People often can’t help but humanize their pets. They are our best friends, bunkmates, and workout buddies.
Dogs especially make some adorable, humanlike facial expressions. We often see happy dogs and wonder whether their smiles are conscious.
Whether it’s those big, earnest puppy dog eyes while you’re eating or the annoyed frown when you tell them to go to bed, your dog uses its face to communicate with you.
Struggling to figure out what your dog’s expressions mean? Use this helpful guide to dog facial expressions and what they mean.
The simple smile
Do dogs smile?
Well, sort of — you’ve undoubtedly witnessed your pup with a grin on its face.
Usually, an open-mouthed expression with the lips pulled back and the tongue hanging out.
However, experts suggest that this “dog smile” differs from a human smile; your pet is smiling back at you to mimic your expression.
Dogs watch their owners’ facial expressions and have learned how to copy them.
After all, dogs are sensitive to our emotions, so it makes sense that they try to express themselves as we do.
When we’re happy, we smile. Dogs, always hopeful of pleasing their owners, try to smile back.
Whether your dog is hoping to delight you or simply feeling relaxed, smiling is possible.
Teach your dog to smile on command
So, it leads one to wonder if you can train your dog to smile on command.
It would undoubtedly be helpful for the holiday season when you’re posing for photos; all you’d need to do is say “smile,” and your pup would be picture-perfect.
Dog trainers agree that you need patience and consistency to teach dogs to smile on command.
First, determine what actions make your dog happily show his teeth: getting a treat, going for a ride, or getting his ears scratched are all great places to start.
Say your command word (“smile” or “cheese” work great), and as soon as your dog responds with a smile, have a reward ready and give them lots of positive praise.
You can help them by smiling at them or even gently pushing their lips into a smile (always be on the lookout for signs of stress or discomfort.
From there, like any dog trick, it’s about practice and consistency.
The puppy dog eyes
We have all fallen victim to the puppy dog eyes, an earnest, emotionally sensitive expression your dog makes when they want something only you can give.
Whether your pup is waiting by the door for an afternoon walk or hoping for a treat before dinnertime, dogs know they have a better chance of getting what they want using certain facial expressions.
Researchers studied the evolution of the puppy dog eye expression, starting with a specific eyebrow muscle that gives your pooch the ability to make that sad, heart-melting look.
Interestingly, most wolf species are missing that particular eyebrow muscle, suggesting that this feature evolved specifically in domesticated dogs.
Likely, dogs learned early on that those humans who expressed sadness often received extra support and attention.
Never ones to miss out on extra treats and snuggles, dogs adapted their facial anatomy to tug at our hearts.
The squinty eye
In humans, a squinted eye could mean trouble seeing, or perhaps someone is angry with you.
That’s not the case with dogs; canines squint their eyes to appease their owners, so it’s typically a friendly expression.
However, if your dog’s body language otherwise suggests any signs of stress (such as a lowered tail or ears), the squint could be a way to seem nonthreatening.
Check your environment to determine what might be making your dog uncomfortable.
The guilty grin
Have you ever come home to find your dog has gotten into the trash bin? Or maybe they have torn apart a new toy (probably one labeled indestructible, right?).
If your pup has done something terrible, they might come to greet you with a guilty grin — lips pulled back, teeth showing, head lowered, and tail wagging.
Truth be told, dogs don’t feel guilty.
But they can read when you’re upset or angry, and dogs will show submissiveness to help defuse the situation.
Humans often smile when nervous to seem less threatening in an uncomfortable situation. Your dog’s thinking follows this same logic.
The head tilt
Dogs will often cock their heads when we’re talking or giving them a direction.
The head cock is an endearing expression that people often assume means your dog is interested in our conversations or maybe confused by what we’re saying.
A recent study suggests that the head tilt signifies deep concentration and mental processing.
Particularly intelligent dogs would consistently tilt their heads when asked to complete a challenging task.
The expression was frequent enough that scientists hypothesized the head tilt was connected to problem-solving.
The sleepy yawn
OK, there’s a good chance that when your dog yawns, it’s simply a symptom of fatigue.
However, this isn’t always the case, and you should pay attention to the situation just in case.
Dogs often yawn when they feel stressed, such as when they walk into the vet’s office or have an argument at home.
Yawning is also used as a sign of submission, so there may be something around that your dog perceives as a threat.
You want to stay alert if your dog wrinkles its snout and baring teeth.
This facial expression shows aggression, stress, or even pain.
Your dog’s eyes may also be incredibly round and intense, showing the whites around the iris. This is also known as whale eye.
You’ll want to give your dog some space and consider what may have instigated the snarling. Always treat signs of aggression seriously.
It’s also worth a trip to the vet if you think your dog may be experiencing discomfort or excessive anxiety.
Understand common dog facial expressions
Humans and dogs have evolved alongside each other for thousands of years, so it makes sense that we can understand one another even though we don’t speak the same verbal language.
You know your dog best, and there’s a good chance that pets and their owners have a set of common facial expressions that work between them.