Do Dogs Smile? 5 Facts About Their Adorable Grins
Your dog might seem like the happiest animal in the world…especially when they greet you at the door or when you give them a new chew toy! You’ll probably notice a rapidly wagging tail, wide eyes looking your way, and if you’re lucky, what appears to be a big ol’ grin smirking back at you.
But do dogs actually smile or does their face just look that way sometimes? We have the definitive answer to this question and some other facial feature fun facts.
Fact #1: Dogs Do Indeed Smile!
Research shows how well dogs can understand humans, and our furry friends may even mimic our behavior to be more like us. That’s where smiling comes in! Dogs notice humans smile when happy, and they will often mirror our jovial facial expressions to appease us and indicate they are also happy. A dog will pull back their lips and lift their brows to smile, and they may even wag their tail to complete the gesture.
Fact #2: A Smile Can Be a Peace Offering
Dogs don’t just smile when they’re happy. They can also give a “submissive grin,” which is a way of letting you know that you are the boss. Similar to how dogs may lower their tail or lie belly up to indicate they are not a threat, some smiles are meant to give that same impression. This behavior comes from dogs’ wolf-like ancestors, who would retract the corners of their lips as a submissive gesture toward a dominant wolf, according to VCA Animal Hospitals.
Your dog may also give a submissive smile if you want them to do something they don’t want to do—such as take a B-A-T-H. When your pup does this, they’re trying to let you know they don’t want to get in trouble. It’s essentially doggy language for “please don’t make me do it!”
Fact #3: Dogs Only Smile for Humans
While dogs can smile submissively to other animals, they only appear to beam truly happy smiles toward people! Smiling when feeling joyful is not a natural instinct for furry friends, as they inherently communicate through other forms of dog body language like tail wags and vocalizations. It isn’t until dogs start interacting with humans that they learn how to smile.
Think about it: As soon as you greet your dog, you smile at them and give some verbal praise (and sometimes a tasty chew treat!). Your dog associates your smile with the positive attention they receive, and they learn to imitate your excitement by smiling back.
Fact #4: Some Expressions Look Like Smiles
Dogs may be experts at reading our facial expressions, but it can be a bit harder to interpret some of their gestures. One body language signal that commonly gets confused with smiling is panting. Your dog may open their mouth wide to pant—especially after exercising—which looks similar to a grin. While this isn’t quite the same as a smile, it could indicate your pooch is relaxed.
Surprisingly, an aggressive facial expression can also be mistaken for a smile. Dogs who see another animal or person as a threat may expose their teeth as a warning, loosely resembling a toothy smile. If you’re not sure if a pup is trying to intimidate or just wants to have fun, watch their tail; a loosely wagging tail signals a playful pooch, while a stiff and vertical tail could mean they are on high alert.
RELATED: Dog Aggression vs. Playing: What's the Difference?
Fact #5: Dogs Can (Sort Of) Laugh
Your furry friend’s goofy antics may have you wondering, do dogs laugh? While they can’t laugh how we laugh, research suggests dogs do laugh in their own way. Dogs can give an impression of laughing by slightly opening their jaws, tilting the angle of their mouth, and panting, according to Psychology Today. The resulting sound is more of a breathy noise than a vocalization, signaling a happy and excited mood.
Smiles Are Contagious
Pups never fail to let us know how they feel. Whether they’re happy to see us when we wake up or joining us for playtime, dogs can certainly smile to express their satisfaction…and they may even follow it up with a doggy giggle!
Knowing that dogs do smile is all the more reason to keep their teeth clean and healthy. Brush up on this dog dental care advice!