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Is Your Dog Really Smiling?

Some animal experts believe canines can smile, but detecting this behavior can be difficult – even dangerous.

As a volunteer at the Paws for Life Animal Shelter and personally acquainted with most of the dogs here in Dry Springs, the question of whether canines possess this ability has been answered to my satisfaction. My own mutt, Roy Bob is a perfect example.

Confined to Cage 1, Cell Block ‘D’, Roy Bob had been busted when his most unflattering end was observed protruding from the dumpster behind the Sirloin Stockade restaurant. He’d managed to swallow most of the evidence, but a careful forensic examination revealed traces of bone, baked potato and pecan pie on his paws. All appeals had been denied, and when I paid his bail, he was smiling broadly at both ends.

Further confirmation of this phenomenon was provided by my friend, Merry Lee, who in her seventy years of life, was widely recognized as an expert in all matters of animal emotion, having loved and cared for virtually every creature listed on the manifest of Noah’s ark. She firmly believed that most dogs smile, but only a few breeds can do so with all pearly whites in full view. Most, she says, can only muster a grin with just a slight parting of the lips.

Some breeds, such as Bassett Hounds and Bulldogs lack the ability completely – or in the case of un-groomed English Sheep dogs – find no value in the practice. Still other breeds must be observed closely from both ends before drawing any conclusion,” she cautioned.

Merry Lee pointed out that Pit Bulls and Dobermans will show their teeth in what appears to be a smile, but before you extend your hand for a pat on the head, you should always observe the position of the tail – or what’s left of it.

If the tail is in a downward position, she noted, the dog probably does not want to shake your hand.”

Watch the lips, too, she added. If the lips of your Aunt Edna’s Chihuahua are quivering and tightly pursed, it’s fair to assume he’s not happy you stopped by.”

In short, the question of whether your dog is smiling depends on the breed and his/her feelings about you. Human smiles, on the other hand, pose a more confounding question.

As we’ve all seen, humans not only possess the ability to smile on command, but have mastered the trick of doing it while speaking from both sides of their mouth – an ability dogs have never needed. Moreover, it’s difficult to discern the position of human tails, as most have learned to carefully hide them. Politicians are an excellent example of this behavior, and there’s no better time to observe the phenomenon than just prior to their elections or following their indictments.

Before Merry Lee passed away, I had an opportunity to talk with her about this matter, but as often happened, I left knowing more about dogs, ducks and Tibetan yaks than I’ve ever learned about people.

Humans can be extremely dangerous, she told me. You must always approach them slowly while closely observing their eyes. They may appear to be smiling, but always remember, their facial expressions are in no way comparable to the sincerity of your dog’s. Humans still have a lot to learn about smiles,” she added.

Rest in peace, Merry Lee, and keep smiling.

As always, your comments to my email are welcome.

© 2017 David Bradshaw aka ‘Dave from Texas’

dbradshaw@rocketmail.com