Facial expressions are such an integral part of communication between humans that oftentimes we impart meaning on the expressions that our pets carry. Anyone who is an animal lover will maintain that their four-legged friends have meaningful facial changes, though. So what is the final verdict? Do dogs really smile or is it all in our heads? The team at Carriage Hills Animal Hospital loves to decode pet facial expressions, and sharing our findings with you is part of the fun!
Pet Facial Expressions in Nature
You can tell a great deal about what another person is thinking or feeling based on their facial expression. Pets also rely heavily on nonverbal communication, but unlike people, they naturally use more body language changes than facial changes to communicate with one another.
Animal communication utilizes posture, ear position, tail carriage, and facial expression in order to convey information. All of these components are integral to the process. For instance, a dog with a low, relaxed tail, slightly open mouth, and perked ears communicates a sense of ease. A tucked tail, low body, and pinned back ears indicates a fearful demeanor.
With a little practice reading dog body language or your cat’s nonverbal cues can become quite intuitive. When looking through examples of animal communication, though, you will quickly see that pet facial expressions play a minimal role. Surely, though, you are not mistaking what your pet does at home for something it’s not?
Pets and People
You are certainly not wrong if you have ever thought that your pet is smiling at you.
Even though this isn’t an inherent behavior perse, we are starting to understand that our pets can sometimes mimic our facial expressions. These are something that seem to have developed for our benefit as humans, though, rather than a natural tendency.
We have understood for awhile that dogs know to watch our faces in order to understand what we are saying. A new study has found, though, that dogs are more likely to produce meaningful facial expressions when their people are around than when they are just hanging out with the pups.
Facial expressions in pets appear to be their attempts at better communication with us. Some to look out for:
- The head tilt, showing that you have your pup’s full attention
- The raised eyebrow, which shows excitement or surprise
- The lowered head, letting you know that they are shy, anxious, or unsure about what your reaction might be
- An exaggerated yawn, which indicates your pet is feeling stressed or conflicted
- A big grin, with the corners of the mouth turned up usually means a pet is feeling relaxed
Whether pet facial expressions are part of an animal’s natural tendencies or a learned behavior that they have acquired from being around us, it is fun to know what your pet is thinking. It can also be a valuable tool when trying to decode your pet’s behavior problems. Of course we are here to help if you are having trouble figuring out what’s behind your pet’s day to day actions.