Dogs can smile, but their expressions don’t always mean the same thing that human smiles do. Some dogs may actually be burping or trying to get some extra air.
Since dogs don’t sweat in the way that humans do, they need to find some other way to regulate their body temperatures. They’ll sometimes open their mouths wide to help them pant off some of their heat, which can certainly make them look like they’re smiling.
Some dogs may be mimicking facial expressions they’ve seen their owners make. When they do this, they might very well be trying to tell you that they feel the same way you do.
That being said, dogs normally move their tails around to indicate that they’re interested in something or are starting to feel excited. In nature, canines don’t smile or use facial expressions the way that people do.
The muscles in a dog’s mouth are different shaped than human ones, which is why they use the position of their ears and tail to tell others how they’re feeling. Domestic dogs will sometimes combine a smile with these gestures in the hopes of better communicating with members of their human family.
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What’s a Dog Thinking When They Smile?
Domesticated dogs who’ve been around humans for a long time might not be thinking much of anything when they smile. They might just be trying to let off some heat.
According to some veterinarians, dogs might actually be in a good mood and are attempting to show that to their owners. If your dog sees you smile all the time, then there’s a chance that he or she might start to copy the behavior.
Aggressive dogs could be mistaken for smiling ones, however. When a dog wants a possible enemy to back down, they show their teeth and grimace to indicate that they’re not afraid to bite.
While this might look like a smile from a human’s perspective, dogs that are exhibiting this expression certainly aren’t thinking about how happy they are. Instead, they’re thinking that they could potentially have to attack at any minute.
Consider the situation if you’re trying to figure out why a dog is showing off a certain expression. If a dog appears to be smiling at another dog, then chances are strong that they’re not thinking about anything nice.
While it might seem a little gross to humans, dogs will also sometimes make a smiling motion just so they can drool!
Should You Smile at a Dog?
Smiling at your own dog, especially when you’re playing with them, is a great idea and is highly encouraged. Properly socialized dogs will eventually start to learn the nuances of human body language and therefore can recognize when your smiles mean that you’re in a good mood.
It’s important for dogs to learn to understand your behaviors because you don’t have fuzzy ears or a tail to use to tell your dog how you’re feeling. Companion dogs will want to learn more about the best way to communicate with their adoptive parents.
On the other hand, you don’t want to smile to unfamiliar or stray dogs. These animals may mistake the expression as one of aggression, especially if you show your teeth.
It’s fine to smile when first meeting other domesticated dogs, but you’ll want to be careful about where you put your hand the first time you meet them. Place it under their chin while smiling and speaking calmly.
The two of you should get acquainted quite quickly after that, and you’ll soon be able to smile at them with all the enthusiasm you want.
What Do Dogs Think When You Smile at Them?
Friendly domesticated dogs who are raised around humans should know right away that you’re happy. They’re probably think that you want to play with them and might even go for a favorite toy if they’re feeling ready for you to throw it.
If you softly stroke a dog and and smile at him or her while resting, then they’ll probably interpret this as a gentle action. Many dogs will come to recognize a smile in this case to be really reassuring.
Younger dogs who haven’t got used to the idea of humans smiling might just think that you’re silly. There’s a chance they could even think that you’re letting off heat like they do.
Once dogs get socialized enough to understand what humans are doing, they might not like it if you smile and then try to pant like a dog would. While it might seem harmless, a dog might think that you’re mocking them.
The real trouble comes with wary dogs or those who’ve had a tough past. If you smile and show your teeth to a dog that doesn’t understand, then they might take it as a sign of aggression and could potentially bite.
How Did Dogs Learn to Smile?
Dogs who do use facial expressions have learned them from their human owners. Since dogs have been living alongside people for a very long time, they’ve had more than enough of a chance to learn a few human-like behaviors.
Researchers at the Jiahu archaeology site in Henan, China found domesticated dog remains that could be from over 10,000 years ago. Specialists doing work at the Bonn-Oberkassel site in Germany have found dog burials that might date back 4,000 years before even that, so dogs have had a lot of time to pick up some human behaviors.
Wild dogs, like those that live in some areas in Sub-Saharan Africa, never pick up these traits. The same goes for wild wolves, coyotes and all other canine animals.
Just how much domestic dogs have learned over this time is something of a debate among animal experts. Some are of the opinion that dogs are born with only a poor understanding of what a smile is and they end up learning more about them later on by copying their owners.
Others feel that dogs have picked up a lot of know-how regarding human interactions over the years and can follow along with people from a young age.