18 Happy Photos of Smiling Animals

A Fallow deer smiles for the camera in Quebec. Jamie McCaffrey/Flickr

A smile clues us in that a person is happy, but what about when an animal appears to be smiling?

Attributing human characteristics to animals is known as anthropomorphizing, and until recently, that’s what most animal behaviorists would say we were doing if we described a dog or other animal as smiling.

But new research reveals there's a possibility that some animals are actually expressing happiness when they "smile."

The idea isn't a new one. In 1872, Charles Darwin wrote about dogs that "grinned" and monkeys that "chuckled" when tickled.

However, modern science is still unclear on how much animals feel and what kind of emotions they experience.

Recent research at Emory University found that dogs have the capacity for emotion, and Nicholas Dodman, head of animal behavior at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, says that dogs even have a sense of humor they express by "laughing."

A dog laugh sounds like a breathy forced exhalation, and a 2005 study found that when the vocalization is played at animal shelters, the shelter dogs' stress levels drop.

Dodman believes that scientists have been underestimating the emotional range of animals, especially more domesticated species like cats and dogs, and in the past decade, several theories have even emerged that "attribute primary emotions like fear, sadness, anger and happiness — and even some secondary emotions like jealousy and embarrassment — to animals," according to the Ecology Global Network.

Still, just because an animal appears to be smiling doesn't necessarily mean it is. In the animal kingdom, exposure of teeth can be a threat or even a sign of fear or submission.

Below, take a look at some happy-looking animals and decide for yourself: Do you think they're smiling?

A mother orangutan smiles with her baby
An orangutan shows a mother's happiness with a smile. Jordi Payà/Flickr
A white dog offers a huge smile
This pup is smiling through a dog-eat-dog-world. きうこ/Flickr
A gator offers a toothy grin
Maybe he's just able to see lunch. Tambako The Jaguar/Flickr
Owl smiles with an open beak
Even during the day, this owl offers a smile. merec0/Flickr
Dog gives a big grin
This is probably the happiest dog ever. theVisionaryAgency/Flickr
shoebill gull has a slight smile
Some smiles, like the shoebill's, are very subtle. Milestoned/Flickr
Fangy grin from a cat
A fang-like grin from a cat isn't anything to worry about. Nicolas Connault/Flickr
A bear gives a grin full of teeth
Like the gator, this bear is looking forward to a snack. AleGranholm/Flickr
Dolphin at an aquarium gives big smile
This dolphin is more than happy to give a big smile. Kamal Aboul-Hosn/Flickr
Open-beak smile from an emu
This emu is happy to be here today. merec0/Flickr
Contented goat smile
Not every smile needs to be huge, as this goat proves. Avery/Flickr
Smiling pug
This pug is very happy to be at the park. Heather Paul/Flickr
Sheep smile at sunset
Nothing sheepish about this smile!. Ozzy Delaney/Flickr
Smiling elephant
You'll never forget this elephant's smile. Ben Furneaux/Flickr
Monkey offers a huge smile
This is the biggest smile ever. Tim Simpson/Flickr
Contented smile from tiny dog
A big smile from a tiny dog. wsilver/Flickr
Quokka smile
This quokka offers the cutest, most adorable smile. Jin Xiang/Flickr