Why Do Pitbulls Smile? (Pitbull Smiling Explained)

It’s a big, beautiful grin on the face of a dog that incites fear and sometimes loathing in society.

But why do Pitbulls smile? Is it really an expression of pure happiness, or are we just crediting a “dumb” animal with human emotions?

Should you trust that happy face, and do Pitbulls smile for special reasons?


Today, we’re going to explore one of the most engaging attributes of the Pitbull: its smile!

And rest assured, dogs do experience emotions in much the same we do. We’ll look at the evidence and the ways that you can make your Pitbull’s day. 

The Pitbull Smile: Do Dogs Experience Emotions?

Believe it or not, scientists have spent some time figuring out whether dogs experience emotions and which emotions we can expect from them. 

Thanks to their work, we know that the Pitbull smile has its roots in a brain that is structured much like ours is.

Dogs even secrete the same hormones as we do, including oxytocin, the hormone that helps with bonding and feelings of love and affection. 

With the emotional wiring and chemistry in place, we can be very sure that dogs really can experience happiness.

However, we need to understand that a dog’s brain is equivalent to that of a toddler – some scientists say that of a two to a three-year-old child. The range of emotions is not as great as ours. 

Apart from happiness, dogs experience affection, suspicion, anger, fear, disgust, contentment, distress, and excitement.

While pitbull owners may dispute this, pride, guilt, shame, and contempt are said to be beyond a dog’s emotional range. 

When Is The Pitbull Smile Not A Smile?

While Pitbulls certainly do experience happiness, their faces differ slightly from ours so that we can mistake other facial expressions for smiles.

Simply panting from exertion can be mistaken for a Pitbull smile. After all, that wide mouth and lolling tongue seem built for smiling. 

If you’re new to pet ownership, you might mistake bared teeth for smiling when it’s really a warning.

Some dogs imitate human smiles by baring their teeth, but it’s usually a warning sign rather than real a positive facial expression. 

Pitbulls Smile

While your dog can be both tired and happy at the same time and might be trying to copy your smile, panting or baring teeth are not necessarily the same as smiling.

We’ll look at the signs that your pitbull is showing his happy face next. 

We’ll also look at some of the reasons for smiling that don’t mean your dog is happy. It’s not an alien concept.

Even we are inclined to smile sometimes for social reasons rather than because we’re experiencing joy. But first, the smile itself!

What Does A Pitbull Smile Look Like?

Pitbull smiling involves slackening the jaw and allowing the tongue to hang out over the lower teeth. Observe your Puitbull’s body language.

It should appear relaxed. The eyes and eyelids also seem relaxed, the gaze bright yet soft, and they will blink frequently. 

Apart from looking at your dog’s appearance, you can also consider the context. The Pitbull smile could indicate a range of circumstances, and as we’ve noted, they may not mean that your dog is actually happy. 

Now that we know what a Pitbull smile looks like, let’s look at the reasons why your dog may be smiling at you and what you need to know about how he is feeling when he does so. 

Why Do Pitbulls Smile? X Reasons You Need To Know

Pitbull Smile

The Panting Smile

While panting doesn’t necessarily mean your dog is happy, Pitbulls love physical exercise and play. Of course, that means that they might smile and pant at the same time.

Your Pitbull smiling because it has just enjoyed a favorite game is different from the times he pants just because he is feeling overheated. 

Get to know your best friend’s facial expressions. You’ll soon see the difference between just being hot and being both hot and happy at once. It’s subtle, and you will need to take context into account. 

Submissive Pitbull Smiling

It’s the “you’re the boss” smile and you might equate it to something you’d do if trying to put a difficult client at ease or when you’re acknowledging that your boss at work is in charge.

When your Pitbull does this, he’s trying to show you that he sees you as the top dog. 

Your Pitbull will bare his teeth slightly in this smile, but that’s countered by half-closed, slightly squinting eyes and a submissive, lowered posture.

He’s showing that he won’t challenge you for dominance and he’s slightly ill at ease and is waiting for you to say what comes next. 

The Threatening Smile

It’s not just dogs that use this smile. Have you ever been really cross with your kids and given them an “I’m going to get you” grimace? Maybe you can identify!

This “smile” is a warning signal and you should realize that your dog’s patience is running out. The next step could be aggression!

In contrast to the submissive body language we discussed under submissive smiling, your Pitbull is tense with ears pulled back.

His grin, with lips (including the upper lip) pulled back from the teeth, may be accompanied by a warning growl. 

The circumstances should tell their own tale. Your Pitbull is stressed out and getting angry. If that smile is directed at you, you need to defuse the situation fast.

Be warned! Some dogs even wag their tails when they’re getting stressed and aggressive. Others just hold the tail in an upright, rigid position. 

Pitbulls Smiling: Reacting to Positive Feedback

You Pitbull is very attuned to your emotions and body language as well as your tone of voice. When your dog knows you’re pleased with what he’s done, he’s happy too. “I did good! Oh wow!”

When you’re giving your dog positive reinforcement for good behavior or something particularly impressive that he did, he knows you’re happy with him. That makes him happy too. 

Again, consider the scenario he is in and watch his body language. He looks relaxed. He makes eye contact. And this time, that wagging tail is unmistakably a sign of happiness. 

How do you give your Pitbull this positive feedback and get that awesome Pitbull smile? Just saying he’s a good boy and meaning it can be enough.

Petting adds to the pleasure, and if he hears laughter or sees you smiling, he interprets your emotions toward him and is pleased that he is the cause of them. 

Just Feeling Happy

You just arrived home and guess whose favorite person you are? Perhaps, your Pitbull has settled at your feet and feels content there.

Maybe you gave him a little treat just for the heck of it. Your Pitbull is just plain happy and content, and his goofy smile shows it. 

Yes, Pitbulls smile for no other reason than feeling happy, contented, and loved, even if you didn’t do anything special. 

Imitating You

Some dogs imitate the way their humans smile. It can seem rather like a threatening smile because your dog pulls his upper lip back from his teeth.

Some Pitbulls are very close to their owners and want to communicate by using facial expressions that are similar to theirs.

Pitbull Smiles

It’s not very common, but when it occurs, observant dog owners know it isn’t a threat display. 

Your Pitbull is clearly overjoyed. He might have difficulty sitting still. He’s giving you that happy body language. Gotta love it!

However, do be sure you know the difference between a happy, imitative smile and a threat display. Your dog reads your body language; learn to read his. 

Beyond the Pitbull Smile: Other Ways To Recognize Happiness

Do Pitbulls smile? By now, we know that they definitely do! But, as we noted earlier on, you need to combine the smile with the body language and circumstances to know whether you’re looking at a happy, smiling Pitbull. 

Let’s sum it all up here. 

Happy Pitbull Body Language

The happy tail wag is a good place to start. Remember that dogs sometimes also wag their tails when feeling uncomfortable.

The happy wag is a loose wag at or above spine level. You’ll often see this when your dog is both happy and excited, and sometimes the whole rear half of your Pitbull starts wagging too!

If you know your Pitbull as well as you should, you’ll also be able to recognize “smiling” eyes. The eyes narrow or even close and seem to have a soft, loving look. The whites of the eyes are not visible. 

Pitbulls not only have expressive eyes; they have expressive ears too. Pulled back ears are a warning sign. A relaxed Pitbull’s ears face forward and seem to be really relaxed.

Although happy excitement can mean lots of jumping around and playfulness, calm happiness shows in a relaxed posture.

There is no appearance of tension or being ready for action. Your Pitbull is just chilling!

Playful happiness is easily distinguished from real tension, though. When dogs want to play, they “bow” with heads and chests held low and the rear held high.

This might be coupled with jumping, spinning, or rolling over, and you might hear the “play” growl. 

Overall Happy Attitude Reflects in Behavior

Since even the saddest dog can have moments of happiness, you’ll want to know if your Pitbull is generally a happy animal. Its behavior can tell you a lot about his overall contentment. 

A happy healthy dog has a good, and reasonably predictable, appetite. And since Pitbulls are pretty smart, they’ll act out if they’re feeling bored or lonely. 

A destructive Pitbull is just, plain bored. While you may not be happy with his “naughtiness,” realize that your Pitbull needs constructive mental stimulation and that you probably aren’t providing enough of it.

Telling him off or punishing him is a form of attention, and it could even reinforce his destructive behavior since attention is what he needs. 

Perhaps your lively Pitbull needs more doggie walks or lacks company during the day. Address this issue as best you can.

Your Pitbull could even become dangerous if he isn’t getting enough positive interaction. Pitbulls will always defend you and your property. You don’t need to make them unhappy to have a good watchdog.

A happy Pitbull is a great companion. Almost always ready to play, eager to interact with you, and delighted with his walks, you can tell when your Pitbull is a happy camper.

Sometimes, your dog will approach you for love, lean against you, or give you that melting look of love. 

When they’re happy and comfortable and nothing unusual is happening, Pitbulls like a good night’s rest.

A constantly barking dog has reasons for barking and howling. It may be a conversation with another dog down the road, he may be announcing his presence to a passerby, or it could just be that your dog is cold or lonely. 

A Happy Pitbull Equals A Happy Pitbull Owner

A well-cared-for, loved, and well-socialized Pitbull is a wonderful pet. Your Pitbull really can be your best friend and a trusted companion, but like all the best relationships, it takes a little work on your part.

If you’re not ready to spend a lot of time with your dog and be sensitive to his needs for companionship, activity, and training, the Pitbull is not for you. 

If, on the other hand, you’re ready to go all-out as a pet owner, you can’t wish for a better dog than the Pitbull. Share those human to Pitbull smiles and enjoy!


Hi there, my name is Blake and I have an American Bully named Rocky. I fell in love with the breed around ten years ago after seeing some of my friends adopt a Bully. I love the combination of the muscular physique and calm, loyal companionship that the American Bully breed has to offer. My enthusiasm for the breed has led me to train as a dog behavioralist and trainer. Over the last ten years, I have supported many households in raising their American Bully and maximizing the potential of the breed. I’m delighted to share my knowledge and expertise on this site.

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