Ever wondered if dogs really do smile or if their smiling means something else than you think? Well, in a way, they do a smile, but probably not for the reasons you think.
A Submissive Grin
When a dog does this, it is displaying an appeasement gesture, also referred to as a submissive grin, to show you and others that it isn’t a threat. Submissive grins are a way for a dog to show deference or appeasement to another individual. In this pose, the dog lifts his upper lip up to reveal his front teeth with a closed mouth. Puppies will do this to older dogs, and dogs will do it to us when they are uncomfortable about something or if the person or other dog is showing aggression towards them.
Submissive grins are known to look very similar to aggressive smiles or snarls. Dogs may even pull their lips back to reveal with front teeth before they are about to bite. Sometimes, their lips go back (different from the vertical lift seen in the submissive grin). However, sometimes they will lift the lips up in the same way, making it hard to tell if the dog is trying to appease you, warning you of impending aggression, or if the dog has not decided which route to take.
Whatever the case may be, next time you are pretty sure your dog is happy, try and look at the whole picture and see if you can tell what the dog is really trying to say to you. We definitely suggest you practice this precaution prior to approaching a dog that may be dangerous or may simply want you to stay away. Research has not yet been able to fully conclude if a dog’s smile means anything more than if they’re just being submissive or aggressive, but dogs under human care are definitely happier than stray dogs!