Looking at our dogs makes us smile inevitably. Their tails wagging like a helicopter when you come home, the cute weird sounds they make when they sleep, and their head tilting when you say the word ‘walk’. But does it work the other way around? Do we make our dogs smile when they look at us? Do dogs smile at all?
Can dogs smile?
You’ve probably watched thousands of videos or pictures of dogs smiling at their owners and even laughing, or just showing a mouth-to-ear smile. Yes, dogs can smile, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they do it because they found something hilarious.
Dogs’ body language is very different from ours. This doesn’t mean dogs can’t feel happiness or amusement (in fact, they can and we will take up on that later), it only means that you shouldn’t expect your dog to smile back at you when you say something funny. As dog parents, we sometimes fail to understand our dogs’ behaviors since we tend to attribute them human characteristics. However, it is very important to speak our dogs’ language: it helps us know them better and understand their needs.
Do dogs smile when they are happy?
For a long time, there was a popular belief that claimed that dogs’ smiles were mere face reflexes that had nothing to do with their emotions. However, nowadays studies have been made, and we know for certain that this is not entirely true.
Based on a study conducted in 2012, it has been established that non-human animals have a sense of consciousness and emotions. This means that when dogs are chilled and happy, their muscles are relaxed too, and this can have an impact on their faces, making their mouths open and the corners of their mouths turn upwards.
So, even though dogs don’t smile to express happiness, it might be related to feeling content after all.
However, all dogs are different, and even though when a dog is relaxed, he might communicate it through facial expressions, knowing those expressions is mandatory in order to hack them. Misinterpreting dogs’ behavior can lead to a bad canine encounter.
Why do dogs smile?
Apart from being a result of having their facial muscles relaxed, smiling can also occur due to positive reinforcement. Think of a dog smiling, does it make you smile back? Probably yes. So, dogs may realize that and can be smiling in order to receive a reward.
Last but not least, dogs may probably smile because they’ve learned the habit from their owners. Due to the particular bond humans and dogs share, and the ancient history of dog domestication, our furry friends are masters in analyzing human behavior. They can imitate and know our body language better than any other animal.
In fact, a study has shown that, when exposed to the same situation, socialized wolves and dogs act very differently.
The task was clear: both wolves and dogs had to solve a manipulation task. But their way of doing it was very different: while wolves tried very hard to do it on their own and failed, dogs directly stared at humans asking for help.
Do dogs smile at other dogs?
Although dogs can smile, they rarely smile at other dogs or people. On the contrary, they use their entire body language to communicate with their peers. A dog doesn’t need another dog to smile back to know they are happy.
So, how can I tell when my dog is happy?
- High and waggy tail
- Floppy and relaxed ears
- Roll over for a belly rub
- Happy and chilled panting
- Soft relaxed facial expression (that can include a smile 😊)