A dog's secret weapon
I was thinking about dogs the other day, thinking about what it is that I love so much about the creatures. I’ve always had a pretty clear-cut idea about the specific traits I like. I like big rather than small, almond-shaped eyes, spots (I really love spots), narrow snout, black nose, floppy ears, down-turning tail, smart, reasonably calm, and so on.
A dog-smile is transforming. It is beautiful, open, honest, and invites you in. There is no hidden agenda. There is no such thing as a dangerous dog when it is happily smiling, with eyes shining and mouth agape in that goofy slack-jawed way. The smile that says “OMG, I am so amazingly happy!”
There’s no mistaking a real dog-smile because the eyes light up. They gleam, glazing over with mindless dog over-joy. All the 'signs' that you're supposed to know before approaching a strange dog are probably valid, but really, if a smile is there and it can be seen in the eyes as well as the mouth, you're pretty much good to go. You can always tell a real dog-smile by the eyes.
Some breeds have goofy smiles. English Bulldogs, for example (and probably all breeds with the same kind of shoved-in snout) seem to do it differently. They don’t go all slack-jaw on you when they smile, instead they present their bottom teeth at you. I don’t mean that they bare the teeth, but rather the bottom teeth stick out from the mostly closed mouth. It’s weird, but very cute. Different dogs, different smiles, all good. A friend of mine had a dog long ago, a dog who had his own highly unique smile. Misty had figured out how to smile just like a human, with lips curling back over the teeth. The result was a decidedly grotesque and twisted smile, but totally hilarious and sweet to see.
All breeds smile, or at least I think they do. One day, while sitting on a bench along a multi-purpose path, a pitbull came charging at us, out from nowhere, off-leash. Now, I am not comfortable with pitbulls (which apparently in today’s over-the-top world means that I am a sniveling coward) because I had heretofore never seen one smile, but this particular pitbull was absolutely adorable, he was a roly-poly thing, quite young I think, and had the biggest smile imaginable on his face. The eyes were shining practically to the point of tears, and he raced up to us and stood there smiling hysterically at us. I can't explain it better than that, the dog was definitely smiling hysterically. It was off-the-charts happy, and we needed to know this, he was sure of it, so he stood there radiating joy in our direction. He made us laugh so hard, and we patted, as best we could, his crazy wiggling dog-self, at which point he drowned us with water from his recent swim. His human finally showed up, a little abashed, and led him away.
I don’t see as many little dogs smiling. Maybe they don’t smile as much because they all too often have the burden of being the alpha member of the household. It’s a hard job, and not a job a dog ever wants. They take it on only because nobody else in the household is up for it, but it’s stressful for them. The smiling little ones, though, win me over just as the big ones do.
Then, of course, there’s the Golden Retriever, the all-time Mega-watt Smiler. They appear to be so constantly pleased about being a dog that they never ever ever stop smiling. Everything they do, everywhere they go, they smile big at you as if to say, “I’m a DOG! I’m a DOG! Whadda ya know about that, eh? A real live DOG!!” I can only imagine life at home with a Golden. “Bad dog!” . . . smile! smile! smile! . . . “Yes! Thank you! I’m a DOG! I’m a DOG! Whadda ya know about that, eh? A real live DOG!! Woof.”
Our Border Collie, Angus, had the most beautiful smile imaginable, but it was conditional. It had so many clauses, conditions and tort-related exceptions that it’s a wonder he ever smiled at all. Sometimes he’d be smiling happily until I smiled back at him, at which point he would stop smiling and turn his back to me, his happiness ruined by me (and they say that dogs never judge you). Other times he’d look very grim, and we’d kind of stare at each other, being grim together, then slowly, very very slowly, a smile would work its way onto his face. Then we’d stare at each other, being all smiley.
At any rate, I love being on the receiving end of a dog-smile, it makes my entire day. That’s the thing with dogs. Whatever size, shape, colour or personality, most dogs have one thing in common, they can make any day just seem all that much better. And when they smile at you, you get to share for a moment in their easy mindless happiness. And that’s a very good thing.
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