Pet Boarding & Daycare

SMILE… to Bring out Any Dog’s Best

SMILE… to Bring out Any Dog’s Best

By Lynne Swanson, DVM

Would you like your dogs to be calmer, more relaxed and more responsive? Would you like to set them up for success in groups? And could your days use a few extra smiles? If the answer to all three questions is “Yes!”, consider the Smile Training approach.

Calmness and relaxation are recognized as good behavioral choices and, along with other desired behaviors, they are rewarded with sincere, relaxed, up–to–our–eyes, well–timed smiles. What…no dog biscuits? No “Good dogs?” No clicker clicks? That’s right…smiles, ninety–five percent of the time. 

Smile training for dogs (and for us) is naturally positive. If the concept is new to you, here are its basic tenets, applicable to dogs in groups and as individuals:

The 5 C's of Smile Training

When you put all of these concepts together and incorporate them into your work with dogs, it is easy to bring out their best and your best! Here is an example of a Smile Training concept being used in a real–life situation:

Before Jenna brings her 10–month–old Goldendoodle, Sassy, to a new daycare, the facility has her fill out an online questionnaire that asks about Sassy’s natural energy level, socialization and training. From this, the staff can see that Sassy needs lots of mindful exercise and a few lessons in follow–ship, and Jenna could use a few tips about bringing out her calm and relaxed best. 

To set Jenna and Sassy up for success and to help Sassy see that this daycare puts a premium on calm and relaxed behavior from day one/minute one, Jenna is instructed to call the desk when she first arrives. Her instructions are to then take Sassy to a marked area to relieve herself, the better to put the dog in the frame of mind to walk nicely on a shortened leash at her owner’s side around the parking lot until they are joined by staff member, Matt.

When Matt arrives, Jenna (having been instructed to do so) doesn’t stop walking to talk. Rather, she allows Matt to join her and Sassy on their walk, aligned side–by–side. From Sassy’s perspective, Jenna has invited soft–spoken Matt to be on their team. Jenna has also provided her with a little time to sniff Matt from a few feet away while walking, something she appreciates much more than new people reaching for her using excited chatter. 

Matt and Jenna walk around the parking lot, talking softly. Sassy quickly becomes comfortable with her new surroundings, and everyone around her can smile. This further relaxes her, and it encourages her to walk politely (as opposed to pulling Jenna around). 

At Matt’s direction, Jenna passes Sassy’s leash to him and they take one more pass around the parking lot. Matt then leads Sassy into the building with Jenna holding the door, so Sassy has no need to worry about it clipping her heels. In a calm and relaxed state of mind, Sassy is led to the back of the building, and the dogs there accept her arrival in an equally calm and relaxed manner.

Contrast this welcoming routine with one where an exasperated owner is dragged from her car and through the door of a facility by her dog, only to be greeted by animated staff reaching for leashes. That scenario sends a completely different message to dogs, and it can set some up for stress, or even for failure when all this added excitement triggers excited responses in other dogs.

Embrace your canine learning curve! To learn more about seeing things through your dogs’ eyes, visit

Lynne Swanson, DVM is the author of “Learning DOG” and “SMILE! and other practical life lessons your dogs can teach you (while you are training them).” Together with her Doberman partner, Hiker, she enjoys traveling the U.S. and Canada to speak at conferences and volunteer with the not-for-profit SMILE! Project. This project provides training for shelter, rescue, boarding, training and veterinary personnel (in groups of 30 or more, often networking together), and it raises funds to support dog rescue and the SMILE! pet–parenting library initiative. For more information, visit or call Jan at 252 422 0943.