Eyes filled with joy, excited tail-wagging, and two beautiful pearly eyes that look brighter when you approach them. Suddenly, the weariness from the stressful day at work vanishes, and happiness washes over you.
And all of this, thanks to the smile of your doggy, your best friend.
But do dogs actually smile?
And if they do smile, does their smiling mean the same to them as it means to us, humans? Let’s find out!
Do Dogs Perceive Emotions?
Before answering whether dogs smile or not, we better understand their emotions.
A few years ago, the idea that dogs share similar feelings and emotions with humans was something laughed about.
But, it’s true. Dogs do have feelings.
MRI technology shows that parts of dogs’ brains are similar to humans, meaning they experience feelings.
According to scientific research, dogs increase their oxytocin levels when people pet them. Oxytocin produces similar sensations in both humans and dogs, suggesting they experience attachment to and affection from their owners.
Simply put, dogs feel and experience emotions and show them through their body language.
So, Do Dogs Smile?
In reality, dogs don’t smile as people do. The secret to understanding how a dog smiles is to pay close attention to the body language that comes with the smile.
If your dog is baring their teeth aggressively, be careful and stay put. It could look like a smile, but if a smile is accompanied by raised neck or back fur, growling, and a stiff posture, your dog is angry.
Animal behaviourists see a dog’s smile as an adaptive facial expression. Dogs appear to use smiling as an expression of emotion and as a social skill. When humans see a dog smile, they reward the gesture with petting, treats, or laughs. So, dogs quickly learn that if they continue to smile, there will be a positive reaction from their two-legged friends.
The Body Language of Dogs
When a dog smiles, it relaxes its facial muscles and posture. When expressing joy or happiness for one another, dogs use their whole body to show it. And, as smiling is “contagious” in the human world, when a dog smiles, the person will likely smile back, reinforcing the body language.
What’s more, there’s also the canine phenomenon of neoteny that may explain smiling. Neoteny is essentially the preservation of puppy behaviour into a dog’s adulthood.
Greeting behaviours like licking, smiling, tail wagging, jumping, and even barking are adaptive behaviours in dogs when they’re young. The positive reinforcement they receive from humans during this part of their life means dogs will sustain their puppy behaviours even when they’re adults.