Is my dog really smiling?

November 20, 2023

“There aren’t many studies about dogs’ smiles, so it’s a tough subject to address,” says Marie-France Leduc, a veterinarian and behavioural medicine resident in Quebec City. “We know that dogs can distinguish between a smiling face and one that isn’t, but it’s really a stretch to take it from there and say that dogs imitate us when we smile. When dogs appear to be turning up the sides of their mouths, it’s usually only a sign that they’re relaxed.” What about dogs who show all their teeth while lifting their upper lips? “Studies indicate that when dogs have this expression they actually want to let us know that they’re not a threat. But be careful: interpreting dogs’ frames of mind requires that you also observe the rest of their body language. Are their bodies and tails tense? Do they repeatedly lick their noses? Are their ears pointing down and back? In these circumstances, dogs probably aren’t relaxed. For sure, as with people, we want to believe that our dogs are smiling to show their happiness. However, dogs have their own ways of showing that they’re experiencing an emotion that looks like joy: they lie down next to us and relax or they walk around us in circles, both excited and relaxed, lick us and bark once or twice … when it comes down to it, that’s their way of smiling.” (Sophie Marcotte)


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