Can a dog smile? Know if your dog is smiling or just panting

Can a dog smile or is dog smiling a body language that we confuse for something else?

Well, that is what we are going to break down in this article.

Some dog lovers think that dog smile is just a myth. You know there is this look your ball of fluff gives you every time you get home from a long day of work. This is usually a joyous look with a slight welcoming grin that makes our hearts sink.

But one question still lingers, is the dog smiling? Or what is happens when he gives you that happy face.

To answer this we can briefly look into a dog’s emotions.

Understanding dog emotions

First thing first, we know that we as humans smile. No one can debate that for now.

Smiles are associated with happy and delightful emotions but is this the same case with our canine friends.

In our brains, the limbic system is responsible for functions that vary from emotions, memory, behavior, and motivation. This is what causes negative or positive states of our mind.

Our brains are the most developed ones of all mammalian brains which differ from one species to the other. And to some extent, we can compare our brains to those of our furry friends.

There is a region in the brain known as the neocortex which is responsible for higher thinking. Dogs also have a neocortex but not as developed as that of a hooman. But still, is a dog capable of feeling emotions?

Scientists from the University of Cambridge in 2012 stated that animals are capable of exhibiting similar intentional behaviors to those of humans because we have similar neurological structures.

They also concluded that the lack of the neocortex does not impede the ability of an animal to feel emotions.

So, this means dogs have emotions and it is also safe to say that dogs can smile. But deep down you already knew that your pooch experiences strong emotions.

However, does this mean that a doggie smile is similar to that of human beings? Let us get through this together.

Smilling puppies

Why can a dog smile?

Your dog can be relaxed and panting and you may confuse this for smiling. However, panting is still a sign of a happy dog.

Many dogs pant when they are happy and relaxed overall.

There are several reasons why your pooch does smile;

  • Because he is happy- Pleasure/Anticipations/having fun.
  • Preconisation of friends or owners.
  • Attention.

Dog smiling out of happiness

Most dogs smile mainly when they are happy that something has happened or in anticipation of something good about to happen.

Their eyes relax, they move their ears forward or relax them, their tongues hang out and they open their mouths wide. These are some of the physical and bodily signs of a happy dog.

Your dog may smile due to the anticipation of a pleasurable event like when you are giving him his favorite treat.

Smiling for attention

When a doggo receives an excited response from us they smile.

They do this to show-off and because they love our attention so much. This may drive them to perform certain actions such as smiling.

Dogs know when we are happy and mirror our emotions.

They know that we will praise them for smiling at us and for being friendly and cute. Dogs also usually want us to give them attention and positive responses and they may do things that make us happy time and again.

Now that we know that our dogs can smile, you need to understand the types of smiles and their meanings.

Types of dog smiles

  1. The relaxed grin
  2. Not-so relaxed grin
  3. The submissive grin or canine grimace
  4. Learned grins

The relaxed grin

Some of the facial expressions that you can see on your canine friend are loose lips that are pulled back and relaxed and squinted eyes. When a dog has this grin their ears are also relaxed.

These are usually accompanied by a happy dance ‘sometimes’ and a gentle wag of the tail when a pup is playing or when you get home.

Sometimes after an exercise session, your doggo may lay down to rest and a relaxed grin is seen often. This is to show that your dog is comfortable and feeling safe.

can a dog smile

The Not-so relaxed dog grin

When this happens the pooch’s facial muscles can be seen at the corners of their mouths and the ears are tightly pulled back. This is associated with a “not happy” dog panting or a stress-related panting.

The eyes are usually wide enough”whale eyes” that you can see the whites of those adorable eyes. This is another expression of stress in a pooch.


The canine Grimace or the Submissive grin

When a dog is not feeling comfortable he may use this as an appeasement gesture.

And when this occurs the lips are usually tightly pulled back showing their white pearly teeth. You can tell that their bodies are tense, their eyes are wide as if they are anticipating something and the ears are pinned back.

The canine grimace may look intimidating some people but it is not the same as an aggressive snarl.

However, with that said it is one sign that the dog may be feeling intimidated. In such a scenario you should approach the dog with caution especially if you are a stranger to him.

submissive-smiling in dogs

The learned grin

Dogs are intelligent creatures that learn through operant conditioning.

Operant conditioning is used by most dog owners, especially during training. Put simply, it means that dogs may associate certain behaviors with positive cues and they will do what you ask them to because they know something will follow.

So, if your pooch associates smiling or any other facial expression with a positive or joyous outcome he will do it because something positive will follow.

You can also say that you will have taught your dog how to smile.


Dog smiling is a way of communication and one of the body languages

Your dog can not speak back to you although we tend to think that they can understand us.

However, even if the can’t speak, that does not mean that we cannot communicate with each other.

To understand your doggie’ behavior we need to look at some of the common non-verbal and verbal cues that dogs use in communication;

  • Smiling
  • Using eye contact
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Barking
Body Language The Meaning
Smiling We all love it when our dogs smile.

However, unlike what many people believe a dog showing you his teeth is not always a sign of aggression

Using eye contact There is a lot that every dog owner can say about dog eye contact.

The way your dog looks at you can be due to devotion and love, or in other cases intimidating and seen as challenging to some

Avoiding eye contact When a dog is avoiding eye contact with you it can go to show that they are feeling nervous. It may also show that he is trying to avoid a certain situation.
Barking A dog’s bark is a sound that is associated with pooches. It is also believed that barking is a result of the domestication of dogs.

But, it may also depict various behaviors such as dominance, warning, fear, call for attention and greeting.


What does science say about people’s happiness and dogs?

Now that we know why dogs smile and the types of smiles, are there any health benefits associated with humans smiling back.

And does this make people happier?

Of course, it does.

This is backed up by several scientific studies and surveys that have been carried out. More than 70% of dog owners reported that they felt happier according to this study.

People that have dogs in their homes were found to be more out-going, calmer, and happier.

Most of the people do not look at their pets as just pets but as part of their family, part of them. This is because most companion pets including dogs interact with humans at the same level a human would.

These dogs offer social interactions and emotional support similar to those of human beings.

Frequently asked questions

When my dog smiles does it mean that he is happy?

In some instances, a pooch does smile because he is happy, However, in other cases, this may be just because he wants to appease you. Some experts even believe that over the years dogs may have learned to smile from us and because they get rewards for doing it.

What is a submissive dog smile?

Dogs can sometimes smile because they are submissive. But to understand why your dog is smiling you need to do more research on dog body languages.

Can a dog laugh or smile?

Some dogs smile while others just Mimic our facial expressions to make us feel good. Dogs are not only capable of smiling but also laughing which happens a lot, especially during play. But even laughter begins with a smile followed by a soft noise that is similar to that they make when they are panting. So, yeah dogs can smile and can also laugh.

Can a dog smile? The Summary

So, we have seen that smiling and laughing dogs are real, and when your furry friend smiles at you it can be very pleasing and satisfying just to say the least.

When you smile at your dog and he or she smiles back at you, it feels good.

Your pooch can easily tell the emotions that you are feeling and mimic the expressions that you make to appease you and make you feel better or as a way to communicate with you.

But I want to remind you to keep your dog happy by making sure that you take care of him and meet his needs.

Has your puppy ever smiled at you? how did it make you feel?

Tell us and give your feedback in the comment section below.

There you go WOOF!

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