Why Do Labrador Retrievers Smile?

Why Do labrador Retrievers Smile

Labrador Retrievers are incredibly happy dogs because of their gentle, affectionate behavior. They love people and would do just about anything to receive attention. They have many facial expressions that look like they are smiling. You might even think they are smiling because of their constant adoration of you. In this article we will discuss the ways Labrador Retrievers smile and what those expressions mean.

Do Labrador Retrievers Smile?

Labrador Retrievers have facial expressions that seem like they are smiling. The three most common types of smiles are Submissive Smiles, Aggressive Smiles, and Panting Smiles. Looking at their body language along with their facial expressions will help you determine how they are really feeling.

Knowing how your Labrador Retriever is feeling through their smile and body expressions can be useful to you as an owner. You will be able to understand how they are feeling and it will make you and your pup’s bond become stronger.

Types of Smiles

Types of labrador retriever smiles

Often, we think our Labrador Retriever is smiling because they are happy, but many times there are other emotions they are expressing through their smile. There are three types of smiles your Labrador Retriever will show you that let you know how they are feeling.

Submissive Smile

A submissive smile is not a common one you see in dogs. This smile shows other dogs and humans that they they are nervous but generally want to be friends. Even though they may be submissive and may be friendly, you should never assume that any dog showing it’s teeth is ok to pet or approach.

A way that you can tell the difference between a submissive smile from an aggressive one is through your dog’s body language. The body language you will notice is a low-hanging tail, a raised paw, laid back ears, eyes glancing off to the side, and a relaxed body.  The dog may also have quiet, soft movements.

Signs of Submissive Smile:

  • Low-hanging tail
  • Raised paw
  • Laid back eyes
  • Relaxed body
  • No growling

Aggressive Smile

Labrador Retrievers do not show the aggressive smile very often. This smile means they are sensing danger and feeling insecure. If you see this smile, it is time to take things seriously and help deescalate the situation. Your dog will be visibly intense and aggressive.

If your Labrador Retriever is using the aggressive smile, they will bare their teeth and have wide eyes accompanied with a challenging stare. Usually, they will growl or bark at whatever is making them uncomfortable and have a scrunched-up muzzle. You probably won’t see this smile from a Labrador Retriever, but if you do it is a good idea to get them away from the situation.

Signs of Aggressive Smile:

  • Eyes squinted and upward
  • Scrunched-up muzzle
  • Baring teeth
  • Wide eyes
  • Growl or bark

Panting Smile

The panting smile usually happens after your Labrador Retriever has just finished being active. They will look happy and like they are having fun. Your dog will appear calm and relaxed.

During the panting smile, your Labrador Retriever will have a wide-open mouth with their tongue hanging out. This is the way they cool down their body after they have been exercising. Sometimes, this can make it look like they are smiling at you because their mouth is curled up while panting.

Signs of Panting Smile:

  • Mouth wide open
  • Tongue hanging out
  • Calm and relaxed body
  • Mouth curled up
  • Panting

Is My Labrador Retriever Smiling Because He is Happy?

We would like to believe that our adorable Labrador Retriever is smiling at us every chance they get because they are happy. But there is no real evidence to support if a dog is really smiling out of emotion.

Science is inconclusive on whether dogs really smile due to happiness. Since dogs cannot talk, they are exceptional at using non-verbal communication with their owners. They especially use eye contact to communicate.

Owners of Labrador Retrievers can often tell when when their dogs are happy. This usually comes through many non-verbal cues. The wagging of his tail, the licking of my face, and jumping in my lap are all signs that he is happy. It is possible that some smiles could be due to happiness, but unfortunately, we just don’t have the data yet to say for sure.

Can Labrador Retrievers Understand Smiles?

Can Labrador Retrievers Understand Smiles

Labrador Retrievers instinctively understand the smiles of other dogs. They understand when a dog is using a submissive, aggressive, and panting smile based on the body language the other dog is conveying. If they cannot read another dog’s body language, it could become a dangerous situation for them.

When it comes to a human smile, there is a study that supports dogs can understand a human smile. In this study, dogs were able to determine the difference between a happy smile and a neutral face.

Lead researcher Miho Nagasawa of Azabu University and colleagues conducted a study that was featured in the journal Animal Cognition. This team trained nine dogs to select pictures with their nose of their owners smiling. An overwhelming amount of the dogs chose the picture of their owner smiling.

When shown pictures of strangers smiling or neutral faces, the dogs chose the smiling faces more often. According to the researchers, dogs may be picking up on facial features of smiling such as exposed teeth.

While the study did suggest that dogs can understand smiles, scientists are inconclusive on whether they can understand a human smile. However, dogs often know when their humans are happy or sad using many facial and body language cues.


Labrador Retrievers are a fun-loving breed that want to show their owners unending loyalty through non-verbal cues. One of those ways is through smiling in three different ways. Even though it is inconclusive if they are really smiling due to joy, showing you affection will never end with a Labrador Retriever.

One of the best ways to ensure that your Labrador is happy, is to keep them healthy. Make sure to have regular checkups with your Veterinarian. If needed, be sure to check out our article on the Best Pet Insurance to help cover the costs that come with maintaining a happy and healthy Labrador Retriever.

Dr. Anne Traas

Anne Traas, DVM, MS, DACT is a veterinarian and the President of Labrador Retriever Society. She is a specialist in canine reproduction. In her day job, she is a leader in a small biotech where she and a team of vets and scientists are working to develop new medications for pets.

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