Do animals smile? You’ve seen those adorable pictures of happy little sloths, right? It seems like they are flashing a smile at the camera.
If you haven’t seen one, go search smiling sloths on the Internet right now. Yes, we’re serious. We’ll wait.
The awesome cuteness overwhelmed you, didn’t it? You’re welcome.
Their smiling little furry faces are so adorable! Here’s another great idea. Download your favorite photo to use as your phone’s homepage background. Now, a little smiling sloth face will brighten your day every time you open your phone.
But the question remains, are they smiling? Do animals smile? Can they smile? If they can, does it mean the same thing as it does for humans? Are they expressing happiness?
Let’s take a look at what experts are saying about animals expressing emotion. From there, we’ll try to find the answer to the question, do animals smile?
Do Animals Feel Emotions?
To answer the question do animals smile, we must first affirm that they feel emotion. Are animals capable of feeling the same range of emotions as humans?
It would seem that way. We don’t even need fancy scientific studies to affirm that.
Take a moment and think about your beloved pet. Did your dog freak out about the fireworks on the Fourth of July? Could you tell that he was afraid? Does your cat stare at you in a condescending way all the time? Can you tell that she’s a prideful beast?
Animals seem to express a full range of emotions. Pets can get jealous of a new baby in the house. Dogs will cower in shame and seem to ask for forgiveness when caught tearing up the couch cushions. A cat will hide in embarrassment after a haircut gone wrong.
Scientific Evidence for Humor in Dogs
It may even be true that animals have a sense of humor. At least it appears that dogs do.
Patricia Simonet found that dogs make what she called a “breathy exhalation”. She theorized that it was a dog’s version of a laugh.
In a 2005 study, she tested her theory by playing the sound for dogs in shelters. She chose to use shelter dogs because they did not seem to be in a good mood. But when she played the sound, the reaction was universal and obvious.
Every dog reacted to the sound with playful behaviors or smiled. Some even began to make the sound themselves. Plus, each dog appeared to be in a better mood than before.
Anecdotal Evidence for Humor in Dogs
This is our brilliant idea, but you can even test the humor theory yourself if you want. Take a dog to the lake with a group of people. Be sure that some folks are enjoying the water and others seat themselves on the shore.
The dog will run and shake water on the dry folks every time. You can’t tell us he’s not doing that on purpose and thinking it’s funny!
Pay attention. You might even hear him making Simonet’s “breathy exhalation” as he runs away.
Do Animals Smile?
Now we’ve determined that animals do feel emotion, at least on some level. Anyone who has ever owned a pet can tell you that. But it’s nice to see some science behind the claim.
That brings us back to the question, do animals smile?
Those adorable sloths in the photos sure look like they’re smiling. Cats kind of have a little bow shape to their mouth that looks like a smile. When dogs pant with their mouth open in a relaxed way it looks like they’re smiling.
Type smiling animals into an image search online. Your screen will fill with everything from grinning monkeys to frogs and even owls. Did the photographer get lucky? Did they work some kind of Photoshop magic? Do animals smile? Is it true?
The famous Mr. Charles Darwin seemed to think so. If you don’t know who Charles Darwin is, click here to read about him. (We’re not judging, but what were you doing during every one of your high school science classes?)
Darwin reasoned that animals use the same muscles as humans to show emotions. He didn’t have much proof to back it up. But it appears that he was right.
Expressions of Pain
Jeffrey Mogil, a psychologist/neuroscientist at McGill University, is now affirming Darwin’s claim.
Mogil conducted studies with mice to see how they react to pain. Yes, pain studies are a sad thought. But don’t worry, he didn’t subject the mice to too much pain. In fact, much of what he learned through his study helps ensure humane treatment of lab animals.
He used the least amount of stimulus possible to produce an expression of pain on the mouse’s face. He found that mice contort their faces in the same way that humans do when reacting to pain. They use the same sets of muscles and everything.
So it appears that mice, at least, react to pain the same way as humans. Why wouldn’t they, then, react the same way to other emotions? Makes sense, doesn’t it?
If they can express pain, then, do animals smile? If anybody has any ideas about how to get a mouse to smile, Mogil is open to suggestions. It would be interesting to see if he can produce the same findings with happiness as the stimulus.
Is a Dog’s Smile an Expression of Happiness?
It is easier to see what appears to be a smile in other animals. Dogs, in particular, seem to smile and/or express happiness often.
When a dog offers up his characteristic toothy grin, he’s relaxed and calm. It looks to us that he is content and happy. Is he expressing happiness? Or is he simply relaxed and we interpret his expression as a smile?
The jury’s still out on that one. It’s hard to tell because you can’t ask him about it. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy his happy little smile all the same.
Researchers are discovering that there are different expressions for the same emotion. It depends on the species. Chimpanzees share the most similar features with humans. They seem to show emotions in similar ways.
But lots of animals have extra features that humans don’t have. Whiskers, tails, and agile ears, for instance.
Let’s take Mogil’s mice research for example. Some mouse features are the same as human features. For those features, the expression in reaction to pain was the same. The eyes tightened, the nose and cheeks both bulged. Both species use the same muscles to create the expression.
But mice had a couple extra reactions that were specific to them. Their ears and whiskers also made movements as part of their expression of pain.
Of course, human ears are not quite so agile. And while some folks may have long nose hairs, you can’t call them whiskers by any stretch of the imagination. So, of course, humans can’t make that same exact expression.
You can see another example once again in man’s best friend. A dog has several of what Simonet calls play behaviors.
You’ve seen a dog “bow”, right? You know what we mean. The dog lowers his head down the ground with his butt up in the air. Often he’s got a ball and he’s trying to get you to play with him. He’ll also do it trying to get another dog to play with him.
He looks pretty happy when he does it, doesn’t he? Sometimes he’ll even jump around in excitement while he does it.
There’s also the ever adorable tail wagging. Dogs seem to be expressing happiness when they wag their tails.
The more enthusiastic they are about it, the happier they seem to be. At least that’s the theory and it makes sense. Simonet even goes so far as to say tail wagging is another way a dog “laughs”.
Again, it would seem a little strange to see a human bowing and jumping all over the place in happiness. And, of course, we don’t have a tail to wag anyways. But it works for dogs. They seem to get their point across!
So, Do Animals Smile?
Well, what do you think? Do animals smile? The research seems to be a little ambiguous. It would be so much easier if we could ask a dog how he feels when he seems to be smiling.
For us, we’ve decided it is safe to say that if your dog looks happy, he is. A cat that gives you a contented purr is showing you that she is happy.
Animals may not have the exact same mechanisms as we do for showing their emotions. But they figure out how to show you how they feel.
Your Perfect Smile
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Even if you’re a die-hard coffee addict, there’s a way to keep your teeth bright and white. Check out this post for everything you need to know.
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