Dogs put a big smile on our faces, and frankly, who wouldn’t want to see their dog smile back? However, teaching a dog to smile on command can be a little more difficult than other tricks like “sit” and “stay”. Before you learn how to teach your dog to smile, it helps to understand why your dog sometimes smiles.
What does your dog’s smile mean?
There are various instinctive reasons why dogs appear to smile that may or may not be out of happiness.
Here are some of them.
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 them. 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 their ears alert, their tail raised, their 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.
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 they want to move away from whatever is causing their fear.
This is a peace-making gesture, as your dog is showing whoever they’re smiling at that they’re not a threat, 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 they might jump up and down when they’re smiling out of excitement.
How to Teach Your Dog to Smile: 3-step guide
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Wait to train your dog to smile when they’re 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 they’re being punished), use your fingers to lift the back of their lips upwards like a smile.
This is how your dog can start to associate the command with the movement of their 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 their favorite spot, and praise them. Repeat this several times.
Do a fun or relaxing activity with your dog, like a walk or playtime. Then command them to smile in the same happy voice and give them a treat.
You may need to use your fingers to make them smile again, but soon they should learn to do it on their own and associate the behavior with the “smile” command and a treat. This interval between training will keep them happy and help them remember the command later when you aren’t training.
Practice the “smile” command at least 3-5 times a day, and for no longer than 15 minutes at a time.
- Don’t attempt to teach your dog to smile if they’re biters. They 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 their mouth, and if you have an aggressive dog, you may get bitten.
- Similarly, don’t try to teach any dog this trick while they’re eating a meal, even if they’re not aggressive, as they may accidentally bite you without meaning to.
- You will probably have better luck teaching your dog other commands first, such as “sit” and “roll over”. Once they have mastered these more basic commands, you can move on to teaching them how to smile.
- Train in short bursts. 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.
- Don’t punish your dog if they don’t catch on to the command. This is counterproductive and they will associate training with punishment and will make them afraid of learning not only the smile command but other commands as well.
- Use small treats designed for training. You should be giving your dog lots of treats while teaching them a new command, and you don’t want them to get sick from too many treats or distracted by a chewy bone.
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).
Teaching your dog to smile can be a fun bonding experience when done correctly. It’s important to be patient, reward-focused, and consistent when teaching your pup new tricks. Practicing with your dog daily will help develop a positive connection between the command and the behavior.
Also, remember to keep the sessions short and fun for your dog, use rewards such as treats or extra playtime when they get it right, and don’t force any behavior or get frustrated if it doesn’t work out the first time.
With just a little bit of training, you’ll be able to get your furry friend to show off their pearly whites in no time!