Is My Dog Smiling?

If we were to ask our friends and family if they think their dog smiles, I’m sure every dog lover would say, “Yes, of course dogs smile.” Perhaps they have even seen their dog do so. As an owner of a beautiful, white Siberian Husky, Echota, I’d say that there are times where she seems to be gleaming with happiness from ear to ear during our walks, and when I come home from work; she must be smiling! But do dogs really smile?

To answer, “do dogs smile,” you need to understand what is really happening in your dog’s brain. The answer isn’t unanimous between experts, nor is it really cut and dry.

Are we seeing what we think?

As humans, we tend to equate a dog’s emotions and behaviors to those of our own. Have you ever had a bad day and Fido advances to your lap on the couch, in such a way that you feel he is trying to console you? Has he retreated from the scene if you find yourself in an argument in the house? Dogs read our emotions closely. They react to them just as we do our own with their own form of body language. This is why you may have noticed that your canine companion regularly makes eye contact with you when you are talking to them, or, like my sweet girl, cocks their head to the side. They are intently trying to understand us. Some experts believe this is the reason for a curled-lip dog smile. Other experts actually believe this is a dog’s attempt at mimicking you. So, if your dog looks like a really happy dog, maybe you’re sporting a big human smile.

But other experts don’t necessarily think this is smiling. “Dogs use their bodies to express happiness in many ways, but a true human-style smile isn’t normally one of them,” says Victoria Schade in this article.

According to veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker, wolves in the wild do not have these same behaviors as today’s domesticated mutts. Instead, they have a different way of communicating within the pack, which does not include eye contact with one another. Research over the last one hundred years has taught us that domesticated dogs only show their humans the googley-eyes, in an effort to bond with us.

Dogs are emotional animals

Just as dogs share in our negative emotions, they also share in our happy ones. Have you danced around your house? Have you jumped for joy during a football game in the living room? Your dog most likely jumped around with you, sharing in your excitement! Also, when we are down on the floor with them throwing a ball, playing tug-of-war, or indulging ourselves in a fuzzy belly rub, they know we are just as happy to be sharing in that moment with them as they are.

So, do dogs smile? Dogs mimic our emotions and our behaviors. I bet, like Echota and myself during our walks, you are both sharing in something positive. When we walk, my body is aroused with endorphins, and I’m experiencing a state of euphoria from it. I’m sure she feels it as well, and this makes her smile because we are doing something fun! Next time that you think you see your dog smile, take a look at where you are emotionally. I bet something good is in the air!

Dog photograph by Tomas Adomaitis for the article “Do Dogs Smile?”

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