Many dog owners swear that when they ask their canine friend if he’s happy, take him out for a walk, or just come home, the answer is a broad smile. In fact, photos and videos of several of these smiling dogs swarm the net. But scientifically: are dogs capable of smiling?
Do dogs really laugh?
The first thing to keep in mind is that human beings tend to anthropomorphism , that is, we tend to humanize what surrounds us. And with pets we do it in a superlative way, projecting feelings and emotions onto them and interpreting things in a way that actually has a very different meaning.
Professional trainers and dog experts explain that, while dogs are able to show their affection and well-being in many ways, for example by wagging their tails, jumping, rubbing against their owners or even whining, a real smile, the “human” style is not one of its “resources.”
So what is that dog smile?
Dogs have something called “adaptive behaviors”, this means that they are able to understand that certain behaviors can be more useful when communicating, so they use them as adaptive behavior that has a variety of functions and is product of evolution.
When a dog smiles, actually behind that expression that they are able to use at will (that is why they “laugh” when someone asks them to do so or when faced with certain stimuli) there is a very long and complex evolutionary process, which has culminated in the use of adaptive behavior, as a social skill and a way to get attention.
This evolutionary factor is fundamental, since dogs have used observation and “imitation” of the gestural behavior of their human owners, to strengthen emotional ties with us and in this way they have achieved, with resounding success, that our reaction is to see something that doesn’t really exist.
Canine laughter is also contagious to us
Another of the factors that help the dog to strengthen the behavior of the smile (besides that, when it does so it receives all kinds of rewards: gestures, caresses and even food or sweets) is that it has the advantage, that for human beings laugh is contagious; when the dog laughs it receives another smile in return, one more encouragement to repeat this behavior.
The other smile of the dogs
Another of the attitudes that are often seen a lot in videos is that when a dog does some mischief and its owner reproaches him for it, sometimes it seems that the dog is smiling, since it separates its lips and exposes its teeth. This is called a “submissive smile” and in reality it is just another type of reaction that dogs have, with which they make us laugh instead of getting angry with them.
There is infinite evidence of the existence of this smile, which arises as a response to the attitude of the human trying to “shame his dog”, in the face of a bad behavior by confronting him with the fact and recriminating his action or asking him who it was. The dog uses the submissive smile while lowering his head, squinting and even covering his face with a paw, a true Hollywood artist.
Dog laugh + oxytocin
The experts in canine behaviorism maintain that a dog is capable of learning at a subconscious level, that certain gestures provoke positive reactions in their owners. It is not that they understand the internal process by which we tend to humanize them, but rather that, for them, what counts are the results.
That is the reason why, when making a certain gesture that its owners interpret as a smile, so they celebrate it and as soon as it repeats it, they film, photograph and share it with everyone, for the dog it is a sign that “That” he has done generates a greater bond with his owners, so he will not only repeat it, but also learn to “laugh on demand”.
From the point of view of humans, when dogs smile, a hormone called oxytocin is released, which is produced in the hypothalamus (a small organelle located in the center of the brain) and ends up in the bloodstream through the neurohypophysis. It is a neuromodulator of the central nervous system that acts on feelings.
This mixture of learned, rehearsed and repeated friendly attitudes on the part of our dog, added to the secretion of oxytocin and the natural tendency to humanize our pets, has as a result that people are convinced that their dogs laugh because they are happy.
It is good to clarify that, although dogs do not laugh or even smile, their attitude does have something to do with happiness, since these imitative behaviors end in caresses, celebrations and sometimes even in prizes, so the final result for the dog (and also for its owners) it is, without a doubt, enjoying a happy moment.