Why Do Golden Retrievers Smile? Their 3 Smiles and What They Mean


The worst moment in my day is when I have to leave home for work, because I have to say goodbye to my dog and then wait 8 hours before coming back to them, but this moment they welcome me back with a huge smile on their face is without a doubt the best moment in my entire day, and this is true for most days.

But wait, smile? Do they smile, really?

If so, why do golden retrievers smile? Golden Retrievers smile when they’re excited and they have three distinct smiles; the panting, aggressive, and submissive smiles. Dog smiles are different from human ones because they don’t always mean happiness as they can also mean other emotions like fear.

To fully understand your golden retriever’s smile, you will need to also take their whole body language into account.

To learn what are the three different smiles of golden retrievers and what they mean, keep reading…

Golden Retriever peeking

3 Reasons Why Do Golden Retrievers Smile

Basically, there are 3 different dog smiles, but each of them can convey different meaning depending on your dog’s body language and the situation itself. I’ll explain more when talking about each different smile:

The panting smile (the happy-looking smile)

An example of a golden retriever smiling happily to illustrate why do golden retrievers smile
An example of a happy smile in a golden retriever

The Look:

  • Lips pulled back
  • Mouth Wide Open
  • Tongue Hanging out
  • Relaxed body language
  • Panting

This smile is called the panting smile because it often is accompanied with panting. You can notice it after you’re done with a good exercise or during playtime.

The Meaning(s):

This smile often means your dog is happy and content. The panting is to help them cool down. The more you see of this gorgeous smile, the more your dog is enjoying their life with you.

You should aim to see this smile as much as possible by making their life as good as you can. You can check out these 20 tips to help your golden live a better and longer life here.

How Common?

Since Golden Retrievers are happy and cheerful most of the time, this smile is the most common of their smiles.

The Aggressive Smile

An example of an aggressive smile in a golden retriever

The Look:

  • Teeth shown and visible
  • Eyes squinted
  • Lips and ears pulled back
  • Often accompanied by growling
  • Their body language is tense

Your dog will be visibly tense and aggressive. They may be pulled back as they try to decide between fight or flight.

The Meaning(s):

This means the dog is sensing danger and is feeling insecure about what is going on. They are giving you (or the person or animal they’re looking at) a “Stay Away or else” warning and it’s one that should be taken seriously.

If you see this smile, something is seriously wrong and you should take the situation very seriously.

How Common?

This is a very rare smile to see in Golden Retrievers since they are very friendly dogs and will not be easily threatened by a person, another animal, or a certain situation.

The Submissive Smile

An example of a submissive smile in a golden retriever

The Look:

  • Teeth bared in a strange, comical way
  • Lowered body posture
  • Eyes squinted and upturned
  • Overall submissive body language

This smile is accompanied with low noises that are softer than growling and can be accompanied by quiet and soft movements.

The Meaning(s):

It means “I’m not a threat”. The submissive smile is quite similar to the aggressive smile in look but the meaning changes based on the dog’s total body language as well as the sounds they make.

How Common?

This is less rare than the aggressive smile but is still seen much less often than the happy smile. I would say that about 80% of your golden retriever smiles are going to be happy smiles with the remaining 20% divided evenly between the other two smiles.

Do Dogs Really Smile?

I have seen some blogs that say that dogs don’t smile, and this just shows that these are people who never really had dogs in their lives. It’s a shame really because any dog owner knows that dogs do smile when they’re happy.

But I’m a skeptic person by profession, so I also went ahead to check the science behind it.

So, do dogs smile? The science is actually inconclusive dog smiles, and the general consensus currently is that we don’t know exactly why dogs do the facial expressions known as “Wide open mouth”. Scientists have found dogs to be exceptionally good at non-verbal communication with humans especially with eye contact – better than any other animal.

In a recent 2018 study (find the link cited in sources 1 & 2), The study found out that dogs are exceptional at understanding humans and communicating with us using non-verbal communications since they can’t talk.

According to Dr. Kaminski, an expert on the matter;

“I’ve had a dog all my life, so I know that if you know your dog really well, you’re able to read its behaviors. I’ve got no problem with giving certain behaviors a label. But as a scientist, of course, I say, ‘How would we know that?’ We have zero data telling us what this actually means.”

 Dr. Kaminski, A reader in comparative psychology at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, who studies dog cognition

The main problem is that our research tools are subjective on the matter and this can make us easily misinterpret what our dogs faces’ are actually telling us.

Another study published in Scientific Reports [3] showed that this particular expression in dogs typically occurs in positive settings such as when dogs are inviting one another to play.

At the end of the day, and as a man of science with an engineering degree hanging on my wall as I’m writing these words, I say that not really all things are meant to be determined by science.

Do dogs smile? Yes, because it doesn’t matter if it’s the same smile as ours or not. Whether they are doing it to imitate us smiling or because they know that we like it, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what we understand from these smiles, which is that they’re happy with us, and this is the one thing that matters at the end of the day.

Is My Dog Panting or Smiling?

I also see many bloggers claiming that dogs do not smile but rather they pant and we misinterpret this as panting. I really disagree with this. First off, it’s really easy to tell the difference between panting and smiling.

Dogs pant for many reasons such as when they’re tired, excited, or to cool down when they’re hot. Dogs can smile while panting, or they can pant while smiling, which is most often the case.

A dog will pant after a good exercise, but they will also smile a wide smile because they enjoyed the run with you. It’s not an /either-or/ situation, it could easily be an /and/ situation.

Do Dogs Understand our smiles?

Absolutely! Dogs are exceptional at understanding our body language including smiles. Not only that, but dogs are affected by our moods and our moods can impact their moods.

Long-time dog owners know this very well. We can develop this kind of deep bond with our dogs that not only don’t need words, but is actually stronger without them. We know that our dogs can feel sad when we’re sad and can be happy when we’re happy.

Our moods are contagious to our dogs, and they can tell by your smile and cheerful tone that you’re happy at them. This is why “good boy” is a more effective praise when said with a cheerful tone of voice and a smile.

How to tell if my golden retriever loves me?

Golden Retrievers are affectionate and loving animals by nature, and if you’re a good dog owner, your golden retriever will love you unconditionally and be fiercely loyal to you for the rest of their lives.

You can tell that your golden retriever loves you from their body language and interactions with you. simple signs like staying by your side and following you around the house are enough to show you that they love you, but you can also see it in the subtle way they keep following you with their eyes and when they prefer to stay in the room you’re in.

You can also see it in the way they stay on your bed and couch when you’re not home because they want to be somewhere that smells like you.

You don’t have to worry about your golden retriever loving you, and you don’t have to worry about dogs in general. All dogs love their owners unconditionally given that they’re good dog owners.

The same can’t be said about cats, which humans have not understood completely yet, and which I believe have a very smart plot to take over the world but are still too lazy to carry it out. Don’t try to convince me otherwise, I know for a fact that those little jumpy furry creatures are smarter than all of us and no one can convince me otherwise.

Related Questions

When Do Golden Retrievers Calm Down?

Golden Retrievers calm down when they’re 2-3 years of age and they are getting into their adult life stage. Female golden retrievers will start to calm down before males.

You can learn more about how to calm golden retrievers down here.

Sources

  1. A Simple Reason for a Big Difference – Wolves Do Not Look Back at Humans, But Dogs Do
  2. Are Dogs Smiling At Us?
  3. Dogs and humans respond to emotionally competent stimuli by producing different facial actions
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