Have you ever seen your dog smile and wonder what it means? Are they doing it to communicate with us? Are they happy?
It’s true, dogs use facial expressions along with other body language to communicate with us. Studies indicate that dogs show increased facial expressions (yes, even “sad eyes”) when a human is present and attentive.
To understand what these facial expressions mean, it’s important to look at the whole picture of your dog’s body language. A relaxed dog is a happy dog. Look for almond-shaped eyes and a partially open mouth with extended tongue. The lips should be slack and covering the front teeth, and the corners of the mouth may be turned up into a relaxed “smile”. The overall posture of a happy dog will be relaxed or playful rather than stiff.
Some dogs will bare their teeth in a “submissive grin”, which may resemble a snarl but it’s actually non-aggressive. A dog will lift their top lip and flash their teeth as a way of showing submission to you. This may be done as a friendly greeting with relaxed eyes, energetic movement, and tail wagging. It may also be a sign of anxiety, and be accompanied by other nervous behaviors like licking, avoiding eye contact, and attempting to disengage from the situation. If this is the case, try to identify what is causing the anxiety and help your dog feel comfortable.
Based on the situation and a full understanding of your dog’s body language, you should be able to determine whether your dog is giving you a happy smile. Dogs can also learn that we like their smiles! If we reward them with praise and attention when they give us a cute look, you may find them returning the favor with more smiles. It’s even possible to train your dog to smile on demand. Next time your dog gives you a happy smile, trigger the LINK AKC training sound, and then immediately reward your dog. Your pup will soon understand that smiling means treats and praise!