Have You Seen Your Sheltie Smile?
Is the Sheltie smile real? Dog experts say yes, but it's not for the reason we necessarily think. Take a look at the evolutionary roots in wolf behavior and dog psychology that causes your Sheltie to beam at you.
The Sheltie smile is an endearing trait and it's not unique to Shetland Sheepdogs. But what's going on when they appear to smile? Are our dogs actually happy or are we just 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 a 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. 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) then back off quickly.
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 psychological effect of classical conditioning.
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 is a good thing. Your Sheltie needs to know you're the boss. It's his instinct to follow the pack leader and you create a happier lifestyle all round when you're able to ensure your dog is well behaved. So next time you see your Sheltie smile, give him a reward. Everyone wins.