Is The Dog Smiling?

If it looks exactly like a human smile and means the dog is happy, then why can’t we just say the dog is smiling?

We’ve all seen him before: a dog that seems to be smiling. Lips pulled back, eyes and eyebrows relaxed, maybe even wagging a tail – this dog is smiling, of course! Right?

The answer to whether dogs smile or not depends on how we think about dog behavior – specifically, how much we project our human understanding of body language onto our dogs’ behavior.

A widely accepted theory among dog behavior experts is that dogs smile because they know we humans love them. We see our dogs lying on the carpet with their mouths open, their backs pulled, completely satisfied with themselves, and we go to Gaga with compliments and pets. Dogs also tend to see their people smile at each other; They know that people’s smiles are inherently positive (at least harmless) and by imitating this behavior they can communicate peacefully.

Given how we understand dog knowledge, the idea that smiling dogs learn to smile from people – and humans in particular – makes a lot of sense. We can imagine dogs smiling as we think some dogs say the words. We strengthen our dogs when they make sound like words and we keep doing it, but only we determine the meaning of the words. They will lose any vocalization semantics our dogs are doing, but they will still project their voice in a very specific way because they know it will generate a positive response.

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