A smile is a facial expression formed by the flexible muscles of the mouth. In the world of people, a smile shows friendship, a desire to communicate, happiness, joy and so on. Although smiling is often perceived as a positive emotion, attitudes toward it may differ slightly in some cultures. In some places, a smile can be perceived as a bad expression.
But I often asked myself if the dog were laughing too. Sometime, long ago when i bought my Australian Shepherd, i read in one article that you shouldn‘t smile directly at dogs, because showing teeth means a threat to them. It annoyed me a lot because as soon as i played with my Aussie, i wanted to smile automatically.
As we get along with our dogs, we recognize their reactions, they also learn to read us. They understand when we are tense, afraid or in a good mood and happy. So i quickly noticed with my dog that when he was very happy, he pulled the corners of his mouth back and always cheerfully ran the wheels around our feet. This is still the case today, especially when we return home or ask him to play.
Research Confirms The Dog Smile
After some research i found out that dogs really can smile. Dogs behavioral specialists believes that dogs use laughter to establish contact and often smile when they greet us. In some dogs, not only are the corners of the mouth pulled back, but the front teeth are also shown. There are even races differences and some dogs may smile more and others less. Similar as humans, not everyone is always with a big smile on their face.
It is observed that dogs copy humans a lot and usually imitate their behavior. Researchers also observed that dogs usually show their smiles to their owners primarily in greeting situations or when they are asked to play. After reading this i started watching my dog more and more and noticed that my dog also has a smile. The next time you greet or play with your dog, take a look for the change in the corners of the mouth. Your dog may also smile happily at you.
However, on closer inspection, one may from the view that behind such expressions lies not only happiness and fun, but that this can sometimes mean anxiety and humility. Below we will explore some of the possible smiles and their meanings.
Dog Smiles and Their Meanings
The behavior of dogs, which can be called smiling, can be broadly divided into three categories:
- Greeting grin
- Submissive grin
- Agonistic grin
Greeting smile or playful face
This smile is when dog doesn‘t show his teeth, and it reminds people smile, when they lift the corners of their mouths. A greeting smile is usually interpreted as joyful and a sign of happiness. It is a signal of active humility.
This smile is characterized by body language – the head and tail are held high, and the latter is still waved. Ears at times straight or even carried forward, and mouth can be half-open sometimes.
This behavior shows the dog‘s self-confidence, progress is intense, and meaning of this smile is positive. This expression is often observed during games. The dog does not send any mixed signals – it is obvious that such behavior invites to communicate without anxiety or fear.
The dog raises its lips horizontally and shows its teeth. In the natural environment, this is a sign of passive humility. Sometimes dogs can avoid eye contact or even turn their head sideways.
Such a smile can be observed when two dogs meet, because when one makes such a facial expression, the smile will stop or weaken the aggression of the superior animal. In the case of wolves, such a face expression is a sign of nervousness and humility. Submissive grin is possible when meeting a larger dog, as well as when the dog does not know what to expect. In doing so, the animal tries to reduce the tension between itself and the other animal.
Humble smiles are usually accompanied by appropriate expressions – ears clasped back, head lowered, tail lowered, and sometimes licking. Such body language must be interpreted carefully, as the inexperienced person can confuse it with expressions of aggression.
Interestingly, dogs also have an „imitation“ smile
Such a smile is shown only to people. During the meeting the dog shows a humble, often happy expression and sometimes may show his teeth. Behavior can range from a calm approach to a sneer to a stormy greeting. This behavior can be considered to come from a submissive grin, but it is characterized by a humble but joyful body language.
It has long been believed that dogs learn to reflect our emotions, and we inadvertently learned to do so. If your Aussie receives a reward for showing his teeth (cuddle or some delicacy), he learns that whenever he „smile“ – he will be rewarded for each expression. Over time, such a smile will truly begin to express happiness or satisfaction.
In canine relationships, agonist is commonly used to refer to aggressive behavior, but may also be associated with demonstration of dominance, humility, or defense. During agonistic grin, dogs raise the lip and expose the fangs and moths, the skin around the nose wrinkles and the corners of the mouth are lowered.
When dogs show their teeth, many people still think that this is always a threatening gesture. However, many dog owners probably will be suprised, but it seems that dogs can express their emotions with a grin.