Do dogs smile? Absolutely. Here's why your puppy does it and what they're trying to tell you.
Need a pick-me-up today? Watch a video of a smiling dog – it should do the trick.
You could go for the dog smiling as his owner takes a selfie or the one where the owner is training their puppy to smile on cue. Maybe a whimsical edit of dogs smiling is your thing, or what will really cheer you up is a dog smiling after carefully trying a bite of cauliflower.
But is your dog really "smiling" in the way humans understand it? And if so, what is it trying to communicate?
Do dogs smile?
Any dog can smile, and according to veterinary behavior specialist Dr. Lore Haug, some breeds are even genetically predisposed to smile more than others (Doberman Pinschers, terriers and cattle dogs, to name a few).
“It is essentially an appeasement greeting behavior that seems to be directed only at people,” Haug says. “Dogs don’t do this true smiling behavior to other dogs.”
Dogs smile by pulling one or both lips back and may show all or some teeth. This smiling is accompanied by other greeting behavior, like approaching, wagging or even whining.
Smiling is a form of “active submission,” Haug says, while other submissive signs include behavior like curling their body down or rolling on their side.
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Why do dogs smile when they’re in trouble?
Dogs may also smile when they’re feeling guilty, or when you’re trying to get them to do something they don’t want to do, like take a bath.
If they’re doing this submissive grin when they’ve done something wrong, it’s because they want to avoid getting in trouble or a hostile confrontation with their owners, Haug says.
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Is it normal for dogs to smile with teeth?
Yes, it’s normal for dogs to bare their teeth when they smile. The bigger problem is that people often misinterpret a toothy smile as aggression and become scared, Haug says.
“They may respond in kind and actually show kind of confrontational behavior back to the dog or punish the dog thinking the dog’s growling at them,” Haug says. “And of course, if they do that, they may very well end up actually creating a defensive aggressive response in those dogs.”
It’s important to know the difference between a toothy grin and a dog on edge. Smiley dogs usually also wag their tales in a wide sweeping or circular motion and will approach you and might curl their body as they walk toward you. They usually won’t growl, though Haug says on rare occasions she’s met dogs that accompany their smile with a “wheezy kind of grumbling noise."
“If the dog’s threatening you, their body might be stiff and they might be moving really slowly and look tense,” Haug says. “Whereas a smiling dog isn't going to look like that, they're going to be loosey-goosey and wiggly.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Do dogs smile? Here's why your dog does it and what it could mean.