I wonder if dogs can recognize smiles.
I’m sure the answer, or a scientific opinion, is in one of the many books I have about canine behavior and development. But rather than scouring those books for corroborative information I turned to the source of all knowledge: Google. Or as Holly calls it, “Uncle Google”. I firmly believe that one can find any answer they want – correct or otherwise – by searching the internet. Of course we all have our reliable sites that we trust, or search engines that may return more mainstream information than others. But bottom line if one digs deep enough one can find a plethora of information to support their opinion or beliefs.
So now realizing that Uncle Google is not a reliable source for something as important as learning if dogs can recognize smiles I turned to the real experts. My girls Kloe and Koda.
I sat them down in front of me and began the conversation…
“Girls, I need your help. I’m trying to figure out if you can recognize smiles and know what they mean”. The girls sit patiently waiting for a biscuit that doesn’t come. “Girls, please pay attention.” Koda lies down but continues to pay attention. Kloe is looking out the window for a ball. “Kloe – watch!” She does.
I go on to describe the smile to them. “Girls, as humans we smile in many ways for many reasons. We smile when something is funny; that smile may be accompanied by laughter. We smile at the end of movie with a happy ending or when the hero prevails. You’ve seen me do that, right? Sometimes we smile when we feel sorry or bad for someone; a smile that says, ” I feel bad for you and wish I could help”. At this point I’ve totally lost Koda who wonders off to the kitchen. Kloe stays close still believing there is a biscuit in her future.
I give one last example. I say, “And of course humans smile just at the site of puppies, or even the thought of puppies!” Kloe seems to be thinking back to the last time we brought a puppy home (Koda) and is reticent at the mention of puppies. Koda, who must have continued to listen from the kitchen, comes running over and again is sitting in front of me with full attention. A giant thought bubble appears over her head that says, “Puppies? Did you say Puppies? Because the other day Mom told me that I needed a puppy to keep me busy and to play with when Kloe didn’t want to play. Did you say Puppy? Are you really going to get me a puppy??”
I now realize this is an exercise in futility. The girls are staying nearby only because they think I have biscuits in my pocket. [Full disclosure – I may have promised a treat at some point to hold their attention]. I consider getting up, giving them a biscuit, and returning to Uncle Google if he will still have me. But I decide to try an experiment to see of dogs can recognize a smile.
“Ok girls” I say. “Sit down here together”. I return to my chair about 10 feet away. I stare at the girls. They stare back at me. I wait a moment for dramatic pause. And then, I smile. A big ear to ear smile. They run to me in unison and eagerly lick my face and my giant smile.
And there it is. The proof. Dogs do recognize smiles! My highly scientific experiment in a controlled setting with documented parameters and standardized measurements proves that dogs do recognize smiles!
Feeling very proud of myself and satisfied with my results I sit back to revel in the moment with my girls. They stare at me and both now have thought bubbles over their heads:
Kloe: “Where’s my biscuit?”
Koda: “Where’s my puppy?”
These girls of mine. How they make me smile!