Your furry friend looks up at you with lips draw back, teeth exposed, and the corners of the mouth turn up ever so slightly! Is your dog actually smiling??
Let’s see what science have to say: in 2012 a group of neuroscientists examined findings about neurological substrates in human and non-human animals and finally declared that animals have consciousness and emotions.
When a dog feels content, he/she has relaxed body language, this means that his facial muscles are relaxed, making his/her mouth open and the corners of his mouth turn upwards, according to ASPCA.
In other instances, that mouth gesture could indicate submission or nervousness, better described as ‘grin’ or ‘grimace’ and it often means ‘I am not a threat, I won’t challenge you, I like you’, but it could also mean that, a dog with retracted lips and bared teeth may not be friendly. This is especially true if accompanied by erect body and tail posture and a growl. As with all canine communication, it is important to take all the body cues into consideration.
So what about the classic happy-dog smile, with full body wiggle, tongue lolling? A behavioral model suggests that dogs learn to mirror our expressions because we unwittingly teach them to do so. We actually train them to ‘smile’ at us by rewarding them with snuggles or a treat. Steven Budiansky, author of The Truth About Dogs, proposed that dogs are intuitive brown-nosers that have adopted a survival-of-the-friendliest strategy. By learning our language, they have earned access to our homes, our food, and our hearts!
Whether it is a snarl, or a submissive grin, or a real ‘smile’ it is up to us, the dog parents, to keep our eyes on our dog body language so we know how to better approach a situation. By doing it so, we give ourselves and any other who may be around or near our dog a great chance of not having a bad experience.
So, what do you have to say? Does your dog smile at you? I can positively say my baby smiles at the warmness of a cuddle and kisses on the head!
And to finish this up, I leave you with this question: ‘the smile of a dog: heartfelt gesture or artful ploy?’ I hope this may give you something to smile about!