The Why of a Bite

Dog Show Judges usually assess a dog’s bite by glancing at the front of the mouth, and thorough judges will also look down the sides of the mouth to ascertain a complete bite. For those just tuning in (figuratively speaking), a dog’s “bite” refers to the way their top teeth line up with their bottom teeth.

A normal scissors bite is where the incisor teeth in the upper jaw are in contact with but slightly overlap those in bottom jaw. This produces a ‘scissor’ appearance in the way the pre-molars and molars meet down the side of the mouth. A level or pincer bite is one where the incisor teeth meet exactly, surface to surface. A level bite differs from the normal scissors bite in that the upper incisors don’t slightly overlap those incisors in the bottom jaw.

Bite is important for a couple of reasons: For starters, dogs with a poor one can have a hard time chewing their food when eating. The second reason might surprise you.

A good bite is associated with good posture which impacts a dog’s gait. Truly. A dog’s teeth and temporomandibular joints (TMJ)  are giving important information to the brain about posture.  A good bite results in neutral TMJs, and that in turn allows neutral posture.

If you doubt this, try this exercise suggested by Dr. Karen Gellman, DVM, PhD and Dr. Judith M. Shoemaker, DVM:

Stand on level ground with easy neutral stance, arms at your sides.  Make sure you can feel weight centered between your feet. Now thrust your lower jaw forward as far as you can to create an underbite. If you’re doing it correctly, you’ll soon feel your posture change.  Now pull your jaw back as far as you can. For most of you doing this exercise, you’ll feel your body pitch forward and back with the movement of the jaw.  You can experiment with this by moving side to side as well, and feel your weight shift from foot to foot.This is meant to show you that jaw position helps determine weight-bearing because the nervous system’s number one job is to keep the brain safe by making sure the nearby TM joints are symmetrically stimulated, and thus indicating that the dog’s head is level and symmetrical.

Not long ago, we read a seven year old article indicating that the Pointer breed standard differs from other breeds in that it mentions two allowable bites. We’re not so sure. We went breed by breed and found that several breed standards allow for two bites:

Pointer: Jaws ending square and level, should bite evenly or as scissors;

Lagotto Romagnolo: Well-developed teeth meet, ideally, in a scissor or level bite. A reverse scissor bite is acceptable;

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje – Scissors bite…Level bite acceptable;

Chesapeake Bay Retriever: Bite-Scissors is preferred, but a level bite is acceptable.

Flat Coated Retriever: Scissors bite preferred, level bite acceptable.

Labrador Retriever: The teeth should be strong and regular with a scissors bite…a level bite is acceptable, but not desirable;

English Setter: Teeth-close scissors bite preferred. Even bite acceptable;

Irish Red and White Setter: Bite – A scissors bite is ideal,  a level bite is acceptable;

The American Water Spaniel: Bite either scissor or level.

Boykin Spaniel: Scissors is the preferred bite, level is acceptable.

Field Spaniel – Scissors or level, with complete dentition. Scissors preferred.

Irish Water Spaniel -The teeth are even with a scissor or level bite;

Spinone -Teeth are positioned in a scissors or level bite.

Irish Setter: The teeth meet in a scissors bite in which the upper incisors fit closely over the lower, or they may meet evenly.

A couple of breed standards indicate that a level bite isn’t a fault, the Gordon Setter standard being one of them. In the Clumber Spaniel and Welsh Springer Spaniel standards, both indicate that a scissors bite is preferred which tacitly hints that a level bite is okay.

So you can see that two bites are acceptable in other breed standards, too. Other breed standards make it very clear that anything other than a scissors bite is problematic:

German Shorthaired Pointer – The bite is a true scissors bite. A perfect level bite is not desirable and must be penalized;

Golden Retriever: Teeth scissors bite, in which the outer side of the lower incisors touches the inner side of the upper incisors. Undershot or overshot bite is a disqualification. Misalignment of teeth (irregular placement of incisors) or a level bite (incisors meet each other edge to edge) is undesirable;

English Cocker Spaniel –  Bite-Scissors. A level bite is not preferred.

English Springer Spaniel – Teeth are strong, clean, of good size and ideally meet in a close scissors bite. An even bite or one or two incisors slightly out of line are minor faults.

Sussex Spaniel – A scissors bite is preferred. Any deviation from a scissors bite is a minor fault.

We conclude by suggesting that bites in a sporting breed are also important because they influence whether a dog is soft mouthed or not, and also impacts its ability to hold a downed bird in its mouth long enough not to tire before getting it back to the hunter.

Image: Judge examining dog on the World Dog Show on June 25, 2016 in Crocus Expo Moscow by @ Toxawww |



4 thoughts on “The Why of a Bite”

  1. You also have your working breeds that the judges count their teeth. Horses are nothing without their legs and feet, Dogs are nothing without their teeth and gait. Some breeds if they are missing 2 (4 in some breed Standards) they are to be heavily penalized or even disqualified. Good article, definitely shows sporting breed bias though.

    • Thanks, Nathan. We think. We’re not sporting breed owners. Never have been….

  2. I believe a bullmastiff can have a level or undershot bite, and I thought that some of the terriers were preferred to be sissors but could be level. Is your article pertaining only to level and scissors bites? I wasnt clear…because there are also quite a few breeds that are supposed to be undershot.

    • Dawn, the short article was limited to Sporting breeds since the Pointer’s standard was our launching point.

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