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Do dogs smile?

Corgi smiling surrounded by yellow flowers

Do dogs actually know how to smile? Let's find out...

© Kristina Holovach - Shutterstock

In addition to the frantic movement of the tail, a dog's smile is the very expression of his joy and happiness. At least, that's what many of us think ... But is it really the case? Does this smile drawn on a dog's face have the same meaning as that of a human? Not so sure…

By Emilie Heyl

Published on the 10/10/2021, 17:00

The famous dog smile, typical of Dalmatians, but also observed in Collies, Canaan Dogs, mixed breeds and other dog breeds. The smile consists of stretching the upper lip backwards uncovering the teeth, which creates a most comical grin. Some might take this expression as a sign of threat. This is why it’s super important to observe the animal, see what his body language is telling you.

Have you ever seen your dog give you a big smile? Isn't that just lovely? It looks like a smile in every way: mouth open, hanging tongue, and visible teeth... But does this crisp expression really represent a smiling dog? And does that mean your pet is happy? Let’s find out what it means when a dog “smiles” at you.

Do dogs actually know how to smile?

In reality, dogs don't smile. At least not as we understand it. Indeed, their expression can be likened to a smile, but it can actually reflect something other than joy.

What does it mean when a dog “smiles”?

While a smile is very indicative of the emotional state of a human being, it does not have to be the case with a dog. With our four-legged friends, we pay more attention to body language: wagging tail, relaxed body or energetic attitude. But, let's be honest, there really are times when we feel like our dog is giving us a big, blissful smile.

A smile that shows happiness

When a dog is happy, their body is generally relaxed and so is their mouth. The latter is slightly open and the tongue is relaxed. This “dog smile” occurs in situations where the animal is relaxed and happy, this is why dog owners think it’s a smile.

A smile that means seduction 

Over the years, dogs have evolved and learned to observe humans and react according to their behaviour. They learn how to seduce it, or even manipulate us in a way. Cheeky devils, they are so good at this! Therefore, they know full well that when they are smiling, it will trigger a positive reaction from us, whether it’s a laugh, a treat, or admiration.

A smile that shows anxiety 

It can happen that dogs who start smiling in certain situations are because they feel anxious or feel threatened. Whether it is the presence of a stranger who frightens them, an unfamiliar noise, a feeling of pain or sickness they can start to “smile”. But in fact, this smile is the mouth who’s widely open and the animal usually starts to pant particularly hard.

A smile that shows submission

If a dog feels threatened by an animal or a human he will probably show its subordination by stretching its lips. A dog does this to appease the one in front of him in order to avoid conflict. In this case, the dog shows his front teeth.
Now, with that being said, it’s important to note that if a dog shows its fangs and has his muzzle turned up, he’s about to bite! Be careful not to confuse these two expressions.

How do I know if my dog is happy?

A happy dog ​​is a dog who has received an ideal education and who has received unconditional love from his owners. The good news: if your dog is happy, he will do anything to make you happy too.

A happy dog ​​sleeps between 8 and 10 hours a day, mostly at night. He gets up at set times to enjoy his food you have prepared for him. He has bright eyes, he is alert, and demands your attention. In the morning he goes for a walk, plays, and is sociable with other humans and animals. In the afternoon he entertains himself with the toys you left him, and looks forward to his family’s return. He celebrates you when you arrive, wagging his tail and rising his ears. In the evening, he likes to stay with you, enjoying your hugs and all the love you have to offer him.

Here are other signs that will show you that your dog is happy: 

  • Your dog wags his tail and / or looks at you in your eyes
  • Your dog is glued at you when you are hugging
  • Your dog is relaxed around you and his body is relaxed too

Here are some tips for having a happy dog ​​at home

  • Set up a routine for your dog (meals, walks, playtime) so that he knows what to expect.
  • Exercising 20 to 30 minutes a day (dog sport exists!). This will help your dog to release his energy especially if he has too much.
  • His diet must be specific to his condition. The dog food you use should be chosen according to its weight, age, health ... and also its tastes! 
  • Communication with your dog must be clear, so as to build a strong bond and complicity between the two of you. To do this you can teach him a new word every month (he can understand a lot of words), But first of all you need to learn to understand your dog, and not the other way around. 
  • Check your dog's health in the event of a sudden change in behaviour: he may have parasites,may be in pain, may have allergies ... do not hesitate to consult your veterinarian. 
  • Shy dogs should be encouraged to interact with other dogs
  • As for dogs that experience separation anxiety, they should be gradually encouraged to become more independent.

An unhappy dog ​​definitely doesn’t stay unhappy. As with men, there is always something to be done to encourage them to be happier. Besides, you will benefit from having a happy dog ​​by your side, it is communicative!