Why Do Pitbulls Smile?

why do pitbulls smile

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We all know that Pitbulls have a bad reputation, but anyone who has ever met a typical Pitbull knows this stigma couldn’t be further from the truth! Pitbulls are loving, gentle, and highly affectionate dogs. They love nothing more than to snuggle up with their owner (sometimes under the covers) and give you some slobbery kisses!

Pitbulls can quite often be seen with big, friendly smiles on their faces. If you haven’t seen a pitbull smiling, I highly recommend checking out this adorable video as an example:

The question is, why do Pitbulls smile like this?

Pitbulls show their trademark smile when they’re relaxed and at ease in their environment. Essentially, they’re smiling because they’re happy and they feel safe. Other times, it may just appear that pibulls are smiling when they’re really just panting either as a result of being hot or being nervous. 

Let’s take a closer look at everything you need to know about Pitbulls and their smile. 

Let’s Make Sure We Agree On What A Pitbull Smile Looks Like

Before we go any further, let’s make sure we agree we agree on what a pittie smile really looks like by watching the video below. Okay, maybe we just wanted to see this adorable pittie smiling! Can believe that this is a breed that’s banned in so many places?

Do Pitbulls Experience Emotions?

Some people wonder whether dogs can experience emotions. The answer is, of course they can! If you’re lucky enough to have a dog as part of your family you’ll know they experience a range of emotions just like us. 

So what does the science say? Well, plenty of research shows that dogs have the same brain structure as we do. Gregory Berns, M.D., Ph.D., a professor using neuroscience to investigate the dog’s brain explains: we can see from an MRI of a dog brain that even though it is smaller than a human brain, all of the same basic structures are present.” This includes the structures that control emotions!

Further research even shows that dogs experience similar chemical changes as we do when we experience different emotions. A 2021 study found that dogs experienced a range of positive emotions when viewing a familiar face, such as their owners. 

Now we know that dogs experience emotions, let’s take a look at how they express them.

So, Why Do Pitbulls Smile?

There are a few reasons you might see these goofy, loveable dogs smiling. We’ll take a closer look at each reason and what they mean. 

Reason 1: Expressing Happiness and Relaxation

As we mentioned earlier, one of the main reasons Pitbulls smile is because they’re feeling relaxed and happy. They simply can’t help but tighten their cheeks and show off their smile!

This smile might happen during play, when they’re getting cuddles with you, on walks, or even when they’re just spending time with you. 

A Pitbull’s mouth is naturally wider than some other breeds, which gives them a more powerful jaw but can make it look even more like they’re smiling! The United Kennel Club states that: The muzzle is broad and deep with a very slight taper from the stop to the nose, and a slight falling away under the eyes.”

Reason 2: Positive Reaction from Humans

Dogs truly are our best friends and they love to make us happy. Impressively, dogs can read our body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions to understand our emotions. A detailed study on the topic discovered that dogs can obtain, “human emotional information from both auditory and visual inputs, and integrate them into a coherent perception of emotion”.  

So since dogs can understand our emotions, they know when they’re doing things that make us happy. Imagine this: they smile by chance and they look adorable, so you understandably give them lots of attention. You’re stroking them, smiling, laughing, taking pictures, and telling them how cute they are. They love pleasing you and getting your attention so they remember that. 

In the future, they’re likely to keep repeating the same action (the smiling) that evoked that response from you. If you’re busy, for example watching TV or reading a book, your dog might even use behaviors like smiling to grab your attention. 

Reason 3: Panting

Dogs pant to cool themselves down because they can’t sweat like us. Pet MD explains: “Panting allows a dog to rapidly inhale, humidify, then exhale the air, which increases the evaporation of water from your dog’s nose and lungs. The evaporation of water cools the body from the inside out.”

Dogs also pant when they’re happy and relaxed, when they’re stressed, and when they’re excited. When dogs pant their mouths are wide open and their tongues are out, which can make it look like they’re giving you an adorable grin. 

Reason 4: Social Interaction

Studies show that dogs can recognize emotions and social cues from humans and other dogs. They can use these cues to figure out how to react in order to build and strengthen bonds. Amazingly, that means your dog might use a variety of different ‘smiles’ to communicate with you and other dogs and strengthen those relationships. 

Reason 5: Submissive Smile

One of the smiles your pup might use to communicate is a submissive smile. They will show their front teeth with their lips pulled back. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) explains that this smile is usually combined with: “a lowered head, wagging tail, flattened ears, a soft body posture, and soft, squinty eyes along with those teeth.”

Dogs might use this submissive smile with humans and other dogs to indicate that they’re friendly and not a threat. They may use this smile when they feel uncomfortable or to express that they don’t like something. 

If your mischievous pooch has ever gotten into trouble for making a mess or eating something they shouldn’t, you might have seen this smile as a way to appease you and let you know they’re sorry. You’ve no doubt seen videos online of dogs displaying this funny-looking smile in reaction to being scolded by their humans. 

Reason 6: Mimicking 

Yep, you read that right: dogs can mimic us! Research has shown that our dogs observe us and mimic what we’re doing, including our body movements and behaviors. This means your dog might well smile when you smile.

Canine behavior consultant Kim Brophey states: “Dogs are masters at human behavior observation and manipulation. Their ancestry and experiences have informed them on how to be effectively charming.” 

Isn’t it fun to think about our dogs copying us and even trying to get more treats by smiling at us?

Do All Dogs Smile? 

We’ve talked about why Pitbulls smile, but what about other dogs? Most dogs will exhibit some smiling behavior for the same reasons we’ve discussed. However, not all dogs will smile when they’re relaxed in the same way as Pitbulls.

Likewise, not all dogs have that beautiful wide mouth like Pitbulls. This means they might not look like they’re smiling as much as Pitbulls do due to their face shape. 

How Else Do You Know if Your Pitbull Is Happy?

Now we know that smiling can be an indication that your dog is happy and relaxed, let’s take a look at some other indications of happiness. It can be useful to look at your dog’s whole body for signs of how they’re feeling to give you a clearer indication of their emotions.

When your dog is happy you might notice the following about their body language:

  • Tail wagging: We all know that a dog wags their tail when they’re happy. If your dog is happy, their tail will be at spine level or above and will wag loosely. Their wag will likely get faster the more excited they get. You might even see their bum wiggle! 
  • Relaxed eyes: Their eyes will be ‘soft’ and may even be narrow or closed: this is a sign of true relaxation. The ASPCA explains: “A relaxed dog will often squint, so that his eyes become almond-shaped with no white showing at all.”
  • Relaxed ears: A happy dog will have relaxed ears without tension or being pulled back. This will look different depending on the breed. 
  • Relaxed body: If your dog is relaxed, their body should lose tension and they will generally look at ease. 
  • Playful demeanor: If your pup is happy, they’ll often have a playful demeanor. They might exhibit the well-known play bow with their bum in the air and their chest lowered to the ground. They might jump around, spin, bring you toys to initiate play, play growl, or roll onto their back for the all-important belly rubs. 

Happiness also shows in your dog’s behavior. The following behaviors are signs of a happy and content dog:

  • A healthy appetite: A happy, healthy dog will usually eat consistently and eagerly (some dogs may be more food-motivated than others). 
  • Non-destructive: Happy dogs are unlikely to be destructive, so if they’re behaving well it’s a good sign that they’re content. Of course, we can’t count shedding as destructive though it might feel like it sometimes- even when it comes to the short haired pittie!
  • Playful, active, and engaged: If your pittie is full of energy, active, excited to go on walks (or runs), and often playful, it’s a great sign that they have a joyful life. 
  • Asking for attention: Happy hounds will often ask for attention, for example leaning against you, rolling over, or giving you those irresistible ‘puppy dog eyes’.
  • Sleeping well:  Content pitties sleep well throughout the night and will typically doze a lot during the day (when they aren’t busy snuggling with you or exploring the world around them, of course). 

How Can You Make Your Pitbull Smile?

Seeing a dog smiling is undeniably adorable, so if your Pitbull doesn’t smile you might feel as though you’re missing out. Don’t worry, there are a couple of ways you can encourage your dog to smile. 

Doing Things to Make Them Happy

We’ve learned that Pitbulls smile when they’re feeling relaxed and happy, so you can encourage them to smile by doing things that make them feel this way. It’s a good idea to make sure your dog is getting enough food, exercise, and attention. 

Dogs are happiest when they’re physically and mentally stimulated. It’s always fun to introduce new activities, games, and toys that get their mind working and keep them engaged. Training your dog with new commands is a fun way to work their mind and body. 

You are your dog’s favorite person, so you can make them happy by spending plenty of time with them and giving them lots of attention. This might include walks together, interactive playtime, lots of petting and stroking, and snuggling up to relax. Each dog is individual but you can experiment to see what type of interaction they like. 

Training Your Pittie to Smile 

If your pooch just isn’t a natural smiler, you could train them to smile. It’s a fun training exercise for your dog and once they get the hang of it, you can snap some cute pictures of them grinning. 

So, how do you train your dog to smile? If your pup exhibits a smiling behavior occasionally, you can simply wait until they show that behavior then pair it with the word ‘smile’ or tell them ‘good smile’. Give them a treat and lots of praise and they should soon get the hang of it. 

If your dog doesn’t smile at all, you can teach them how. You can follow the simple steps below to get started. Remember consistency and patience are key with any new command so don’t worry if your dog doesn’t get the hang of it right away. 

  • Firstly make sure your best pal is relaxed and at ease. It’s always a good idea to have plenty of training treats to hand. 
  • You can start by helping your dog understand what you want them to do. You could tickle your dog’s whiskers or gently lift your dog’s lips to show them what you want. It’s really important this is only done if your dog feels comfortable with it. If they show signs of discomfort, it’s important to stop. 
  • Pair this action with the command ‘smile’.
  • Give them lots of praise, a treat, and attention.
  • You can repeat this action a couple of times then try using the command ‘smile’ and see if they respond on their own. They might smile, or you may need to go over the steps again. 
  • You may need to work on this command over a period of weeks gradually until they get the hang of it. 

Remember to keep training sessions short so your dog doesn’t get bored or frustrated. It’s important to always end on a good note. Top tip: use a command they already know at the end of the session, so they end feeling positive and knowing they’ve done a good job. 

Should You Worry About Your Pitbull Smiling?

When dogs show their teeth, it can sometimes feel intimidating because we know that it can be an indicator of aggression. When it comes to Pitbulls, many people mistakenly think they’re aggressive or dangerous, which in general couldn’t be further from the truth. 

The United Kennel Club explains that Pitbulls are gentle, great with children, and are excellent family dogs due to their kind, loyal nature. Their breed characteristics even state that Pitbulls are: “not the best choice for a guard dog since they are extremely friendly, even with strangers. Aggressive behavior toward humans is uncharacteristic of the breed.”

So in general, no, your Pitbull smiling isn’t anything to worry about. However, when you own any dog breed it’s important to be able to recognize signs of your dog telling you that they are unhappy. Dogs display warning signs when they’re in this state of mind including wrinkling their lips and pulling them up to bear their front teeth. This won’t look like the smile we’ve discussed. 

The teeth bearing will be paired with hard, staring eyes, a tense forehead, and a stiff body. Your dog might also growl. When these signs are paired together, your dog is telling you they’re unhappy and it’s best to leave them alone for the time being until they calm down. 

In general, you don’t need to worry about your dog smiling. It’s usually fairly easy to see these warning signs and notice the difference from a relaxed smile. As an owner, you’ll likely be able to tell when your dog is smiling to get attention or because they’re happy. 

Closing Thoughts

Whether your Pitbull is smiling because they’re happy and relaxed, or because they want your attention, it’s a truly adorable sight. Rest assured that you can relax and enjoy your pup’s big grin. Plus it makes for a great social media picture!

What do you think? Does your Pitbull show that trademark smile?