Can Dogs Actually Smile or is it Just in Our Heads

Can Dogs Actually Smile or is it Just in Our Heads

Author WDF Staff


How many times have you seen your dog grin at you? If you ever wondered, “Can dogs smile?” you are not alone. Most dog owners believe their dogs can smile, but that is not unusual. Dog owners often give their dogs human characteristics and traits, making us think they are doing human things. There is no denying the bond we share with these animals, but can they actually smile? Here’s what our experts have to say about it.

What is a dog smile?

If you ask any owner to describe their dog, we are sure you will hear several different human characteristics. It is no wonder many of us think our dogs can smile and laugh. They can undoubtedly express different emotions like sadness, happiness, or fear. However, smiling is a concept reserved for humans.

smiling white puppy

Nevertheless, many of us think dogs can make facial expressions that would resemble human smiling. They will have a relaxed expression, their eyes will be half-closed, and their mouths will be open with the corners stretched and the tongue hanging out. Some might say that might be a pretty good description of smiling, but a “dog smile” is actually a sign the dog is relaxed and happy. Another possibility is that dogs simply mimic our facial expressions. They might not understand what a smile is, but if your dog loves you, they will mimic your behavior and body language. That is also true about smiling at them.

There is another interesting thing Patricia Simonet, development and program coordinator for Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service, revealed - a dog laugh.

What is a dog laugh?

A dog laugh is an interesting concept, Mrs. Simonet first revealed in 2005. She is an animal behaviorist and fascinated by the many ways dogs communicate with the world around them. Her theory says dogs have a form of laughter, and it is actually a play-pant.

Dogs pant for different reasons. They regulate their body temperature by doing it, control their emotions, or express satisfaction and feeling relaxed. While panting is a shared thing in all of these emotions, we have to observe the rest of their body language to determine what our dog is actually feeling. They are probably not happy if they have a tucked tail, whining, and a stiff appearance. If they are on the floor and have an overall relaxed demeanor, that type of panting means happiness.

happy golden retriever

What is the play-pant?

The play-pant is similar to the play bow. The play bow can be seen in playful dogs inviting other dogs to play with them. They will lower the front end of their body (head, torso, front legs) and keep their butt in the air with the tail wagging. It is their way of saying, “C’mon, let’s play. I’m in a playful mood!” They use their whole body to let other dogs and humans know what kind of mood they are in.

Mrs. Simonet was the first person to write about the play-pant. Playful dogs will produce a sound similar to a laugh. They will forcefully exhale or pant. Simonet explains it is the dog’s way of getting someone involved in playing with them. They can play-pant while playing with humans or other dogs. It is usually accompanied by the play bow.

Do you know all the reasons dogs might wag their tail? Check out this article - Why do dogs wag their tails?

What’s the difference between a dog smile and laugh?

There is a significant difference between smiling and actively laughing. Smiling is simply a facial expression we all make for pictures. Laughing is something you do when something is funny. A dog smile can mean different things we mentioned earlier. A dog laugh would mean your dog understands the concept of humor.

golden-retriever puppy

If dogs could laugh the same way we do, that would mean they understand complex social situations and comedy. That would also mean dogs have a sense of humor, and they can react to things they would find funny. Unfortunately, our furry four-legged friends haven’t reached that level yet. Their laugh is still just a play-pant and is used for getting other dogs to play with them.

Can we copy the play-pant?

Since dogs can copy our facial expressions, it would be pretty cool if we could copy their play-pant. In fact, many dog owners tried it and said their dogs started wagging their tails and getting closer to them to examine the sound. It can be a fun experiment for all dog owners. There is an easy way to copy the play-pant.

Experts at Purina say you should produce a distinct “hhuh hhahsound. The first “hhuh” sound can be produced by slightly rounding your lips, and the “hhah” sound can be produced by opening your mouth, slightly smiling, and exhaling. Alternate between the two sounds, and let us know if it worked for you. We would love to hear your observations!

white samoyed smiling

Can other animals smile?

Many studies focused on learning the social interactions of animals, and some even proved animals can smile. Our closest animal “relatives” are apes, and studies showed they can smile and laugh. Gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees can smile the same way we can. They use it for social interactions, and they understand basic concepts of humor. They have complicated social structures, and each animal has a special place within those structures. Plus, all of these primates use the play-pant.

One of the situations that can make you laugh is when someone tickles you. Did you ever wonder - Can dogs be ticklish?

In conclusion

Most dog owners believe their dogs can actually smile. They might copy our facial expressions, and since we often smile at them, they copy us. However, the slight dog smile we all love so much is the dog’s way of expressing their happiness and calm demeanor. Dogs can make a distinct sound called play-pant that they produce by forcefully exhaling some air. It is their way of getting a human or a dog to play with them. For now, this is as close to smiling as it gets.

World Dog Finder team

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