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  • Vickie Foster

Can Dogs Really Smile?

You may have been giving your dog a belly rub and perhaps you noticed your dog looking happy. And you know when your pups are happy because it’s a similar look to when they’re getting food or treats! That doggy grin sure looks like a smile. But can dogs actually smile?


The reasons that a dog may smile can vary from dog to dog. What makes one dog smile may not affect another dog. Because of that, each dog’s smile response is different.


A relaxed mouth vs a smile

Studies published in the journal Scientific Reports, show that a smile, referred to as "relaxed open-mouth" in dogs, often occurs in positive settings, like when dogs are inviting one another to play. However, whether it's really our idea of a smile, or whether dogs are intentionally directing it at us to communicate something, remains unknown.


The truth is, there is very little objective research to support the idea that dogs smile. Dr. Juliane Kaminski, says that more objective research is needed to see if dogs are indeed smiling at us like we smile at them. One of the ways that scientists can study this is through the use of FACS, which Kaminski has used before. This method could help determine how specific facial expressions correlate with particular situations and what precisely motivates those expressions.


That being said, dogs have learned to communicate with humans and have been doing so for 15,000-30,000 years since they first became domesticated. So what else could your dog be telling you through their “smile”?


  1. Showing content An open and lip-curled mouth, often be interpreted as a smile, could mean that your dog is content and happy. Just like a human, the corners of your dog’s mouth will turn up slightly and there will be no tension in the dog’s face or muscles. You might see this type of “smile” when your pup is about to be fed or is getting attention.

  2. Showing submissiveness Another thing that a dog could be communicating through their open mouth or “smile” is submissiveness. In a submissive grin, a dog will show their teeth. He will have a lowered head, wagging tail, flattened ears, a soft body posture, and soft, squinty eyes. This is a sign that your dog is willing to appease and work with you. Have you seen videos where a person comes home from work only to find their trash can toppled over and rummaged through? Then, of course, there is a dog nearby with a silly looking grin on their face. That right there, is a perfect example of the submissive grin!


Final words

Dogs have learned that certain expressions elicit responses from humans. We pet them, give them treats, and praise them. For that reason, dogs have become more communicative and expressive with humans.


We hope that more research will be done so we can all get a concrete answer about whether dogs’ smiles are like human smiles. Until then, keep enjoying your pup and all their expressions!

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All proceeds from Thousand Hills Pet Resort support New Life K9s. New Life K9s provides service dogs to veterans and first responders with PTSD at no cost to them.

References:

https://www.livescience.com/65506-are-dogs-smiling.html

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-15091-4

https://www.hillspet.com/dog-care/behavior-appearance/can-dogs-smile

https://www.petmd.com/dog/behavior/do-dogs-smile-science-behind-looks-we-get-happy-dog