Smile Muscle: The muscles involved in a genuine canine smile

Full Title: Smile Muscle: The muscles involved in a genuine canine smile

Author: Margaret Szedenits

Date of Publication: October 31, 2012


Research Paper Text:

As with humans the pulling back of the lips of the canine does not always mean friendly intentions. The pulling back of a dog’s lips with an open mouth should be taken in context. It is important to see how the dog’s eyes appear. For a smile they are soft with the eyelids relaxed and even partly closed. Often a dog’s tongue is hanging out when smiling. The muscles that open a dog’s mouth, pull back the lips, close the eyelid, and protrude the tongue are listed below .

Zygomaticus major and minor

  • Origin: Zygomatic bone, Insertion; angle of mouth
  • Action: To fix the angle of the mouth and draw it back (1)

Levator labii superioris

  • Arises on the lateral aspect of the face and runs dorsorostrally to form (with its opposite side) a common tendon that descends into the lip between the nostrils
  • Action: Elevates the medial part of the upper lip (1)

Levator nasolabialis

  • A flat muscle lying beneath the skin on the lateral surface of the maxillary bone. It arises from the maxillary bone, over the dorsum of the nose, courses rostroventrally, and attaches partly to the lateral part of the upper lip and partly to the wing of the nostril
  • Action: It is able to dilate the nostril and elevate and retract the upper lip (1)


  • Arises from the paracondylar process of the occipital bone and is inserted on the body of the mandible. A tendinous intersection crosses its belly and divides it into rostral and caudal parts.
  • Action: It acts to open the jaws. When the mouth is closed, contraction raises the hyoid apparatus. The rostral portion is innervated by the mandibular nerve and the caudal belly is innervated by the facial nerve. (1)

Incisivus superioris

  • lies deep to the orbicularis oris. Not clearly defined from the obicularis and buccinator. It arises on the alveolar borders of the incisive bone and mandible as far as the corner of the incisor teeth and are situated immediately beneath the mucosa of the lips.
  • Action: raises the upper lip (2)

Orbicularis Oculi

  • A sphincter that surrounds the palpebral fissure, the opening between the lids. It is attached medial to the medial palpebral ligament and laterally blends with the retractor anguli oculi lateralis muscle. It narrows the opening to a horizontal slit when it contracts (blinking).Innervated by the auriculopalpebral branch of the facial nerve (1)


  • Arises from the intermandibular articulation and adjacent surface of the body of the mandible. Joins its fellow at the median plane and is bounded medially by the geniohyoideus and laterally by the hyoglossus. It lies partly in the frenulum. It is a lingual muscle. Its caudal fibers protrude the tongue, and its rostral ones retract the apex. Innervated by the hypoglossal nerve (1)


  2. Evans, Howard, Ph.D., 1993. Miller’s Anatomy of the Dog, 3rd Edition. Philadelphia. Saunders. pp. 266-271
  3. Picture of smiling canine (with snowy muzzle) courtesy of David Wilde, all rights reserved.

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