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He may be small, but his personality is huge. He's always looking for attention when guests are over. But while he may be content with cuddles, you'd like to put his energy to good use and teach him a neat trick. While loads of dogs can roll over, not so many can smile on command. He's also the perfect canine candidate for the smiling trick because he's got a great big set of teeth for a little dog.
Training him to smile on cue is guaranteed to draw a chuckle, even from straight-faced in-laws. It also makes for a great way for you and Fido to bond together. Not to mention he will quickly go social media famous when selfies of you and your grinning dog appear. Finally, accomplishing this type of training will make it easier to teach him a range of other commands too.
It’s actually much easier than many people realize to teach your little dog to show his teeth. The main hurdle is getting him to understand what you want him to do at the beginning. But once he knows that, you just need to cement the habit by dishing out treats and toys. In fact, the majority of training is about consistent practice.
It’s good news if Fido is still a puppy. This means he should be a fast learner and you could see results in just a matter of days. However, if he’s older and more interested in dozing than learning, then it may take a couple of weeks. If you can get this training right, you can also easily get him to show his teeth when you need to brush them or have the vet inspect them.
For training to succeed, you’ll need to gather a few bits. So stock up on treats or break his favorite food into small chunks. If you use a clicker when you train then you will also need one of those. Toys will be required for one of the methods as well. You need just a few minutes each day for training and you can practice in a relatively quiet space, away from distractions.
Then just bring patience and positivity, and work can begin!
The Trigger Method
Spend a couple of days watching Fido's behavior. You’re looking for any situations that naturally trigger him to show his teeth. This could be when he is scared, excited or maybe even tired. You’re going to capitalize on these moments later.
As soon as you see him bare his teeth, swiftly give him a reward. This could be a toy, treat or verbal praise.
Clickers can be an effective way to communicate with your little dog and speed up the learning process. If you use a clicker, give a click to let him know he’s done something right, even if he isn’t sure what yet, and give him a treat.
After a couple of days, Fido should start to realize a connection between showing his teeth and the rewards. At this point you can start introducing a verbal cue. Something like ‘smile’ or ‘teeth’ often works well. However, you can use any phrase you like, just ensure it’s given in an up-beat voice and you stick with the same cue each time.
Lose the rewards
After several days of training, Fido should start to master it. At this point you can gradually phase out the treats. The verbal command alone should be enough to get him grinning.
The Teeth Brushing Method
Brush his teeth
This may sound bizarre, but start brushing his teeth on a regular basis. This will get him used to having to bare his teeth anyway. You can then use these moments to introduce a verbal command.
After you’ve brushed his teeth a few times, he should understand the routine. This means you can give a ‘smile’ command just as you head for his mouth. He will then naturally bare his teeth as he sees the brush coming.
Instead of brushing his teeth, pull out a treat from your other hand and give it over. Alternatively, you can pull out one of his toys and play with that for a minute. The more worked up you get him, the more eager he will be to play again.
Use the teeth brushing pretense the first few times you as you introduce the verbal command. But he should soon start to associate the instruction with the action. At this point you can then start practicing in different scenarios, with distractions around.
Phase out the rewards
Once you can get him to bare his teeth in a range of situations, you can gradually cut out the treats and toys. He will now be in the routine of showing his teeth on command.
The Clicker Method
Get Fido clicker friendly
Simply give a click, then take a treat out the bag and give it to him. Repeat this several times each day. You are teaching him that a click means a reward is coming.
Find a trigger
Now you need to do a bit of searching to see what makes Fido smile and bare his teeth. Sometimes just stroking him in the right place or playing around with him near his mouth will cause him to put those teeth on show.
As soon as he does show his teeth, you must click right away. He will now know he’s done something right, even if he isn’t sure what yet. Once you have clicked, you must then follow it up with a treat.
Spend a few minutes each day working on the trigger. Then as he gets the hang of it, introduce a verbal command. Just give it in a playful, high-pitched voice. Your little dog will learn quickly if he thinks he is playing a game.
Practice makes perfect
Now all you need to do is practice several times each day. Once he’s got the hang of it you can then slowly lose the rewards and the clicker. By now the verbal command alone will do the job.
By James Barra
Published: 03/09/2018, edited: 01/08/2021