Smile ‘science’ off when it comes to this happy pooch
“Take a look at this guy, Jeannie,” the woman behind the counter at the vet’s office said to her coworker, who was busily flipping through charts. “He’s got the best smile I’ve seen all day.”
It was my dog Ash they were talking about. I straightened my shoulders with pride. You’d have thought I’d birthed Ash myself, as puffed up as I get when he’s complimented.
“And would you look at that bandana,” Jeannie said. “That dog is styling!”
Ash has developed an affinity for natty neckwear and was sporting a bold red paisley number, more commonly favored by farmers.
“Dogs don’t really smile, you know,” said a woman who was seated nearby. On her lap was (I’m not making this up) an excessively bedazzled pink and purple cat carrier. “People always insist their dogs are smiling,” she said, “but science says otherwise.”
She punctuated her words with such an intense look of smug self-assurance that I hesitated to refute her silly claim, knowing it would be a wild waste of time. But since I was early for my appointment, I figured what the heck?
“So if that isn’t a smile, what is it?” I asked.
“He’s nervous,” she said. “Obviously.”
It would’ve made sense for Ash to be anxious, as he left his last veterinary visit with fewer parts than he’d had when he arrived. But to demonstrate the complete and utter wrongness of the Bedazzler’s assessment, Ash flopped onto his back, exposing his stomach. I began scrubbing his belly with my toes. Ash air-kicked his hind legs while smiling broadly. I mean, while expressing his extreme nervousness and apparent desire to race from the building by way of the ceiling. But alas, his long legs were not long enough, so he made do with a full squirm and goofy grin. I mean, nervous smile.
“Ah,” she said, with a knowing nod. “Now he’s displaying passive submissiveness. What you thought was a smile was him mimicking what he’s seen humans do. He’s just copying you.”
The idea of dogs mimicking human behavior isn’t new to me. While it may seem odd for a dog to be a copycat, that’s been Ash from the start.
We’d only had him a few months when Ash followed me into the bedroom and stood watching as I stripped the bed and began putting on
fresh bedding. I snapped the top sheet, lofted it briefly into the air, and then allowed it to settle into place on the bed. He watched as I did the same with the blanket — first into the air, and then tugging it down into place.
When it came time for me to do the final piece, Ash was ready. I flipped our puffy comforter up and then let it drift down, where it settled about halfway down the bed. I’d just grabbed the corner nearest me when Ash stood on hind legs and grabbed the opposite corner in his teeth. At the same time as me, he tugged it down over the edge of the bed.
It was like discovering my dog was a Disney creation. I glanced about, fully expecting to see woodland creatures folding my laundry and scrubbing my floors, but my luck was limited to a bed-making dog.
For the record, it was a single occurrence. While Ash still occasionally grabs a blanket to make a bed, it’s just a bed for himself.
He did, however, mimic me in the garden a few weeks ago. I was attempting to remove all the ivy from a long section of our yard. Ash watched as I yanked out one long vine after another and decided this was a task where he could assist. He claimed a section of ground as his own and cleared out not only the vines, but also several rocks and part of a stump. Along with somewhere around a quarter acre of dirt.
And no matter what the woman at the vet’s office might think, that dog was smiling the whole time he was doing it.
And so was his owner.
Karin Fuller can be reached via email at email@example.com.
“It was like discovering my dog was a Disney creation. I glanced about, fully expecting to see woodland creatures folding my laundry and scrubbing my floors...”