Luke's very happy and relaxed beach face.
To smile is to be happy right? Not always, in humans a smile can be a hidden agenda or mask to hide what is really going on. Being that dogs don't lie; a smile is a smile. But a smile does not always mean happy. There are two types of smiles that dogs have. The first and most common is the happy face smile; the "look he's smiling" face. This one is not truly a lip pulling back smile but a facial relaxation which lends itself to the image of a smile. Luke gets his "happy face" on when we are at the beach. It most definitely signals a happy dog but it is not a true lip curl smile by definition. Luke's happy face is produced by a sense of relaxation, calm and satisfaction. You must look at the entire message to get it; a mouth held in a similar position but lacking the relaxed eyes and ears will not look like a happy face.
The second smile is one that is very misunderstood; especially from those who have not witnessed it. I saw my very first dog smile from a very large Doberman. It of course startled me until I was informed of the meaning. From that moment on I have loved dogs that smile and we have been very lucky to have two smilers over the years. Tilley was my first smiling dog and Elsa is our second. This type of smiling also includes signals from the ears, eyes and body but is very mouth related. The dog actually pulls back their lips to display their front teeth; and if they happen to open their mouth at the same time you might just get a full mouth of teeth displayed. I have heard many people gasp at this display. It can be scary when you do not know what is going on.
I remember years ago when I was volunteering at an Animal Shelter. I walked up to a cage where a very sweet looking Dalmatian stood. As I bent down at the cage door to talk to her she flashed me a toothy grin, sweet. Another volunteer had told me that she bared her teeth at her. There is a vast difference between the two;but not if you don't understand dog communications. I let the other woman know what she was doing and why. She like many other people had never seen a true smile from a dog and until you have you don't quite get it; even if someone has explained it to you.
The other day when Elsa and I met up with my friend Judy and her dog Lucy, Elsa smiled. Elsa does not smile at dogs very often. I have seen her smile at Luke in greeting but not other dogs. Lucy most definitely got lots of smiles; it was the cutest thing to see. She was so happy to see her friend that she was smiling big toothy grins at her.
Teeth displaying smiles can be used in greeting or submission. The meaning of each is entirely different; although each resembles the other. When Elsa was very young she smiled often when encountering very dominant adult dogs at the beach. This is a sign of submission which is used to signal no challenge and a sense of being low man in the pack so to speak. Puppies often smile in submission; along with a lowered body posture, dropped ears and squinted eyes. Puppies who do not submit to older dominant dogs often receive physical reprimands until they do.
Greeting smiles are a very personal thing. Tilley saved her smiles for her family and only her family. Within her family, Brad received the most. As she got older, it was only Brad who received her smiles unless we were gone for a very long time or something very exciting was going on. She would also display a greeting/submissive smile for over the top home comings.
Elsa on the other hand rarely does submissive smiling although if I catch her doing something she shouldn't be doing and make a big deal about it, she will. She does offer greeting smiles all the time and I just adore them. She's what I call an Elvis smiler; most of her everyday smiles are delivered with just the right side of her mouth. If we are gone longer than normal then it starts with the side and moves to a full mouth smile. Her smiles are accompanied with slight eye squints only sometimes, it really depends on our home coming. When she was smiling at Lucy there was no squinting, just smiling.
The biggest smiles that Elsa has displayed recently was when her Dad returned home after being gone for a long time. She could not stop full face smiling. The smiles were accompanied by snorting caused by the extreme curled up lips she was offering. It was quite a display body wiggling, snorting and smiling; one that is hard to explain other than pure joy. Elsa smiles on a daily basis but the degree of smile directly coincides the occasion.
Over the years I have seen Luke almost smile. But smiles can be very difficult to see because the dog is typically wiggling, has a lowered head or is leaping around. He is a huffer, when he is happy he open mouth huffs but I have seen on several occasions, a very small lip curl sneak in.
There is a big difference between a relaxed face giving off a smiling image and a true smiling dog. If you've ever been the recipient of a true smile, you will completely understand the difference.