avoiding eye contact almost completely. They will NOT be moving toward you in a playful or social way.

From your brief description it sounds like your dog grins (a submissive grin) as she approaches you to give kisses. I wouldn't want to train that grin out of her as it's her way of giving you a neon sign of communication that even though she's moving directly into your space, she doesn't mean to be threatening to you. Embrace this. She's a good communicator. My terrier mix does this with his favorite people (my dad, my sister and me - and the occasional visitor that really excites him). He does it as he comes running toward the person for pets and cuddles and wrestles.

Now, if you prefer that she doesn't give you kisses/licks at all, you can teach her an "Enough" command and use it when she begins licking you. The key to this is to say "Enough" in a firm, but not mean tone and then reposition yourself so that you remove the opportunity to continue licking. This may mean shifting your position such as crossing your legs the other way, pulling your arms to your chest or getting up and moving to a different sitting area. Most people fall down on this exercise because they'll say "Enough" and pull their hand away, only to promptly put it back into the dog's personal space, expecting the dog to understand that they should continue to refrain from doing a very rewarding behavior. So if you try to teach this skill, you must consistently remove your body (the parts that the dog wants to lick) from her personal space immediately after telling her "Enough" and then keep it removed from her personal space.

To further teach her that she gets attention and affection from you when she's not licking, but gets cut off when she is licking, you must watch out for opportunities to reinforce the behavior you like. Example: She's laying next to you on the couch - not licking you. Tell her she's a good girl and stroke her with a full hand contact from head to rump - or whatever is her favorite way to be petted. But be sure to model the energy you want her to have. if you get excited that she's not licking you and have a party with squeals of delight and move in for snuggles and scritches, she's bound to get excited with you and that is likely to trigger her efforts to lick. Instead, speak sweetly and softly saying things like "You're such a good girl..." and give long, soothing strokes down her body in the same direction that her fur grows (head towards rump).

If you can grab some video of her doing this behavior, you can upload it to YouTube (you can choose to make it a private or unlisted video so that it's not available in general public searches). Then you can followup to this response, choosing to keep it private if you prefer and provide me the link for the video. That would allow me to see the behavior in question to confirm that it is in fact a submissive grin, or change my response if I see something else. But, based on what you describe in your submission, my expectation is that it's a pro-social behavior she's doing and not actually a threatening one.

Please feel free to followup (especially with video) if I can be of further assistance.

Los Angeles Behavior Specialist

Canine Behavior

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 8 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members and many other issues. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

©2017 All rights reserved.