4 min read


Can Dogs Understand Smiles?



4 min read


Can Dogs Understand Smiles?


As dog owners, we have found numerous ways to communicate with our furry friends. However, have you ever thought about if any of our attempts actually work? We seemingly always try to communicate with our animals to show them just how much we love them, but what is it that makes us believe it works? Saying, "I love you"? Giving them a hug? What about a smile? 

It is truly curious whether or not our canine companions can sense our different emotions or better yet, see a smile on our faces and immediately know that we are happy.


Ways to Know Your Pup Understands Your Smile

When we smile, frown or show any type of emotion, we know that other humans can usually tell how we are feeling. Our dogs may show us they understand a little bit differently, though. 

It has been proven that dogs are able to reciprocate feelings of love, joy and even sadness and anger. The real question is, how do we know that they can understand?

When speaking of smiling, we humans smile pretty often and don't think much of it. Our pups have learned to notice our different facial features and to spot when we are feeling a certain way. Right now, let us look at how they respond to our smiles of happiness.

A tell-tale sign that your pup knows you are happy is when you smile directly at them and they immediately jump up, wag their tail and then stare right at you. Not only are they obviously excited, but the staring is also an indication of love and admiration. When they jump up, it is because they are excited about your happiness, which makes them happy too! 

Another thing to add is that when you are smiling and talking, they may tilt their head. What this shows is that they are trying to read your expression to figure out what you are feeling. With this, you may see their ears perk up as they are trying to listen to what you are saying so that they can better understand you. 

Body Language

These signs are how your pup will show you they know you're happy:

  • Staring
  • Head Tilting
  • Listening
  • Jumping Up
  • Wag Tail

Other Signs

Here are some other signs that show your dog may know you are happy:

  • They Become Super Playful
  • They Will Sometimes Look Back At You As If They Are Smiling
  • They Will Want To Get Nearer To You
  • They Will Listen Much More Carefully

The History of Human Emotions and Dogs


Dogs have obviously been around for a very long time. The big question is "how long have they understood us?" Dogs have always been known to be quite clever, especially when it comes to understanding the intentions of those around them - including humans. 

There is no true research that can tell us exactly when dogs began understanding humans emotionally, but it is safe to assume it was probably around the time they were domesticated. It is almost historically proven that dogs were domesticated twice, once 15,000 years ago, and again 12,500 years ago. There is significant evidence to prove both claims, with many people saying that both are correct. Regardless, this would potentially prove to be the first time dogs really took a liking to humans, and with that, began understanding them. 

It is so important to note that dogs have long since been man's best friend, and for good reason. Over thousands of years, they have proven time and time again their willingness to stay by our sides, caring for us and being our best pals. 

Maybe some of this has occurred because of the history of dogs and humans. It is quite possible that them understanding simple facial expressions has helped bridge the gap between animals and humans.

The Science Behind Dogs Understanding Smiles


Like previously mentioned, it has been shown that dogs can indeed understand us humans and most of our emotions. When a dog looks at our face, they are somehow able to understand just what we are feeling.

According to researchers at Azabu University, dogs are able to pick up on other species' emotions, but just like anyone else, they must learn how to differentiate between different expressions. In their study, they mentioned that dogs being able to understand humans by their facial expressions may have been integral in how dogs and humans live amongst one another. 

These researchers studied how dogs reacted to photos of faces that were either blank-faced or smiling. They did not always show the dogs just the smiling portion of the face, either. They would show them different parts of the face so that they could see how much the dogs were picking up on.

How to Train your Pup


While a lot of dogs are able to pick up emotions from humans without much prompting, there certainly are ways to make them better at understanding exactly what you mean. You can train your dog to understand the tone of your voice, how to react to certain verbal cues and even visual cues, such as a smile.  

One way to successfully train your pup is to grab some treats, put some time aside and give your dog a great amount of attention. A lot of training has to do with repetition. If you do it one time and then decide you have better things to do, it will be a guarantee that you will need to start over from square one. Dogs are always looking, paying attention to certain things around them. Use this to your advantage by making sure you are the most interesting thing around. 

If you are looking to make them react a certain way to your smiling, you will want to work with them one on one. This is where those treats will come in handy. You will need to come up with a reaction you want them to have, for example; wagging their tail. 

A dog wagging their tail is already a sign of them being happy, so you can let them know that when you smile, it is a good thing for them to wag their tail. When you are smiling and they wag their tail, be sure to give them a treat. This will encourage them to always have that behavior whenever you smile. 

As previously mentioned, dogs already understand us heaps. They more than likely understand us more than we even know, but that does not mean we will stop coming up with ways to bridge that gap a little bit more. 

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Written by a Keeshond lover Molly Martin

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 02/01/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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