At some point in your relationship with your dog, you may find yourself wondering whether or not your dog is happy. Happiness is a complicated subject for most humans, not to mention how we might understand it in dogs. Yet there may be times, even frequent times, when your dog is sitting there smiling at you, and you feel like your dog is smiling because it is happy. Most owners learn to tell when their dog either likes or really doesn’t like something, but understanding more nuanced signals like the smile can be confusing. While smiling to express happiness or contentment is one possibility, the truth is that dogs don’t smile the ways human do. Here’s what your dog might really be feeling when it flashes its pearly whites.
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If you notice that your dog appears to be smiling a lot, check its other body language to make sure that it is really smiling because it is content. A common scenario in which your dog might look happy, but really be smiling in distress, is when it is being hugged. Though hugging a dog is not uncommon, it is highly likely that it stresses your dog out. It often does not stress dogs out enough that they would whine or show signs of anxiety, especially if your dog trusts you, but by watching carefully as someone hugs a dog, you will notice that the dog tenses up instead of relaxing.
If you notice your dog smiling at odd times, or frequently, check to see if there is a pattern associated with the smile. If you notice your dog smiling every time you play music, check to see whether or not your dog likes your music, or is stressed out by it. If your dog doesn’t completely relax when you pet it a certain way, consider that perhaps it doesn’t make your dog feel comfortable. If your dog smiles when it sees a certain person, consider whether or not the smile is because your dog is happy to see the person, or nervous. Being able to read your dog is an important part of being able to care for your dog through stressful situations.
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Be particularly careful with dogs smiling around children. As a general rule, small children do not make dogs feel comfortable. Quite the opposite, in fact. Even more dangerous, small children do not typically have the ability to determine whether or not a dog is smiling at them, or snarling at them. A study conducted by the University of Lincoln and the Blue Dog Trust showed that 67 percent of 4-year-olds are unable to identify an angry dog’s face, while 30 percent directly mistook angry expressions for happy expressions. Though this number improves as children grow up, it remains a cause for concern until approximately the age of eight or nine.