Can Dogs Smile? 3 Types Of Canine Smiles And The Hidden Meaning Behind Them

Can Dogs Smile? 3 Types Of Canine Smiles And The Hidden Meaning Behind Them

All dogs seem to have fun spending time with their owners. While goofing around with their humans, it’s not rare for dogs to change their expression to one of happiness. The internet is full of these pictures of dogs with upturned mouths that make it seem like they’re smiling. But Can Dogs Smile?

In a sense, yes. Dogs do smile, but not just the same way humans do. Unlike us, dogs don’t use expressions to show feelings; they do so with body language. So if you see your dog smiling at you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re happy. Dogs just do this when they relax their jaw, making you think that your canine is smiling at you.

Keep reading to learn more about smiling in canines and the hidden meanings behind their upturned mouths.

Do Animals Smile?

Before we start talking about your furry friend, let’s take a look at some other animals first. In most animals, the mouth and eyes are physically configured to replicate the human interpretation of smiling. In this sense, they are not smiling because they’re happy – they just look like that. For instance, dolphins, who are naturally cheerful and playful animals, look like they’re smiling because their jaw is just fixed that way.

Animals communicate happiness through body language, vocalization, and their behavior. They experience happiness too but express it in a way that’s suited to their physical bodies. However, some monkeys and apes do smile and laugh as well. Besides humans, they’re the only animals that smile because they’re happy. This was originally believed to be a submissive expression of fear, but a new study published in the PloS One journal says otherwise. It was discovered that chimps can smile without making a sound and that they use their smiling faces more flexibly than what was previously believed.

Can Dogs Smile?

Simply speaking, yes dogs do smile. However, your dog smiling is actually just their jaw relaxing. It happens when dogs open their mouths and pull back their lips, letting their tongues lap over their teeth.

The “smile” of your canine is actually equivalent to a loose tail wag, a bouncy body, and a soft and relaxed facial expression. So, no, dogs with open mouths, hanging tongues, and wrinkly cheeks aren’t necessarily “smiling” in the way we think of a smile. In other words, a seemingly smiling dog may not always be happy. A dog with an open mouth who looks happy, could also be uncomfortable or stressed.

Types of Dog Smiles

Based on when and why dogs use them, canine smiles can be broadly categorized into 3 types:

1. The Happy, Relaxed Smile

When dogs relax, they usually squint their eyes and their facial muscles. It’s also common for them to open their mouth a little. The facial muscles are also relaxed and the ears aren’t pinned back. This ends up looking a lot like how humans smile and is usually seen as the dog smiling out of happiness. This is also the smile that all owners love seeing.

2. The Submissive Smile

The Submissive Smile or Grin is a dog’s attempt to “appease” another dog or person. To do so, they retract their lips, open their eyes wide, and press their teeth together lightly. They also pull their ears back and their body stays still and tense. Puppies tend to do this to older dogs and dogs usually show this smile when they are uncomfortable about something.

However, a dog showing their teeth like this could easily be misunderstood for being aggressive even though that’s not the case at all. If your dog is giving you this grin, chances are they just want to please you. Similarly, a stranger’s dog doing the same to you could mean that they’re feeling intimidated so proceed with caution if you want to pet them.

3. The Tense Grin

When your dog pulls their ears back and slowly closes their mouth, they’re likely giving you a tense smile. Panting, yawning, and lip-licking has also been observed in dogs giving a tense grin. Your pup might also show you their whale-eyes while doing so. The tense grin is a common occurrence when your dog is guarding something or if they’re anxious.

How To Tell If Your Dog Is Happy

Emotions are hard to read, even more so in animals. Canine happiness and its signs can be quite difficult to pin down. So if a smiling dog isn’t always a happy dog, how can you tell if your dog is happy? The key is their eyes. Dogs are honest creatures and you can clearly see it in their eyes if they’re happy or not. Ears give massive hints too. A doggy smile paired with relaxed ears means that your pup is happy. If they’re pulling their ears back, it could be a sign of fear or aggression.

To know if your canine buddy is actually happy or not, you’ll have to pay close attention to the subtle signs. Open mouth panting must never be confused with smiling as it is also a sign of stress or overheating. You’ll also have to learn about different dog behaviors and what they imply. Here’s a guide that can help you learn about how dogs think, how dogs learn, and why they act the way they do.

How To Make Your Dog Smile

Aside from when they’re relaxing, there are certain scenarios when dogs are known to smile. There have been instances when hearing their owner say “Good Boy!” was all it took for dogs to put on a wide smile. Making them anticipate pleasurable events, like getting a treat or going out for a walk, is also another way of seeing your pup smile at you. Repeated positive experiences and adding up the precious little moments are sure to make your pooch happy, even if they don’t show it. You can also train your pup to smile as well. However, doing so can be a little more taxing than other tricks.

What About Laughing?

So if there’s a canine version of smiling, can dogs laugh too? The answer is debatable, but most agree that dogs cannot laugh in the same sense as humans. However, they do make sounds similar to laughing. This is caused by breathy panting that’s forcefully exhaled. People consider this to be a type of play-pant rather than a laugh, and dogs are believed to use it to invite their owners and other dogs to play. They may also combine body language with their play-pant like reaching a paw out, teasing jumps towards you, bringing their favorite toys, etc. You can learn more about this in our article “Can Dogs Laugh?”


So, Can Dogs Smile? Yes, but not in the same way as we humans smile. Most of the time, a dog smiling is just them relaxing and taking a breather. Dogs do have emotions and happiness is one of them. It’s just that they have their own way of showing it and smiling isn’t always one of them. So the next time you see your pup smiling at you, see if they’re actually happy or if they’re just settling down after a long day of running around.

Thank you for reading the article.

To explore more, check out other articles that we have covered on dog feelings. 

Have you ever noticed your dog smile? How often do they smile? We would love to hear from you. Please share with our community by leaving a comment below!

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