Can Dogs Smile?

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Introduction

Scroll through your social media pages and you'll see it - a happy dog smiling up a storm next to their owner. Smiling dogs are an internet phenomenon, and we can't deny their utter adorableness. But it does beg the question -"is that dog actually smiling?"

The answer: Yes, in a way. But probably not for the exact same reason that people smile. Dogs do smile, and in fact, they can be trained to smile, but a smiley dog doesn't necessarily indicate happiness. While a happy dog might have a looser mouth, a hanging tongue, and an upturned grin, it's also possible that a dog who is anxious, subordinate, nervous, or aggressive might show off a smile. 

A doggo smile is less about reflecting happiness and more about expressing an array of emotions. Read on for a better idea of why your dog might eb smiling, reasons for it, and how you can train your pooch to smile on command! 

Signs Your Dog is Smiling at You

We know it sounds silly, but if your dog is smiling at you, you can probably tell. That being said, it's possible your dog hasn't quite nailed the smiling expression yet, and he or she might be trying to show off those pearly whites to you. One of the best signs your dog is trying to smile at you is by pulling back their lips and retracting the corners of their mouths. 

Another way your dog might be trying to express a smile or an emotion with their mouth is by letting his or her tongue loll out of the side of their mouths. Your pup might cock their heads to the side, bare their teeth while they smile, or wag their tail, too. There could be other indicators of why he is smiling, however. 
It's possible that your dog is giving you other body language cues that go along with the smile that could help better reflect why your dog is smiling. For example, your dog could be relaxed, feeling anxious, feeling nervous, or might be scared. For more information on how to read your dog's signals and their smiles in conjunction, read on!

Body Language

Body language that might accompany your dog's smiling expression include:
  • Head tilting
  • Hugging
  • Drooling
  • Lips pushed forward
  • Tongue hanging

Other Signs

Other signs that your dog might be trying to give you a smile are:
  • Mouth pulled up at the corners
  • Retracted lips
  • Open mouth
  • Tongue lolling to the side
  • Chattering teeth

The History of Dogs Smiling

Dogs are the ancestors of wolves - it's a fact we all know and easily piece together when we consider some dog's more aggressive or inherent traits. But did you know that dogs smiling tendencies also come from their ancestors? According to PetPlace, dogs have a few different types of smiling faces. 

And smiling doesn't just reflect a happiness or general easy-going feeling. In fact, smiling was a sign of nervousness or submission for wolves, a trait that's been passed down to dogs through the ages. Dogs who smile have this innate trait in them to express subordination. The proper way for a pooch (or a wolf) to accept his or her position is to retract the corner of their lips, pulling their mouths into a smile.

The Science Behind the Dog Smile

So, when it comes down to smiling, do dogs really use this expression to emit emotion? Science says yes, sort of. In 2012, a group of neuroscientists examined specific findings of neurological substrates in human and non-human animals and declared that animals do, in fact, have consciousness and emotions, according to The Dodo. 

So, in a way, a dog who is content will have relaxed body language, meaning their facial muscles will be relaxed, opening the mouth and turning up at the corners - giving off the perfect smile. Doggo smiles can happen from enjoying a moment outside, anticipating a pleasurable event, or even from feeling submissive or anxious. The fact of the matter is smiles from dogs do express emotion, but it might not be simply because they're happy.

Training Your Dog to Smile

As we said before, your dog smiling doesn't always mean that they're attempting to express joy, happiness, contentment or other positive emotions. In fact, a smile could be that your dog is anxious, scared, nervous, or feeling subordinate. That being said, if you want to teach your pup to smile for photos, smile on command, or be a little more smiley in general, you can certainly train them to do this and turn the smile expression into a positive, rewarding outcome. 

First, you'll need to watch your dog carefully and understand when he or she smiles naturally. When they do this, say "smile" and reward them with a treat. Ensure that you're only giving your dog rewards, attention, and affection in associate to "smile" when they're actually doing this command so as to not confuse them. Reinforce this behavior, train your dog briefly on this bit every day until it sticks, and ensure that you're doing it in a positive, rewarding way for your dog. 

Another way to go about this is to use a clicker. First, tickle your dog's whiskers, say your command word, like "cheese," allow your dog to "smile", and then click. Immediately provide your pup with a treat from the bag. Reinforce this behavior with positive attention, treats, and affection. 

How to React if Your Dog Smiles:

  • If your dog is happy, be happy with your pup!
  • Ensure that your dog is smiling for a good reason. If not, get down to the bottom of the smile.
  • Reward your dog for his or her smile if it's a positive emotion.
  • If all is well, snap a cute picture of your doggo smiling!