Dax is my brindle shepherd mix former foster dog. She is a 70 pound ball of mush, especially with people she doesn't know. I've worked really hard with her on accepting strangers and she's much better except for this little quirk.
She bounds into the room to meet a new person, lowers her head, crouches a bit, bares her teeth, drops her jaw and wags her tail madly. If the person says anything positive, she then rolls onto her back with her feet up on the air, teeth still bared.
Somebody told me that the dog is trying to imitate a human "smile." I have my doubts.
Dax also does this when she has displeased me, or when one of the other pets is being scolded. She certainly doesn't growl--just smiles!
It certainly scares people who don't know dogs, but her body language screams submissive to me.
My friends dog does the same thing! You say "Smile Febi" and she almost looks like she is snarling but really is smiling! Also when i was over at my local shelter the other day, on a sign for one dog it said "I may look like i am snarling but i am really just smiling" or something along the lines of that. But i thought it was very strange but i dont think its anything to worry about. If it is a submissive posture than she is probably just "smiling"! But i thought it was weird when i first head of it too!
"Dogs arent our best friends...were their best friends" "People can think what they want about Pits...but only a true owner knows!" htt
My best friend's dog, Bundy, growls viciously when you pet him and he's really enjoying it. Like when they do the leg thing when you pet in just the right spot.. Well he growls, and it sounds scary and looks scary, just as you described, teeth bared. It doesn't look or sound any different from an angry growl. If you really love on him and sweet talk him he will do this. Terrifies people who don't know him. But that's just his way, and it means, "ahhh, that is nice, do it more!" I did have a video of it, but I have no clue where it might be now.
"Be who you are and say what you feel. Because those that matter, don't mind...And those that mind....don't matter."
Lips, teeth and tongue. A relaxed dog in normal posture may let his tongue loll out of his mouth. If he wants something from you, if he is happy or wants to play, he may pull his lips back in what appears to be a smile and show his teeth, an expression, by the way, dogs show only to humans and not to other dogs. But beware the dog that bares his clenched teeth and wrinkles his nose. He is ready to attack. http://www.petplace.com/dogs/what-is-your-dog-saying-a-key-to-canine-body-language/page1.aspx
From what you are describing, the behaviour and the context of the situation. Dax is DEFINATELY giving a submissive grin. You are right to take into account the rest of the body language, so many people do not. I have actually heard of a dog being put to sleep b/c their submissive grin was misunderstood as teeth baring. So sad! When Sierra rolls over on her back she almost always gives a grin. It is purely submissive, as dogs do not grin for pleasure as some people assume.
Some great books about dog 'language' and behaviour are by Stanley Coren. One is called "How Dog's Think", and the other one is called "How To Speak Dog". They are absolutely indispensible for me. Esp. since I have very pack oriented dogs that display behavior only seen in wolves. It helps to be able to intrepret what they are doing!
I don't want people who are prone to anthropomorphisizing (sp? LOL!) to misunderstand me. Dogs do give an expression that could be interpreted as a 'smile' when they are pleased, but it has more to do with an involuntary reaction than an actual expression of pleasure. Much like a dog kicking a leg when you rub a certain spot on their belly!
What the OP is describing is a submissive grin though.
Our last dog, who we believe was a golden retriever/terrier/Chesapeake used to do this! Every time he got really excited he would show all his teeth and sneeze all over you! Like mentioned in some other posts many people thought he was snarling at them and was being aggressive but he was a big loveable baby! Our vet gave him the nickname of “Walt Disney Dog” lol
My dogs are Australian Shepherds and they smile alot. There pups new owners said that they smile all the time. One of the puppies I have now started smiling when he got in trouble, and now smiles all the time.