Why Do Golden Retrievers Smile And What Does It Mean?

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Written by Cory Eckert

Golden retrievers are known for being very energetic, affectionate, and overall tend to be very happy dogs. How does a person really know if a dog is happy though? One way we tell if another person is happy is if they’re smiling but should we use this same criteria when we’re talking about animals? 

The simple answer is "No, dogs do not smile and that includes golden retrievers"

At least in the traditional sense of the word as it applies to human behavior, dogs do not smile. It's very common to assign human qualities and characteristics to pets because we love them like family. It's so common in fact that we have a name for it... anthropomorphism.

That said, some breeds such as golden retrievers and huskies have a reputation for being very ‘smiley’ dogs. In this article, we'll look at what some of those "smiles" actually mean and why our goldens do them.


Types of Smiles

It is no argument that a large number of animals use facial expressions to communicate feelings to their humans. Facial expressions are a great way to express your internal feelings to the world. For humans, we use ours often to tell other people when we want to be approached, when we are mad, or whatever else we are trying to tell people. 

Golden retrievers can use this method of communication as well but it can be hard to tell exactly what they’re trying to tell us since we’re not of the same species. A smiley dog is sometimes automatically labeled happy but in some cases it can actually mean something different. 


Panting

One of the reasons people think golden retrievers appear to be "smiling" is actually panting. Dogs pant in order to cool themselves off since they don’t sweat the way us humans do. Because golden retrievers tend to be very energetic, some of them like to move around constantly which often times calls for lots of panting. These smiles are sometimes paired up with tongue-hanging action. 

Just to be clear, sometimes when a golden retriever is panting, it can look just like a smile and those cute faces are very hard to resist!

Note: If you feel like your golden retriever is panting too much there could be something else that they’re trying to tell you. Here are a couple of other reasons why your dog could be panting:

  • Feeling hot
  • In pain
  • Feeling either excited or anxious
  • Allergic reaction that’s restricting their airway
  • Poison or anything that might make them throw up
  • Some illnesses will make them pant
  • Medication side effects can sometimes include panting
  • You can learn more about why a dog pants in this blog post.

    Of course you don’t have a reason to worry if your golden starts to pant. However, it can come in handy to know your pup’s regular breathing abilities so that you will be able to  notice if they start panting at times they usually wouldn’t or are panting too hard.


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    Submissive

    If your golden is being approached by a potential new friend they might greet that person with a submissive smile. This smile is more of a showing of teeth and can be mistaken for an aggressive smile so it’s important to inform anyone who wouldn’t know the difference that your dog is friendly. 

    If you’re having trouble distinguishing these two smiles as well, you can use their other body language to help you out. Different dogs will display different body language but a submissive smile can sometimes be accompanied by low body posture, squinted eyes, an upturned neck, and overall relaxed. 

    Dogs will often use this smile when approaching new situations, new people, and even other dogs to show them that they aren’t looking for a fight. This smile would be the closest thing to a ‘happy smile’ because they want to be approached. Wagging tails are sometimes paired with these smiles. 


    Aggressive

    Most golden retrievers won’t hand out aggressive smiles willy nilly but when a situation calls for it they will. Most dogs will use an aggressive smile when they are feeling threatened. These smiles are usually easy to distinguish from other smiles because they are very teethy, muzzles are usually scrunched, wide eyes, pulled back ears, and usually they will growl or bark at whatever is making them anxious. 

    A typical golden retriever will hardly ever use this smile because most of them are rarely aggressive. If you have an intruder in your house they are more likely to pick playing a game of fetch with them over fighting them off. However, in the odd case your golden does exhibit this behavior you should pull him out of the situation in order to calm them down. 

    Other Possible Reasons

    In the end, there are several facial expressions a golden retriever may make that could be misinterpreted as a smile, but the smiles above have pretty universal meaning when it comes to most dogs.

    Another thing that could possibly be driving your golden retriever to crack a smile is you. 

    In the same way that we use positive reinforcement for training commands such as sit, if your golden is given positive attention when they make a particular facial expression, they may just catch on and be more likely to repeat it in the future.


    Teaching Your Golden Retriever to Smile

    Because most golden retrievers have a high level of intelligence, teaching them anything can sometimes be a piece of cake. Family photos, dinner parties, and for general cuteness can be the perfect reasons why you should teach your dog to smile on command. 

    You might not even have to train them to smile on command if you already show them your appreciation for their smiles by giving them lots of pets. If they require some motivation, you can give them treats whenever they smile or use a clicker paired with some treats to click when they are smiling.


    Does your golden retriever smile? Comment below and tell us about your dogs goofy smiling habits!

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    About the author

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    Cory Eckert

    Cory is the co-creator of GoldenRetrieverLove.com and a life long dog enthusiast. From training livestock dogs as a child to working with obedience classes as an adult, it's hard to imagine Cory without a dog. Currently enjoying being a dog parent to Remi (a chocolate lab) and Annie (a golden retriever).

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