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Can Dogs Actually Smile? Facts & FAQs

Written by: Nicole Cosgrove

Last Updated on April 11, 2024 by Dogster Team

Can Dogs Actually Smile? Facts & FAQs

As dog parents, we’ve all seen our dogs look happy and smiley at several points. But is that puppy smirk actually a smile? Can dogs smile like we do?

Dogs can indeed smile, but it’s not exactly like we do (and not for the same reasons). But a doggy smile is a good sign your pup is happy and relaxed. Here’s the low down on our pups’ smiles, including why they smile.

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Can Dogs Smile?

a smiling Australian Shepherd dog walking outdoor
Image By: AlbanyColley, Pixabay

The first thing to know about a dog’s smile is that canine behaviorists don’t consider it a smile—at least not in the way we humans think of smiling. After all, there are all kinds of doggy expressions that make your pup look like it’s smiling, including open-mouthed panting and aggressively baring teeth (which you definitely don’t want to mistake for a friendly smile!). But dogs do also smile when they’re happy.

Our canine companions are experts at noticing and analyzing the behavior of their people. They know how to comfort us or how to make us happy. And when dogs smile, we often give them positive reinforcement, such as smiling back or lots of pets. When that happens, your dog is more likely to keep smiling.

You’ll know your dog is smiling if it also has a relaxed posture and facial muscles.

Do Dogs Smile at Other Dogs?

Dogs don’t really smile at other dogs, at least not like we smile at other humans to express friendliness. Dogs may exchange a grin, but they don’t stop there. Instead, they incorporate the entirety of their body posture to get messages across from other canines. Whether that message is, “Let’s play!” or “This person is mine; back off,” body language is how dogs communicate.

So, even if you see your pup “smile” at another dog, there’s a lot more going on there than you think.

Do Guilty Dogs Smile?

hokkaido dog smiling with tongue
Image Credit: Happy monkey, Shutterstock

You’ve probably seen your dog give what looks like a sheepish grin when you find that it’s strewn garbage all over the place or it’s chewed up your favorite pair of shoes. But is your pup really giving you a smile because it feels guilty? Not likely.

This is another instance where you need to read your dog’s body language to get the whole picture. This type of grin you see when you find your dog has misbehaved usually involves a lowered head and squinty eyes. The ears are likely flat to the head, and the tail is probably wagging. This look doesn’t equal guilt; it equals submission.

A submissive grin is something dogs do when they know you aren’t thrilled about what they’ve done and is meant to defuse the situation and let you know they aren’t a threat.

So, it’s less guilt and more, “Oops, please don’t start yelling.”

Conclusion

Our four-legged pals can technically smile (or at least pull off a look similar to smiling), but they do it more in response to us and our own smiles or emotions rather than because they are happy. The key to figuring out if your dog is giving you a happy smile is reading the rest of the body language. Your dog may actually be giving you a submissive smile or even baring its teeth in aggression, so keep an eye on what the ears and tail are doing when your dog looks as if it’s grinning!


Featured Image Credit: Crystal Alba, Shutterstock

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