When you're giving your dog the ultimate belly rub, the expression of delight on their face is likely enough to convince you that dogs smile. But, many people are quick to adamantly state that dogs can't smile. So, this conundrum begs the question — who's right? Is Fido just panting, or do dogs really smile?
Is That A Dog Smile? Or, Is Your Dog Cooling Off?
Picture the last time you engaged in a rollicking play session with your pup. Maybe you were tossing their favorite ball, chasing each other around the backyard, or playing a game of "find the frisbee." Undoubtedly, your dog was having the time of their life because they looked at you with a big grin on their face, right?
Well, maybe. However, the more likely answer is that your dog was panting to regulate their body temperature. This type of panting can resemble a smile. But your pup is also probably cooling off a bit.
How Does Panting Keep A Dog Cool?
When we get hot, we sweat and the perspiration evaporates, which helps us get cool. The evaporation process cools us off because it’s essentially transferring energy, or heat, from our bodies to our sweat.
But, dogs do things a bit differently. True, they sweat, which occurs through their paw pads, but this isn’t what cools them down. Instead, when your pup gets hot, they start to pant, circulating air through their bodies in an effort to cool off.
Panting helps Fido cool off through the same evaporation process. When your dog pants, they can inhale and exhale air quickly, leading to water evaporation in your pup’s lungs and nose, which regulates your dog’s body temperature. If your dog is panting after exercise or playtime and seems otherwise relaxed, they’re likely just chilling.
How To Tell If It's A Dog Smile Or Something Else
Now, this isn't to say your pup’s panting can’t signal happiness. A pup can definitely pant and feel happy too. But to know for sure, you need to assess the big picture. Your dog’s smile could also be a nervous grin or a sign that your pup is stressed, uncomfortable, or sending a warning.
Therefore, when your pup appears to be sending a smile your way, assess their body language. If the rest of your dog’s posture seems relaxed and happy, you’re likely on the receiving end of a doggy smile. If this is the case, your dog will hold their mouth a bit more loosely and keep their tongue relaxed.
But is your dog’s body language telling you something else? For example, if your dog tenses their muscles, pulls their ears back, or droops their tail between their legs, they might be on edge. So, if your dog’s panting accompanies a more tight-lipped grin, use caution. Observe your pup for other signs to see if something could be bothering your pal.
Five Signs Your Dog Isn't Smiling
Here are a few key things to look out for when you think your pal might be smiling. If you notice any of these behaviors, your pup’s smile is likely not a smile at all.
- If your dog’s tongue is inside their mouth or their mouth is only open a little bit, they’re likely anxious.
- Do you see a little bit of teeth? If so, especially if your pup hangs their head or whimpers, they might be scared.
- Now, if you see a lot of teeth along with a wrinkled snout, your dog is sending a warning to keep your distance.
- Likewise, if your dog’s so-called smile comes with pinned back ears or growling, they could feel threatened.
- If your dog is panting very heavily and seems uncomfortable, they might be overheated or ill. If you suspect something is wrong, call your vet right away.
What To Do When A Dog Smile Is Not A Smile
If you suspect your dog isn’t smiling, take note of their body language. If you think your pal is stressed, stay calm — remember dogs pick up on human emotions. Offer your dog something to help distract them, like a tasty treat spread on a lick mat. Lick mats are a great way to help your pal calm down since they encourage licking, releasing endorphins.
Don’t give it too much attention if you think your pal is anxious or scared. This reaction could give your dog the impression that they’re right to be worried. Instead, keep things low-key and calm and give your dog some space if they need it.
If you think your dog is overheating, offer some fresh water and make sure your pup is inside or in the shade. If your dog stays outside a lot, consider using a big bowl for their water. Call your vet to alert them of the situation and be prepared to bring your dog into the clinic. Your dog might be dealing with heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Ways Your Dog Shows Happiness
Now, just because your dog might not smile in the same way humans do, this doesn’t mean your dog can’t show happiness. In fact, dogs have all sorts of ways to express their emotions. A significant barometer of your pal’s feeling is their tail.
Your pup shows their sheer joy with big, loose, sweeping tail motions, especially those that seem to wag your dog’s whole body. But, the tail isn’t the only way your pooch can show their glee.
Here are a few more ways your canine companion might let you know they’re feeling happy.
- Your dog maintains eye contact with you and stays relaxed. This signals trust, appreciation, and that your pup adores you.
- Your pup leans against you. They can’t get close enough to you; they love you so much.
- Your dog exposes their belly to you in the sign of ultimate trust.
- Your pup lets you pat them on the head (dogs generally don’t like this too much, so if your pup lets you, they love you).
- Your pal is excited to see you when you come home, but they don’t freak out when you leave—they know you’re coming back.
- Your pal loves to cuddle with you.
- You find your dog’s toys lined up waiting for you to play.
- Your dog rolls around on the ground with sheer delight.
Of course, just like people, dogs can show their emotions in various ways, and you know your pal best. Your pup might have their own unique ways of telling you they love and appreciate you. Likewise, they might have their own ways of saying they don’t feel well or need some space. So, as an observant and devoted dog lover, you’ll pick up on these cues as you get to know your dog better and better.
Although the matter of a dog's smile might still be up for debate among dog lovers, when you look at your pup’s sweet face, you can tell how they feel. It might not be the same as yours, but your dog’s grin is sure to melt your heart. For more helpful tips on learning about your furry friends, check out the rest of our blog. We’re always adding valuable resources and info so you can polish up your pet parent know-how.