Do dogs smile?
Oddly enough, the topic of smiling is a controversial one when it comes to dogs.
Some experts argue that dogs do in fact smile, some argue that they don’t.
I firmly believe that they do, but with one caveat – not everything that looks like a smile in dogs actually is a smile.
Dogs have a number of facial expressions that resemble a grin, but they can mean very different things.
There are subtle differences – a dog with a submissive grin will likely have their lips pulled down and back, while an aggressive dog’s lips will likely be curled up over their teeth –
but every dog is different, and these may not be clear-cut.
So how do you tell the difference?
Well, if the dog isn’t your dog and the owner is around, you could ask – they likely know their dog better than anyone – but there may be situations where you don’t have anyone to ask.
If you’re being approached by a stray dog, or trying to help catch one, you may need to figure it out on your own – and in a hurry.
How to tell if a dog is smiling or feeling aggressive
The key to figuring all of this out is body language.
A submissive grin in a dog is often accompanied by lip-licking and avoiding eye contact.
- The dog may pee suddenly, or roll over and expose their belly.
- Their tail will likely be held against their body and wagging fast, and their ears will be flat against their head and pointed back.
- If a submissive dog is making any sound, it will likely be a whimpering or whining – high-pitched and a little frantic.
- This dog is trying to convey that it is no threat, and will often relax at least partially with gentle attention and soft speech.
An aggressive dog, on the other hand, will likely stare you down.
- Their tail will be high and stiff, ears tilted forward, and hackles raised.
- They are likely to charge, possibly without provocation, and any noise they make will be snarling or growling.
- This is a warning to back off, and it goes without saying that it probably isn’t a great idea to approach a dog in this state.
Of course, sometimes a smile is a smile – even in dogs.
- A dog with a wide open mouth, tongue hanging out, ears relaxed and to the sides, and with partially closed eyes is probably actually doing just that – smiling.
- Some dogs even raise the corners of their mouths, resembling very closely a human smile.
Anthropologists and animal behaviourists have put out the suggestion that this is because, after thousands of years of domestication and companionship, they have learned that this is how we show happiness, and so they display it back to us.
They likely wouldn’t use this to communicate happiness to other dogs, as they are more in-tune with reading each other’s natural behaviour.
It’s been hypothesized that dogs understand us at about the level of a 2-3 year-old child, so it would make sense that they have learned to smile – after all, toddlers have the smiling thing down and sometimes use it to get what they want.
Not that your dog would ever try to manipulate you… right?
Even more interesting to me is the idea that dogs may have a sense of humour, or even laugh.
I’ve seen my dog chase a cat down the hall and under the bed, then turn back to me with her eyes crinkled at the corners, panting, tongue lolling out of her mouth – looking for all the world like she’s enjoying her little joke on the kitty.
Along the same vein, I have had to bite my lip when she has been misbehaving in obedience class, because laughter seems to egg her on – just like the class clown. Even the teacher claps her hand to her mouth, trying to hide her laughter while admitting that the laughing is probably making it worse – and it does.
While I agree that sometimes we may ascribe human traits too much to our pets – I am extremely guilty of this myself – I don’t believe that we’re always wrong in doing so.
We have had a relationship with these creatures for thousands of years, we’re bound to have rubbed off on them somewhat. I just wish they would rub off on us a little more – we could learn a lot.
So, do dogs smile? We say yes, but again, not every “smile” is actually a sign of happiness!