What are dogs really feeling when they appear to be smiling?
Can Dogs Make the Shape of a Smile With Their Mouth?
Many dogs can make a facial expression that we humans describe as a smile. Their face will be relaxed, their mouth will be partially open and they may be panting. There will be no tension around the mouth and the corners may even be turned up a little.
The problem is that dogs can make this shape and bare their teeth when they are being aggressive. Their face may look like a smile but the emotions behind it are not friendly at all. This brings us onto the next point.
Smiles are all about expressing emotion so if dogs don’t have emotion, it is impossible for them to smile. Up until a few decades ago, it was assumed that dogs did not have emotions. But recent studies using MRI technology have shown that dogs have parts in their brain that correspond to the parts of the human brain that control emotions and feelings. By looking at hormone levels in dogs’ blood, we also know that they experience increased levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin when humans pet them. The same hormone makes humans feel happy.
So the answer is, yes, dogs can feel emotions!
Most animal behavior experts argue that a dog’s grin is not a true smile because they don’t use this facial expression in the same way as humans do. On the other hand, dogs that ‘smile’ are usually in a happy state. So, if you want to relate that to a human smile, go ahead!
It is important to realize that dog smiles are not always about happiness. Dog behavior experts have identified four reasons why dogs smile.
When your dog gives you a relaxed smile, their eyes will appear soft and their lips will not be drawn back. Because their facial muscles are not tense, their ears will sit in their natural position and will not be pinned back.
At the same time, their body language will be casual and they will have a happy waggy tail. You often see this grin after a dog has had a fun play session and has burned off all their tension. Dogs with this smile feel safe, relaxed and comfortable.
Other smiles reveal more tension. Your dog’s ears will be pulled back against their head and the tension in their facial muscles will be obvious. There could be panting – which is stress-related. Their eyes will be wide open, showing the whites – this is often called whale-eyes. Also, their head will be pulled backwards into a tense position and their limbs will be tense and stiff.
If your dog is mainly timid and submissive, they can make a facial expression that looks a bit like a grin. It is an appeasement gesture rather than a sign of happiness and it means that they feel uncomfortable. The muscles around their mouth are tense and their lips are drawn back to reveal their teeth. Their whole body is tense, their ears are flat.
Whilst this is not an aggressive snarl, it does indicate that the dog is feeling intimidated so be careful how you interact with them if you do not know them well. This grin is often seen in rescue dogs who are desperate to please the humans around them but are feeling nervous.
Finally, the weather is nice, and our furry friends have additional opportunities to venture outside and play with us!
Happy dogs have a general looseness to their bodies, and that applies to the mouth area as well. If the side of your pooch’s mouth points slightly higher than the rest of it, that often – but not always – signifies that all is wonderful in your dog’s world at the moment. More telling is your dog’s tongue. A loose-hanging tongue, combined with a mouth slightly ajar, generally signifies a dog is in a good mood according to the Caring Hands Humane Society website. Although dogs don’t actually smile like us humans, they sometimes happen to make expressions that look like smiles.
As they enjoy their outdoor activities, somehow we, ‘the dog parents’, can tell they are happy and may even think they are smiling at us. After enjoying a moment like that, I often wonder if my dog really is smiling.
Well, that is a little confusing…., but as long as my dogs are with me, their smiling expressions will be reserved for only happy moments. I believe they are happiest when they enjoy a good sleep in a comfortable bed, such as Richell’s Elegant Wooden Pet Bed, and eat well from a pet feeder such as Richell’s Elegant wooden Pet Feeder , which helps them eat from an ergonomically comfortable position.
A dog may also give the false impression of smiling in subordinate situations, according to the ASPCA. If a dog is threatened by another animal or human that it feels is higher in social ranking, he may attempt to show his subordination by raising his lips in a nonaggressive display. It’s a different baring of the teeth than an aggressive one, and dogs know the difference. It has the appearance of a smile, but the poor pooch is scared.