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What Your Dog’s Facial Expressions Really Mean

No one questions the special bond you have with your furry best friend, but do you fully understand everything your pup's trying to tell you? You will now.

brown dog yawning on the bedElayne Massaini/Shutterstock


Yes, a yawn could indicate tiredness, Dr. Bernal tells us. But it can also be associated with moments of stress. Here's how to find out what your dog really wants from you.

funny dog licks lips with Tongue Out Taya Ovod/Shutterstock


A dog who is licking his lips can be communicating a desire to submit to his human, Dr. Bernal tells us. Or it could indicate anxiety, depending on the context. If nothing anxiety-provoking is happening at the moment, consider it a positive form of doggie communication.

Golden Retriever sitting outside SmilingVictoria Rak/Shutterstock

Smiling or grinning

Yes, dogs do smile—although it doesn't signify happiness, contentment, or agreement. When a dog lifts up his lips to show his canine teeth and incisors, it's a sign of excitement, says Dr. Bernal. This makes sense when you consider that pups tend to smile while out on walks or romping with pals at the dog park. A doggie-grin could also be a sign of submissiveness, but that's usually when they're signaling to other dogs, not humans. You won't want to miss these secrets your dog's tail is trying to tell you.

Small black dog shows fangs on green grassTomasz Wrzesien/Shutterstock

Nose wrinkling

It doesn't take a dog behavioral specialist to recognize when your dog's "smile" is more of a "snarl," says Dr. Bernal. But when your dog pulls his lips up vertically to display his front teeth while also wrinkling his muzzle, he's angry—especially when he raises his ears up and stares steadily. There's a good chance a growl is coming.

Small Jack Russell Mix Dog With One Eye Laying on SofaAnna Hoychuk/Shutterstock


In humans, we understand the difference between a smile and a grimace. The same applies to dogs. When your dog draws his lips back horizontally so that you can see all his teeth, it indicates discomfort or fear, Dr. Bernal explains. This becomes even more obvious when it's accompanied by ear-flattening. Make sure you know these 15 signs your dog is mad at you.


When in doubt, consider Fido's body language

Doggie facial expressions should be read in context, points out certified dog-and-cat behaviorist and trainer, Russell Hartstein, CDBC. For example, a "smile" might indicate fear or aggression if the dog's ears are flat or he's growling or whimpering. But a smile on a relaxed and wiggly dog signals that all is good. Next, don't miss these 50 other secrets your pets won't tell you.

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