You walk in, and your lovable pooch is sitting there waiting to greet you. Are you imagining it, or is your dog smiling at you? The big grin, coupled with the relaxed face and soft eyes, often gives us the distinct impression our pups are happy and maybe even giving us a smile.
As humans, it’s tempting to see all of our animal companions through the lens of our own social experiences. We smile when we are happy, so our dogs must do the same.
Below is all the info you need to figure out if your dog is actually smirking with delight or if we humans are simply seeing what we want.
Can Dogs Actually Smile?
Most dog experts don’t seem to think that a dog smiles, in the same way, human smiles. However, most of the time, we perceive dogs to be smiling. They are, in fact, happy. We associate several expressions with smiling in our four-legged friends: tongues out, wide mouth panting, and a relaxed face grin all read as a happy pup.
Many scientists believe that these expressions are a response to their analysis of human emotions. When our dogs smile, it makes us happy. We give them attention, approving noises and treats. This trains our canine companions to smile when they want to please us. Dogs sometimes also smile as a sign of submission to their human counterpart.
While it’s unlikely that a dog’s smile signifies joy or amusement like our own, dogs tend to make facial expressions we perceive as happy when they are calm and relaxed. Being in this state for a dog could be analogous to a human being in their “happy place”.
Do Dogs Smile at Each Other?
Smiling obviously plays a huge role in human social interactions. When we are walking down the street, we smile or nod at each other to convey our friendly demeanor.
In the animal world, dogs don’t just use their mouth. They use their entire body to express themselves to other animals. The movements and positions of their body, face, and tail let other dogs know what they are feeling and how to approach them.
While it might take work and research for us to decode what our dog’s posture means, other animals can instinctively interpret our dog’s body language. Dog smiles are thought to be for the benefit of humans rather than other dogs.
Do Dogs Smile to Look Like Humans?
Some have suggested that dogs simply smile to mimic human behavior. They observe us smiling, so they learn to do the same. While they are good studies of human behavior, researchers don’t think this is exactly the case.
It’s more likely that a feedback loop is created that is similar to the human phenomena where one person laughing causes someone else to begin laughing.
We like when dogs smile, so we smile and react positively. They like when we react this way, so they continue smiling.
Do Dogs Like When We Smile at Them?
Dogs are just about as good at interpreting human body language as they are at interpreting that of other dogs. Our dogs quickly learn how we look and act when we are sad, angry, disappointed, or happy.
So it’s likely your dog understands that you are happy when you are smiling.
They also understand that when humans are happy, they are more likely to give treats, play with them, and show affection. So dogs definitely like making us happy and seeing us smile. Dogs pick up on a lot more about you than you might realize!
What are Other Signs My Dog is Happy?
Again, a dog's body language is going to be the biggest clue to its emotional state. A face without tension and a smile is one sign our pups feel calm and content. A relaxed body, ears, and eyes are the other big indicators of a content dog.
Although most people associate a wagging tail with a happy dog, this might not always be the case. A low tail that is wagged slowly and rhythmically is indeed an indication of a calm and happy canine friend. However, a tail that is being wagged in a short, sharp, and aggressive manner is a sign your pup is agitated.
A tense and rigid body is always going to be the number one clue that your dog is unhappy or in distress. The biggest thing to remember is that for dogs, happiness equates to comfort. A comfortable and relaxed dog is a happy dog.