by Sam Mazzotta
DEAR PAW’S CORNER: How do dogs learn to smile? Years ago, I adopted an 8-year-old Borzoi that had been terribly abused. “Frank” was a very fearful dog, but with lots of patience and TLC, he calmed down quite a bit and even accepted my other dog, “Farley.” One evening while lying on the couch, Frank looked at me and bared his teeth. I thought he was snarling at me, but when I asked another Borzoi owner about it, he said Frank was smiling! Does a dog relate “happy” with smiling? – K.H.S., Fairport, N.Y.
DEAR K.H.S.: Normally, when a dog appears to be “smiling” he either really is baring his teeth (and growling, which is not a happy sound) to warn someone off, or his demeanor – slightly open mouth, tongue hanging out and a general air of happiness -makes one think he is smiling even if it’s not a genuine “human” smile.
But I thought that an experienced owner saying that a dog was actually smiling was unusual, so I looked up some information on the breed. And indeed, the Borzoi (or Russian Wolfhound) has this neat little trait: The submissive gesture for this gentle giant of a dog is to curl back his lips and expose his teeth. The “smile” on a Borzoi looks so much like a snarl that most strangers will quickly back away.
So, kudos to you on bringing Frank around, from a shy abuse victim to a loving companion who returned to the natural behaviors of a Borzoi: lounging on the couch and enjoying the company of his family. Thanks for a great story.