Do Dogs Smile?
A happy dog often looks like they’re grinning ear to ear. Is your dog really smiling? And does it mean the same thing it does as when humans smile?
Determining whether dogs smile requires understanding canine emotions. Thanks to MRI technology, we now know that dogs do experience emotions—often in very similar ways to humans.
Research has shown that dogs experience an increase in oxytocin when their people pet them. Oxytocin is a hormone that is released and has soothing effects. Oxytocin has a similar effect on people and dogs, so we know that dogs experience these feel-good emotions in a similar way.
Do Dogs Smile?
Although dogs experience emotions, they don’t exhibit them in the same way as humans. Dogs don’t necessarily smile the same way people do. However, there is certain body language in a dog that can be equated to a smile.
A dog’s smile will display relaxed facial muscles and posture. Their mouth will often lift slightly and their eyes will squint slightly. This is often accompanied by a wagging tail.
Many animal behaviorists recognize a dog’s smile as an adaptive facial expression that is encouraged by people. When your dog smiles, there is often a positive reaction: treats, peets, laughter, and attention. This encourages your dog to exhibit the same expression when they are feeling happy and calm in the future.
Canine Body Language
So it seems dogs really do smile!
However, decoding a dog’s emotions requires looking at their body language too, and not just their teeth. In fact, dogs will bear their teeth out of aggression or submission, which is not the same as a happy smile.
When a dog greets another dog they like, they’ll often do a full-body wag, wiggling back and forth and displaying a happy, smiling face. The same can be said when a dog greets their favorite human. When dogs smile at us we also smile back, reinforcing the behavior.