28 September

The Mysteries Of The Dog: Do They Smile?

by Jon Katz

The dog world is full of mysteries and questions. Answers are harder to come by. Most dog lovers I know are know-it-alls. They don’t have “I don’t know” in their vocabulary.

Dog biologists and psychologists are more open to doubt, but they disagree wildly on the essential elements of dog life.

I pulled into a grocery store yesterday and saw this dog, a Pyrenees mix of some kind, starting at me.

I believe he was smiling. Yet most serious biologists don’t think that dogs smile; they react.

Since they don’t know what a smile is, how could she be smiling at me?

It’s like mourning. Almost every dog lover will insist (without a doubt) that dogs grieve for their humans, as opposed to just being upset by a change in their routines.

I’ve lost many dogs in my life, and I’ve never seen one grieve another dog or any human. Life goes on, and soon.

Since everyone tells me they suffer, there must be something to it, but I have yet to see it.

I also have yet to have a dog who suffered from separation anxiety. To me, this comes under the category of things we want and need to see rather than things that are true. I don’t believe in separation anxiety except in extreme cases of trauma or human projection. Mostly, these are things dogs do because their either learn them from us, or we want them to do.

I know dog lovers who are upset when their dogs don’t have separation anxiety, they think it means the dogs don’t love them.

Vets are happy about the very new idea of separation anxiety for dogs (in nature, they are alone almost all of the time except when hunting); there are all kinds of expensive calming medicines to prescribe. Ten years ago, no dog in America had separation anxiety. We are making them nuts.

Hundreds of thousands of dogs in America are now on valium, something they didn’t seem to need for thousands of years.

When I leave the dogs alone in the house, I walk out the door.

No-fuss or drama. I’m not upset, so they aren’t upset.  It’s the same thing when I come home. I might get a wag or two, but my coming and going is a normal part of the routine, not a drama. Because I don’t believe in it, I can’t pass it along to them. We very often give our head shit to our dogs.

I like to think of this dog I ran into yesterday as smiling. I think Zinnia smiles when she brings me a bone or ball or sticks and wags her tail like mad.

But I don’t know. It’s just what I think. I hope to figure it out one day. In any case, I smiled back at this sweet dog, and waved too.


  1. We treat our pooch the same way. Matter of fact into the crate maybe a small treat and we just walk out. No guilt no angst it just is what it is. Today when I came I from a short shopping trip she was out of her crate because my husband got home before me. She has a look of joy on her face and her whole body language reflects it as she stands on her back legs and greets me. Then as soon as it starts it’s over and off she goes perhaps to sit on the top of the sofa and watch her neighborhood. It is what it is. We get into enough trouble projecting onto humans we shouldn’t do it to our dogs.

  2. In our state, we have regulations that require the owners/operators of long term care faciities to provide for reasonable accomodation of need. Helping a resident maintain contact with the outside world in a reasonable manner would fall under this category. Has anyone tried approaching the owners/opertors for assistance in this area?

    1. We have all sorts of ideas for dealing with it, Peg, and are close to implementing several. My favorite is getting tech students from the high school to come work with the residents several times a week and for credit. I hope to be talking to the principal soon.

  3. I agree with you. But just today while dancing with a group of children on a green, i saw a dog walking by with its owner.
    The dog ‘s face and ears were relaxed, mouth open, tongue out. Its eyes were on us as it gently tugged its leash toward us.

    The dog obeyed it’s owner (who ignored us), and trotted by. But it was clear to me that dog wanted to play with us! (We were dancing to a song called Hot Dog, so….).

    1. I’ve been working with dogs all my life and I have said “I don’t know” at least a billion times or more. I suppose it is the mystery and questions that motivates people who work with animals. I have seen training and pet care evolve and change over the past forty years, and just like technology, it comes both with the good and the bad. I’m like the tech people who go around and TRY to help fix the things that are broken. However, working with animals will never be an exact science like technology. That’s the mystery.

  4. I believe that it is the people who have separation anxiety, and project their own anxieties on their dogs. My husband hates to leave our dog, Draco, for even an hour. He claims that he can just tell that Draco is upset when he is left alone. To be honest, Draco just sleeps when we are gone. He doesn’t damage anything while we are gone. I swear that my husband and I have two different dogs in Draco. When my husband is home with him, he says that Draco is constantly on him, demanding attention. When I am alone with Draco, he simply lays around, occasionally asking to go out. I do wish to make it clear that Draco is a very good boy!

    1. Draco is a very smart dog, he knows how to read people and do what they want..this is why dogs get to sleep in bed and raccoons don’t..

  5. Sometimes when my boyfriend goes out and leaves the dog behind, I hear the dog whimpering for a while. I think she’s sad to be left behind, but is that what other people call” separation anxiety”?
    I had a dog once who would chew through anything, including the floor, if left at home alone.
    Dogs sometimes act out but I hesitate to put labels on them that imply a need for medication or some other treatment.
    Dogs do different things
    I think we tend to think in human behavioral terms which is OUR problem.

    1. Separation anxiety is the human projection of their anxiety onto the dog…dogs can live happily in caves and sleep for many hours….separation anxiety is something humans have taught dogs mostly so they can believe the dog adores them and can’t bear to part..in many ways dogs are more intelligent than we are and more manipulative…

  6. Of course dogs smile. That’s my theory. What else can a n open mouth and a lolling tongue accompanied by a wagging tail say? I know a lot of theories exist regarding whether canines do actually smile, but when one lives with rescues and observes the changes they under go as they rehab, one soon learns to recognize a canine smile.

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