How to Train Your Dog to Say Cheese

Medium
2-6 Weeks
Fun

Introduction

Is your dog always ready to pose for the camera? Often they look away or move their heads just as you click the button. Make sure your dog is camera ready when you are by teaching him to smile and "say cheese" on command. Not only does this fun party trick make for great photos, but it's also a good way to bond with your dog and impress your friends.

Most dogs don't naturally smile when they are happy, but they may appear to grin naturally when they are panting or relaxed. Just like other natural dog behaviors such as sitting or laying down, you can teach your pup to "smile" on command with some patience and practice. Teaching your dog to "say cheese," requires you to be close with your dog and understand his mood. If you sense he's getting nervous or agitated, back off from the trick. Only attempt this training with a dog who is happy, relaxed, and ready to learn.

Defining Tasks

Teaching your dog to 'say cheese' takes patience and precision. You will be marking a behavior your dog may not normally do, and it will take time for him to understand the command you want. Go slowly and take your time with each phase.

During this trick, you will be working closely with your dog's mouth, so it may be more appropriate for older dogs who have already learned that hands aren't chew toys. Practice this trick for short durations of time, with plenty of play time in between. If you practice for an hour, only half of that should be training the rest should be play. 

Getting Started

To begin this training, make sure you have a strong bond with your dog, and only practice when he's not stressed or anxious. This skill takes a lot of trust both for you and your dog. To get started you will need:

  • A clicker to mark the action you want.
  • Treats to reward your pup.
  • A calm and relaxed dog.

Below are three different methods you can try to teach your dog to 'say cheese' on command. Each dog is different, so test them out to find the best fit for you and your pup. Soon your social media feeds will be full of your dog and his winning smile.

The Clicker Method

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Step
1
Load the clicker
Teach your dog to associate the clicker with treats. Click the clicker and immediately treat your dog. Do this 10 to 20 times in a row.
Step
2
Get him to "smile"
Tickle his whiskers, hold out his favorite toy, rub his belly, try anything you can until he pulls back his lips into a grin.
Step
3
Mark his smile
When he opens his mouth or lifts his lips, click the clicker and give him a treat.
Step
4
Name the behavior
Once your dog understands that lifting his lips and smiling is the behavior you want, say "say cheese" as you hit the clicker, then treat him.
Step
5
Remove the clicker
After your dog begins to understand the command, take away the clicker and use only "say cheese" to ask for the smile. When he gives you his best grin, give him a treat.
Step
6
Practice
Practice this trick for up to an hour per day, making sure to take breaks for playing and resetting. This kind of work is exhausting for your dog.
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The Helping Hand Method

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Step
1
Make your dog comfortable
Make sure your dog is in a relaxed state. Try this trick after a fun play session and without distractions.
Step
2
Lift his lips
Take your fingers and manually lift his lips so his teeth are showing.
Step
3
Tell him to "say cheese'
Tell your dog "say cheese," and then give him a treat.
Step
4
Repeat
Repeat this sequence until your dog begins to associate lifting his lips with the "say cheese" command.
Step
5
Take away your hand
Ask him to "say cheese" without you pushing his lips up. When he does this give him plenty of treats and rewards.
Step
6
Phase out treats
Once he's smiling on his own, start to treat him every third or fourth time. Gradually decrease the number of times you give him treats until he's smiling every time you ask.
Recommend training method?

The Playtime Method

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Step
1
Choose a distraction-free space
Find a quiet and distraction-free space to practice.
Step
2
Encourage his smile
Start to play with your dog. Each time he smiles when you rub his belly or scratch his back, show him excitement and encouragement.
Step
3
Begin to reward each grin
Once you know what makes your dog smile or open his mouth, begin to give him treats each time he does it.
Step
4
Introduce the command
Once your dog knows he's getting treats for curling his lips, begin to introduce the command "say cheese."
Step
5
Reduce the treats
Now that he knows "say cheese" means to smile, only treat him every third or fourth time he obeys the command.
Step
6
Take him on the road
Now that you have a camera-ready dog, let him show off his new trick to friends and family.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

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Sketch of smiling australian shepherd