We humans love to anthropomorphise our pets and other animals, by assigning human emotions to animal expressions. A chimp baring its teeth wide often elicits a well-meaning but ignorant “Ooh, look, it’s smiling!” response.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, some humans also like to dress their pets up in children’s clothes, and make them walk upright on two feet. No, wait, wasn’t that what circuses used to do with their monkeys and dogs, back in the days when circuses still had performing animals? Apparently someone forgot to tell these folks who still insist on humanising their pets. Okay, I’ll admit to putting sunglasses on my own dog, and taking some photos of her, because she does look cute, but I draw the line at actually putting her in human clothes and making her walk upright. Dogs’ back legs and spines are not equipped to take the strain of defying gravity that way. How would You like it if I made you crawl around on all fours all day?
Dogs are dogs. Humans are humans. Yet there is something to be said about dogs’ smiles. A growing number of canine behaviourists and dog enthusiasts believe that dogs can read our faces too well, and are able to distinguish between a grimace of pain and a smile of happiness. And, more importantly, that dogs too have the ability to “smile” at us, in their own way, a way that is surprisingly similar to the way we humans smile. A way that mimics our own smiles, so much so we are able to recognise it as a smile.
Having said that, it’s imperative that when a dog “smiles” at you, you need to also look at the rest of its body language. Sometimes what you think is a smile, could just be the start of a snarl, leading to a snap. Watch for the telltale lip-lifting and flattening of the ears. Eyes that boggle or stare. The beginnings of pylo-erection, or raised hackles. Clearly NOT signs of a happy pooch obliging you with a happy smile.
If we all learn to read these signals, we’d have much easier time with dogs, even strange ones that we’ve never met before. If that strange dog cowers away, averts its head or shows you the whites of its eyes, along with a “smile”, please don’t make the mistake of going ahead and patting it. You might want to keep that hand in one piece.
Here’s a Google pic of a happy, smiling dog.
See the difference? 😉