We, “screwed our courage to the sticking point,” rolled up our sleeves, bit our lip, and courageously undertook the mission, to comment on the eternally vexing question: Do dogs smile?
Before proceeding with this most troublesome, existential question, we would make certain candid reservations; we anticipate the accrual of some rather daunting criticism and potentially meritorious challenges, for the reason that we do not have a background in neuroscience nor in veterinary science; in fact, we do not, own a dog (only cats). In spite of our profound absence of (scientific) provenance, we will, in mea culpa fashion, candidly, confess to having an irresistible attraction to issues, which possess the simultaneous attributes, of eternally being hotly contested, and, as well, being of little or no cognitive consequence.
Stated with scientific precision, the query du jour, is whether a visibly happy canine’s open mouth, is indicative of the emotional act of smiling, analogous to homo sapiens?
It seems procedurally appropriate to initially, offer some rudimentary observations on the physical act and the interactive impact of man’s smile. Man’s smile can be visibly observed by the turning up of both corners of his mouth, often accompanied by the wrinkling of the skin around the eyes. We are instructed that it is enabled through the “limbic system” of the brain, the latter, being functionally responsible for a variety of significant functions, including emotion and behavior.
In humans, the smile appears to be involuntary (always sincere), and voluntary (often insincere). In other situations, the involuntary smile can be seen, at times, in unhappy occasions, unexpected notices of decease, painful remembrance, mea culpa situations or, perhaps as an ironic exclamation. The human smile can be rather ubiquitous and complex.
One is obliged to assume that could it be shown that a dog can, indeed, smile that such a smile would be limited to the expression of happiness,
Happy smiles on people, have been shown, medically and scientifically, to have many salubrious results. In addition to retarding naturally occurring bodily chemistry that is responsible for anxiety and low moods, it has been shown to promote good health; and has been claimed by some authorities on the subject, to actually, increase longevity. There appear to be several studies, which conclude that smiling induces more pleasure than ingesting large portions of chocolate; and that, even a forced smile can be a mood booster. There is an old Buddhist saying that: “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but at other times the smile the source of your joy.
It has been shown that many, non-human, animals are capable of experiencing and exhibiting emotion (in their respective fashion), also, logically, governed by the brain. Our question is do they actually smile? We know that they wag their tails in rapid fashion, make eye-contact, and are very active when excited and happy.
Based upon our observations and especially, upon our feelings of exasperation, at the popular tendency of pet owners to anthropomorphize their beloved pets, we answer in the negative. There are a goodly number of people who sincerely believe that happy dogs smile; we do not. Dogs have mouths that open wide and might be perceived, as happy, in happy circumstances. But it is not smiling. When dogs are hungry or angry, they bark, utilizing the identical configuration of open mouth. It would appear that the pleasure of seeing the happiness of a loved pooch, is an invitation to perceive that the shape of his canine mouth is a smile [Why don’t my cats smile, they are loved, well cared for, and happy?]
Animals should be loved, valued and respected, for what they essentially are, and not as cute surrogates of projected human emotions.