Dogs put a big smile on our faces, and frankly, who wouldn’t want to see their dog smile back?
Teaching a dog to smile on command can be a little more difficult than other tricks like “sit” and “stay”. This is because there are various instinctive reasons why dogs appear to smile that may or may not be out of happiness.
Before you learn how to teach your dog to smile, it helps to understand why your dog sometimes smiles. Below are some of the reasons, as well as how to train your dog to smile on command, and a few important tips.
What Does Your Dog’s Smile Mean?
Dogs will curl their lips back and show their teeth to snarl in aggression. Your dog may do this when a stranger or another dog approaches him. Even though it may look like a smile because of the natural upward curvature of dogs’ lips, you can tell it’s a sign of aggression from the accompanying growl or snapping.
Your dog will also have his ears alert, his tail raised, his body tense, and look ready to spring forward. This is definitely not a display of happiness, nor how you want to teach your dog to smile.
Instead of snarling, some dogs may react to a stranger or other dog with a sort of smile of submission. This shows they’re uncomfortable and afraid and want to be left alone. The submissive smile is usually accompanied by pinned back ears, sitting, and tucking the tail between the legs.
Instead of moving towards whatever is causing their distress, like the aggressive snarl, your dog’s body language will show that he wants to move away from whatever is causing his fear. This is a peace-making gesture, as your dog is showing whoever he’s smiling at that he’s not a threat and want to be left alone, but is also a warning to back off as this could escalate to aggression.
Not all reasons why dogs appear to smile are for negative reasons. Dogs also tend to pant with their mouths slightly open as a sign of happiness or eager anticipation, like during playtime or when they know they’re about to receive a treat.
This association with smiling can make it easier for you to teach your dog the smile command. Usually, your dog’s tail will wag, and he might jump up and down when he’s smiling out of excitement.
Just because there are many reasons why dogs appear to smile doesn’t mean that it’s bad or impossible to teach your dog to smile on command.
It just means that he naturally already associates what we think of as smiling with aggression or fear, as well as happiness. You just need to be sure you’re timing your training correctly so that your dog knows what it is you want him to learn to do.
Training your pup new commands can be a fun bonding experience for both you and your dog when done correctly.
How to Teach Your Dog to Smile: Training Tips
Wait to train your dog to smile when he’s in a happy, calm, and relaxed state, such as after playing or cuddling. Then, while saying “Smile!” in a happy voice (your tone is important because you don’t want your dog to think he’s being punished), use your fingers to lift the back of his lips upwards like a smile. This is how your dog can start to associate the command with the movement of his mouth.
Hold a treat in one hand while using the other hand to hold your dog’s lips up and saying the command “Smile!” in a happy voice. Then give your dog the treat, scratch his favorite spot and praise him. Repeat this several times.
Do a fun or relaxing activity with your dog, like a walk, playtime, or cuddling. Then command your dog to smile in the same happy voice and give him a treat. You may need to use your fingers to make him smile again, but soon he should learn to do it on his own and associate the behavior with the smile command and a treat. This interval between training will keep him happy and help him remember the command later when you aren’t training.
1. Don’t attempt to teach your dog to smile if he’s a biter. He will first need to be trained not to bite. Much of training your dog to do this trick revolves around you putting your hands around your dog’s mouth, and if you have an aggressive dog you may get bitten. Also, don’t try to teach any dog this trick while he’s eating a meal, even if he’s not aggressive, as he may accidentally bite you without meaning to.
2. You’ll probably have better luck teaching your dog other commands first, such as “sit” and “roll over”. Once he has mastered these more basic commands, you can move on to teaching him how to smile.
3. Train in short bursts instead of for long periods of time. If your dog isn’t understanding the command, leave it for a while and come back to it. Training for short intervals works best and keeps your dog from becoming confused.
4. Don’t punish your dog if he doesn’t catch on to the command. This is counterproductive and he will associate training with punishment and will make him afraid of learning not only the smile command, but other commands as well.
5. You should be giving your dog lots of treats while teaching him a new command. Use small treats designed for training. You don’t want to be rewarding your dog during training with giant rawhides or even the normal-sized treats that you may give him once in a while as a bribe or reward. There are treats that will say they’re designed for training on the packaging and are very small (usually about the size of one piece of dry dog food, or just smaller than a dime).
Li-ran is the Founder and Executive Editor at PuppyTip. He is a holistic pet parent and believes that dogs can teach us more than we could ever teach them. He also loves cooking, especially for his dog, Richie!