Sheltie Planet

The Sheltie Smile


By Rebecca Turner

Is the Sheltie smile real? Experts say yes - but it's not why we think. Discover the real reason behind the Shetland Sheepdog smile.

The Sheltie smile

The Sheltie smile

The Sheltie smile is an endearing trait - and it's not entirely unique to Shetland Sheepdogs.

But what's really going on? Are dogs happy or are we anthropomorphizing them?

What The Experts Say

Can dogs really smile? The experts say yes, but not for the reason we imagine. Apparently, wolves appear to smile to indicate submission to another wolf. Equally, dogs instinctively interpret this grin as sign of submission; telling them that this particular dog isn't a threat to them.

So it makes sense that confident, alpha dogs rarely smile - as they have no desire to show their submission to anyone. And since Shelties are usually gentle, submissive dogs, you're more likely to see them submit with a Sheltie smile.

The only exception to this rule is when dogs "laugh" with their upper teeth bared. This is not at all submissive, but is a sign of aggression. If you see a dog making this face (including dear sweet Shelties) than back off quick!

When The Sheltie Smile Becomes Real

If you think the Shetland Sheepdog smile has just lost its magic... think again. Because experts also concede that eventually a dog's laugh can actually become genuine over time, thanks to the phenomenon of classical conditioning.

Shetland Sheepdog Smile

Piper gets a hug for his Sheltie smile!

Remember the famous experiment known as Pavlov's Dogs? Ivan Pavlov, the Russian psychologist, repeatedly rang a bell before giving dogs their dinner. Soon, the dogs began salivating when they heard the bell but there was no food present.

Like Pavlov's Dogs, to reinforce the Sheltie smile, you need to repeatedly reward the behavior: a belly rub, a dog treat, or a nice pat on the head. In this way, we're conditioning our dog's laugh by rewarding this cute behavior every time we see it.

Conditioning this kind of submissive behavior in your pet dog can only be a good thing. Your Sheltie must learn that you are the boss - it's their instinct to follow the leader - and it will lead to a much happier lifestyle all round when your dog is well behaved. So next time you see your Sheltie smile, give them a reward - everyone wins.

More Sheltie Smiles...

This is such a gorgeous Sheltie trait I decided to dedicate an excessive amount of pictures to it.

Howard gives a Sheltie smile

Howard gives a Sheltie smile

Can Dogs Laugh?

Piper was all smiles that day

Howard Smiles

Howard looks very content lying on my pillow

Piper Smiles

Ears up = Piper wants to play!

Sheltie Puppy Smile

Howard mastered the Sheltie smile as a puppy

About The Author

Rebecca Turner is the creator of Sheltie Planet where she writes about her love of Shetland Sheepdogs, inspired by her two Shelties, Howard and Piper. Learn more about Rebecca. Chat with our online Sheltie community on Facebook, Twitter and our Sheltie Forum.