There's nothing more heart-warming than a smile from a loyal friend. But when it comes to our dogs, are they actually smiling, or is there some other explanation for their happy-looking face? These supposed smiles usually show up when your pup is stimulated in some positive and exciting way, so why not? Do dogs actually smile?
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Can dogs smile?
The prevailing belief has long been that most animals don't necessarily “smile” as a way to display happiness the same way that humans do. They might have the muscular capacity to draw back the corners of the mouth to resemble a smile, but it wasn't a means of showing emotion.
This theory has been applied to dogs and has led researchers to dismiss the notion that dogs were smiling like humans. However, recent studies have started to refute that theory by redefining the reasons behind a dog’s “smile.”
We usually think a dog is smiling during certain moments and events. If you have been out of the house all day, your return will trigger an enthusiastic “welcome back.” Other events like mealtime, going to the dog park, or wearing a shiny new dog tag might elicit a similar response from your pup.
You may notice your dog has a smile on his or her face in all of these instances, and assume that it is in response to these experiences. New research suggests this is indeed accurate, although not exactly in the way we might imagine. While we translate smiles as signalling a feeling of happiness, for a dog this can actually mean they are in a relaxed state of satisfaction.
How can you tell if your dog is smiling?
You've likely seen your pup’s mouth upturned to resemble a smile much like your own (which is probably how you ended up reading this article!). But how can you tell if it’s a true smile? Generally, the mouth will be in an open position without tension in the face. The teeth will be bared in a non-threatening manner. You can tell from the rest of your pet's body language - everything about the dog will seem relaxed and friendly, from the ears to the head to the tail.
Take note of the incidents and occurrences when you see this behavior, and you can start to decipher what your pup is thinking and how he or she reacts in these moments. You might be surprised at the number of events that cause your pup to break out a sunny smile!
What are other ways to tell if your dog is happy?
A dog's smile isn't the only way to determine whether or not your dog is in a great mood. Like any other emotion your pup feels, there are multiple signs of a dog's current emotional state. When your dog is happy, you can see it in other ways as well.
This is probably the most obvious and recognizable indicator of a dog's emotions. If the dog is happy, you'll notice the tail wagging at a relaxed and loose pace. The rest of the body is not affected by the wagging and there is no urgency in the action.
A dog's tail can tell you many things. A faster and stiffer wag that incorporates movement through the rest of the dog's body can mean there is some level of tension or vigilance. A tail moving with short back and forth strokes means the dog is nervous or bothered by something.
Watch for how your dog carries him or herself, as this can demonstrate happiness, anxiety, enthusiasm, and a whole lot more. A loose and squirmy dog will often mean a happy dog. When your pup is in a good mood, it shows in how he or she acts and reacts to their surroundings.
Dog ears may come in all shapes and sizes, but they all react to stimuli in the same manner. You can always discern a happy dog from an anxious dog in the way the ears look. When they are at ease, the ears may be slack, drooping, or one up and one down. It's only when the ears are pinned back or pricked upright and forward that your dog may not be in a comfortable or relaxed mood.
Dogs that roll onto their bellies are often happy ones. Check to see if the tongue is lolling out and your pooch is wriggly like a silly noodle. If so, your pup is in a good mood and wants you to know. Now give that belly a good scratch!Want to learn about the ways your pup communicates with you? Be sure to read the other articles on the Two Tails Blog!