A corgi dog with a big smile.

Do Dogs Smile?

Dogs have evolved over centuries to live with humans and in that time, they’ve honed their skills of interacting with us. Part of the reason we relate to dogs better than most other animals is that they’ve learned to use their expressions to communicate with us. Many pet owners can tell when their dogs are happy but do dogs smile?

The truth is we don’t really know if dogs smile. Studies show dogs make the characteristic smiley expression when they feel relaxed. The corners of their mouth turn upwards and their tongue lolls out in a happy grin, but scientists are not sure if their smiles are intended to communicate something directed toward us. 

Does A Smiley Mouth Always Mean Your Dog Is Happy?

A dog sitting on the grass smiling and looking up at the camera.

Unlike humans, facial expressions play a very minor role in canine communication. In order to fully understand our dogs’ emotions, it’s important to interpret their demeanor as a whole.   

For example, a dog who is smiling but has wide, dilated eyes, flattened ears, and a hunched posture with its tail tucked between its legs may be feeling nervous or afraid. The smile in this case is one of submission rather than joy. When threatened, some dogs bare their teeth in a seemingly awkward grin – this can look cute but means something is making your dog uncomfortable.

Be sure to look at the whole picture when interpreting a dog’s mood, particularly when the dog you’re interacting with is unfamiliar to you.

How To Tell If Your Dog Is Happy?

A truly happy dog will have an easy, relaxed smile with no tension in the facial muscles. Most will have their tongue poking out through their open mouth and may be panting lightly. 

Their eyes should be bright and alert, with no whites showing. Completely baring their front teeth and maintaining that expression is usually not a good sign. 

Ultimately, when trying to understand your dog’s emotions, it is important to look at all their gestures and expressions as a whole. Facial expressions are an adaptive behavior dogs have learned in their interactions with humans. It is not natural for dogs to communicate using expression alone, and we must learn to read all their cues to fully understand how they feel.

The Use Of Expressions In Canine Communication

Dogs don’t have a lot of use for facial expressions in their interactions with each other. Instead, they use body language, scents, and sounds to convey messages that aren’t perceptible to us. 

Our relationship with dogs is closer than with any other animal. Over centuries of co-evolution, we have developed unique ways of communicating with each other. Even though facial expressions are not useful to a dog, they know us well enough to recognize they are important to us. For instance, dogs today appear to smile, look guilty, and raise their eyebrows to make irresistible puppy dog eyes because they have learned doing so earns a positive response from their humans.

Do Some Dog Breeds Smile More Than Others?

Some breeds definitely have more famous smiles than others. Samoyeds are well known for their adorable “Sammie smiles”, a cheeky open-mouthed grin with their tongue poking out just a little bit. People can trace the history of this smile back to the origins of Samoyeds themselves. They hail from Siberia where they were used to hunt and pull sleds in freezing temperatures. The slight upward curvature of their lips was thought to stop any dripping saliva from freezing into icicles at the corners of their mouths. 

A List Of Some Breeds That Love To Smile

Please find below a list of additional dog breeds that love smiling:

  1. Golden Retrievers 
  2. Alaskan Malamutes 
  3. Shiba Inus
  4. Pomeranians
  5. Papillons
  6. Shih Tzus
  7. Pembroke Welsh Corgis
  8. Pharaoh Hounds
  9. Bulldogs
  10. Bichon Frises

Do Dogs Understand Human Smiles?

The general consensus is that dogs have learned to respond to human emotions. In short, people believe dogs smile at us because we smile at them. While it is debatable whether or not dogs understand the smile itself, they are definitely good at picking up on our mood based on other cues like our posture and tone of voice. Along the way, they learn to associate the smiling face with a happy human. 

The laughter contagion phenomenon is thought to affect dogs as well – dogs are known to smile more in the presence of a smiling human, just like how hearing someone laugh makes you laugh too!

The more we respond positively to their joyous expressions, offering excitement, praise, and treats to a smiling dog, the more we encourage our dog to repeat them.

In Conclusion: Do Dogs Smile?

Dogs may not use a smile in exactly the same way people do. But a dog with a smiley face and a relaxed demeanor is definitely a happy one. That being said, it is important to gauge the dog’s overall demeanor before interpreting its smile, especially if it’s a dog you don’t know very well.

So, have you ever seen your dog smile before? What happened to make your dog smile? Let us know in the comments below!

Dr. Umaya Gunaratne (DVM)
Dr. Umaya Gunaratne (DVM)
Umaya Gunaratne is a veterinarian plus dog and cat mum currently pursuing her PhD in small animal cardiology. Her field of interest is degenerative mitral valve disorders in small breed dogs, but her passion lies in bridging the gap between academia and the real world. She enjoys helping pet parents understand the research-backed science behind raising their fur kids. She spends her free time playing football, clicker-training her cat, Ria, and spending quality time with her many houseplants.