Three-year-old black Lab “Curlie” flashes her teeth at me when I’m about to give her a really good treat. It was so disarming the first few times she did it, but now I think of it as a smile. I’ve never seen another dog flash their teeth at me and visitors have asked me, ‘Why is your dog barring her teeth at me?”
I showed these photos to several experts and asked their opinions. The photos are actually freeze-frames taken in about two seconds worth of video I shot after giving up trying to capture a single photo.
According to Allyson Halm of Adopt-A-Dog, this behavior is a reflex not seen in many dogs. In her experience, she said most dogs who smile have soft body language and do come forward directly.
According to Heidi Leuders, President of Bully Breed Rescue, “It’s all about body language. Loose, wiggle body language, while showing teeth is “smiling.” But if a dog is being aggressive, their body will be tense with a straight, erect, tail. This may also be accompanied with growling and a low stance,” Leuders added.
Heather Trocola of In The Lead Dog Training said, “Curlie is showing off what is called a submissive grin. This is an appeasement behavior in dogs that is different from showing their teeth when threatened. A dog that is smiling at you will sometimes wiggle, wave a paw, lick you or squint. A dog showing their teeth as a warning will not wiggle but instead will stiffen up and their eyes will stay open and wide.”