By Emily Gantt
Published: 01/05/2021, edited: 10/26/2022
You pick up that leash, and there it is — the tell-tale sign of happiness on your pup’s face. It's no secret that dogs' smiles make us smile, and according to scientists, the sweet contentment on your puppy's face is them mirroring your facial expressions. But what is the science behind dog smiles and our endless love for them? We’ll discuss this and more.
Dogs don’t necessarily smile the same way we do. That classic face, with the relaxed mouth and tongue hanging out, however, will have plenty of pet lovers arguing that it is indeed a smile. This type of smile is strikingly different from aggressive baring of teeth, which may look like a human smile but has different emotions behind it. Dogs usually exhibit aggressive baring of teeth in combination with raised fur, stiff posture, and growling.
If a dog is genuinely smiling, they’ll relax their posture and facial muscles. A submissive grin looks different than smiling and baring of teeth and tends to resemble the human smile. This cute doggy smile indicates your pup is submitting to you and acknowledging you as the alpha.
Experts say that one of the main reasons dogs make that adorable smiley face is in response to their human's expressions. Dogs also seem to smile more when relaxing, playing, or when content overall — many of the same reasons humans smile.
Your dog isn't likely to smile in response to a witty joke, but they may smile at your response. On the other hand, submissive grins are commonly given in reply to punishment or when a dog knows they're in trouble. This adorable face is a way to tell their human, "I respect you."
When we see smiles or someone smiles at us, our body releases “feel-good” chemicals called endorphins. Among these endorphins released is oxytocin, one of the most complex naturally-occurring biochemicals in mammals. This hormone is responsible for emotional bonding and that mushy feeling you get when you hug someone you love, including your dog.
Did you know dog smiles are good for us? Studies show that high oxytocin levels reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and make us happier people and puppers. Data shows this hormone can make us healthier physically, emotionally, and socially by lowering blood pressure, speeding healing processes, and forging healthy societal bonds. There's evidence that smiling and being smiled at can also boost the immune system! Who knew?!
Making your dog smile is as simple as making them happy. Playtime, praise, cuddles, and lots of smiles in return are sure to garner a toothy grin from your best bud. Just think, the more you smile at each other, the healthier you'll be!
Probably so, that’s why they do it! As with anything, positive rewards reinforce the behavior. The more pets they get for making adorable smiley faces, the more often they’re likely to make those faces. One thing is for sure — our love for cute dog smiles isn’t going anywhere.
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