Don’t you love it when your dog looks up at you and it looks like they’re smiling? If you’re anything like most dog owners, it makes you want to run over to them and give them a big fat hug!
Of course, deep down we know that dogs don’t smile for the same reason humans do. But still, that dog smile is super adorable. If you want to see more of it, you might be thinking to yourself, “I’ve taught my dog how to sit, stay, and lay down. I wonder if I can teach my dog how to smile?”
The answer is YES! Believe it or not, you can teach your dog to smile on command.
If you want to know how to make your dog smile, you first need to figure out a method to get them to show their teeth. This could include tickling their whiskers, tickling their cheeks, or lifting the side of their lips. Each time they show their teeth, give them a command such as “smile” and then reward your dog with a treat. It may take some patience, but they’ll eventually learn to smile on command.
In this article, we will go into more detail on the method mentioned above. But first, we need to go over some dog training basics.
Dog Training 101
Before we dive into the details on how to make your dog smile, you must understand the basics of dog training. If not, it’s going to be a frustrating process for both you and your dog. If you’re already experienced with training dogs, you can skip this section.
The biggest mistake dog owners make when trying to train their dog is not providing the dog with a reward the very moment the dog does the action they want. For example, when you are teaching your dog to sit, don’t wait for them to stand up and then reward them, give them the reward while they’re still sitting.
I know we want our dogs to learn new tricks in one day, and because of that, we will spend hours with them trying to “force” them to learn a new trick. Long training sessions are not good for your dog. Keep the sessions to no more than 20 minutes. If 20 minutes goes by and it seems like your dog isn’t understanding, take a break and try again later that day or the next day. If you push it too long, your dog will become confused and frustrated.
Make it Fun
This rule goes along with the overtraining rule. Both you AND your dog should have fun during the training process. Each time your dog does something you want, get excited and talk cheerfully to them. Dogs love seeing their owners excited! Make sure you never scold your dog when training.
It Takes Time
The last rule to remember is that it takes time, and some dogs learn at a different pace than other dogs. Just because your neighbor’s dog learned a trick in two days doesn’t mean your dog will. Continue to be patient and have fun with them until they learn. If you’re consistent enough, they’ll eventually catch on.
Warning: Smiling On Command is an Advanced Trick
Getting your dog to smile on command is an advanced trick. If your dog doesn’t know the basic commands such as “sit,” “stay,” or “lay down,” make sure you teach them the basic commands before you begin teaching your dog how to smile.
The reason this is an advanced trick is that it goes against dogs’ natural instincts. The reason it’s easy to teach dogs the basics, such as sit or lay down, is because those are things they’ll naturally do. Smiling is NOT a natural instinct for your dog. On top of that, dogs usually don’t show their teeth unless they’re growling, so you’ll be teaching them something that they usually only do when they’re aggressive.
How to Make Your Dog Smile – The 3 Step Method
Below we will break down how to teach your dog to smile into three steps. These steps are not complicated, it just takes time and patience.
Step 1: Find a Method to Get Them to Show Their Teeth
Dogs have no idea what smiling means. To them, you’re just trying to get them to show their teeth. So instead of thinking “How can I make my dog smile?” What you should really be thinking is “How can I make my dog show teeth?”
Getting your dog to show teeth can be easier said than done. Below we will go over a few methods that we’ve used to get dogs to show their teeth. These methods won’t work for all dogs, so you might need to be creative and think of your own ways to get your dog to show their teeth.
1: Whisker Tickle
This method will work for MOST dogs, but it might just annoy other dogs. The method is as simple as it sounds. When your dog is relaxed, begin tickling the whiskers on both sides of the cheek. See if your dog will show their teeth. If they do, great! If not, we have a few more methods you can try.
Remember to tickle the whiskers on BOTH sides of the cheeks. If you only tickle one side, you’ll be teaching them to smile with just one side.
2: Cheek Tickle
This is very similar to the method above, but instead of tickling their whiskers, you’ll tickle their cheeks. If your dog didn’t respond to the whiskey tickle, try the cheek tickle.
3: Toothbrush Trick
The toothbrush trick only works if you brush your dog’s teeth regularly. If you have been brushing your dog’s teeth for a couple months, they know that they need to show their teeth when you need to brush them. Some dogs reach the point where they’ll automatically show teeth when you show them the toothbrush.
4: Physically Lift the Side Lips
If none of the above methods worked to get your dog to show teeth, the last thing you can do is to physically lift their lips to reveal their teeth. This method should be saved for last because training usually goes much faster when you can get a dog to do something on their own instead of forcing the action.
Step 2: Create The Association
Now that you’ve figured out a method that will get your dog to show their teeth, it’s time to begin the actual training. The best way to train dogs is to create a positive association that goes along with a specific action. In this case, that action would be smiling.
The goal with this training is to create an association in your dog’s brain that showing teeth equals a reward. If your dog is clicker trained, use a clicker. If they aren’t clicker trained, treats will work just fine (but make sure you don’t overdo it on the treats!)
Begin by performing whatever method you’ve decided to use to get your dog to show their teeth. As they’re showing teeth, say the command “smile,” “say cheese!” or whatever you decide you want the command to be. Immediately after, give them a treat or use the clicker.
Remember, timing is everything here. Don’t wait until after your dog is no longer smiling to give them praise and treats. If you wait too long, your dog won’t be sure if they’re being rewarded for showing their teeth or for not showing their teeth. You must praise and reward them AS their teeth are showing.
Step 3: Use The Verbal Command Only
This step is going to be very similar to step 2, except the goal of step 3 is to get your dog to smile without touching them (not tickling their whiskers or forcing the lips up).
If your dog won’t smile on command only, that’s ok! It takes time. Just return back to step 2 of forcing a smile and come back to step 3 a few days later.
It’s normal to go back and forth between steps 2 and 3 multiple times when training. Sooner or later, your dog will catch on to the command and begin smiling without it being forced.
Is My Dog Actually Happy When Smiling?
We get asked this question quite often. The truth is, in most instances, dogs have no idea what a smile means. However, some dogs are excellent at picking up on human body language and know that when a human smiles, it means they’re happy. Dogs that are excellent at picking up on human body language also tend to mimic our body language.
This doesn’t mean that all dogs are happy when they smile. Still, there is enough evidence to suggest that some dogs are mimicking human behavior and are actually happy when they smile.
Have Fun and Be Patient
The key to teaching your dog how to smile is to have fun and be patient. Remember, smiling goes against dogs’ natural instincts. The only time they show teeth is when they’re aggressive and growling. Teaching a dog to do something that goes against their natural instincts will always take more time and effort than teaching them how to do something simple such as sit or stay.
Have fun with the training and use it as a time to bond with your dog. In the end, you should both be smiling.
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