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Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Life With Dogs Is Not Glamorous
We all have stories to prove it

The chain of events that led to the dog peeing on me in the middle of the night began with my children’s homework. It was an interesting and worthwhile assignment, which offers me some consolation. I hate to be peed on for no good reason!

The kids were tasked with investigating leaks in our house and making some calculations about how much water was being wasted. They had to check the water meter, make sure no water would be used during the next few hours, and then check the meter again to see if any water was being lost. We thought that it would be easiest to do this overnight when nobody would accidently wash their hands (an unlikely occurrence that only Murphy’s Law could make happen during the crucial period or anytime) or use water in any other way.

Just before bedtime after everybody had filled a water bottle, brushed their teeth and gone to the bathroom, we deactivated the icemaker in our freezer and the kids checked the meter. All we needed to do was go to bed and wait until morning for them to take a second reading of the meter.

Tragically, I awoke at midnight really needing to use the bathroom. Though I could of course have just gone but not flushed, I lacked confidence in myself. I don’t know why, but it is ridiculously hard for me to do this, and the risk that I would go, then flush automatically was too high in my mind.

“I’m up anyway, so I might as well take the dog out to relieve himself, and I can go out there,” was my thought.

Marley and I went outside and he wandered over to his favorite potty spot, and I picked a place for myself by some bushes. Still occupied with my own mission, I failed to notice the dog come around behind me until it was too late. I only became aware of his presence when he had already lifted his leg and I felt the warm stream of dog urine hit me in the lower back.

Unable to shower because of the water leak investigation assignment, I dried my back with paper towels and then used about a pint of hand sanitizer on the area before going back to bed. Though I was a little disgusted, it’s really not that big a deal considering the amount of vomit, pee and poop all of us who spend time with dogs have probably cleaned up over the years.

Besides, I found it interesting that Marley seemed to be over marking my urine with his own. Many dogs pee over other dogs’ pee, and even over the urine of men, but some dogs ignore urine from women and from kids. Unfortunately for me, Marley is not one of them.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
What They Might Think During Departures
Putting words into the minds of dogs

As we drove away and saw Marley’s face in the window, watching us drive away, my son said, “I’ll bet he’s thinking, “Please come back! Why are you leaving me?” His woebegone expression did match the words my son had chosen for him.

We began to discuss how different individuals react to the same situations in different ways and express themselves in unique ways, too, and why shouldn’t that apply to dogs as much as to people? From there, we had a lot of fun imagining what some of the other dogs we know would say in the same circumstances.

Watson is super smart, always worried and typically a couple of steps ahead of everyone else, mentally speaking. He’d probably be thinking, “Let’s see, if they are in the car going east at 40 miles per hour for 20 minutes, and spend the usual 35 minutes at their desired location plus or minus 5 minutes, and return by the scenic route to avoid the traffic at rush hour, and travel at 30 miles per hour, they should return by 4 pm, so I will not commence with any serious worrying until that time.

We next discussed our old dog Bugsy, who nobody would ever describe as an intellectual. (A trainer friend of mine once actually described him as a couple of ants short of a picnic.) We decided that even in our imaginations, he never would have mastered standard English grammar and would simply think, “You go. I still here.”

Schultzie is so well-adjusted that she would probably think, “The timing of their departure is very sensible. It’s time for my nap, but I’ll be ready for playtime and a good walk by they time they get home.”

Kiwi might very well have thought something along the lines of, “Sure, I’ll miss them, but they always come back, so this provides a perfect opportunity for me to check to see if the latch on the cabinet holding the garbage can is as loose as it looks. Today could be a trash party day—here’s hoping!”

Super Bee is as fit as she is fast, and her brain is as speedy as her body. If we left her behind, I could imagine her thinking, “If they head out Fremont Avenue going the speed limit and turn right at the light and then go 45 miles per hour on Route 180, and take a right at the light at Humphreys, and drive with traffic until they are downtown, I could leap out this window, head to the urban trail and through the park and still beat them by at least 17 seconds to the coffee shop on San Francisco Street, which I’m sure is where they are going.

Of course, the idea of dogs thinking these things is pure fantasy, but it’s fun to imagine, based on a dog’s personality and behavior, their response to a situation and to put it into words. What can you imagine your dog thinking as you leave the house?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Quality Time Without Other Dogs
Dogs benefit, sometimes in unexpected ways

“He doesn’t really play with toys,” his guardian said as he dropped the dog off for an afternoon visit with us. Their realtor didn’t want dogs at home during their open house, not even resting contentedly in their crates, and work schedules meant they needed a little help. We were taking one of their dogs and his brother was going to watch the other.

Though we were not expecting Moose to play with the toys, within an hour, that dog had played with every toy in our house and a couple of items that he thought were toys although we would not classify them as such. He flapped a Wubba around at his own face and did the same with a dishtowel, went joyfully berserk over a squeaky toy shaped like a bone, fetched tennis balls and flying squirrels that my kids threw, tossed around a fleece fox with a dead squeaker inside, and “dribbled” a dust pan around like it was a soccer ball. Moose was, no matter what his guardian said, really into toys.

When we told his guardian about Moose’s afternoon toy playing session, he was genuinely surprised. He told us, “That’s odd because at home, all he does is follow Zach, who loves to fetch.” He went on to explain that Moose never got the balls himself, but just followed their other dog who loved to retrieve. And when Zach was chewing on bones or toys, Moose just watched, no matter how many were lying around. If they specifically gave Moose a toy, Zach would come over to relieve him of it. Moose never objected so his guardian figured that Moose just didn’t have a strong interest in them.

Au contraire. Many dogs live in households in which the other dog prevents them from doing what comes naturally, but if you never observe the dogs on their own, it’s hard to know that they are missing out. In Moose’s case, he was not playing with toys or chewing on bones with Zach around, but based on his behavior at our house, he loves them. (It’s almost a sure bet that a dog who is being “mugged” by another dog who habitually takes the bones and toys would rather maintain possession of them if possible.) I believe that having regular time without Zach would improve Moose’s quality of life because he would be able to play with toys and chew on bones.

Other dogs may benefit in other ways from being away from other dogs from time to tome. Spending time as the only dog with the guardian may mean receiving undivided attention or more petting. For some young dogs, it may mean a more vigorous exercise session than the older dog in the household can tolerate. There are dogs who just want the peace and quiet that a one-dog situation bestows on them, and others who appreciate the chance to train or play without another dog interrupting the flow. A class that suits one dog, but not another, such as agility or a tracking class may provide the incentive to spend time with just one of your dogs.

With the rare exception of dogs who panic when they are not in the presence of their dog family members, the opportunity to spend quality time as the only dog with their guardians has great value. A little goes a long way, so even the occasional session can be a great treat for a dog and well worth working into even the busiest of schedules.

If you have more than one dog, do you spend time with each of them individually? If so, how do you think they benefit?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Learning About Glass Doors
Some dogs figure it out right away
Dog stands outside of glass sliding door

It’s scary for dogs and guardians alike when a dog makes contact with a sliding glass door, and it can certainly be injurious. Most dogs who live in or visit a house with such a door eventually run or walk into it, but some never seem to learn to watch out for it. I’ve known dogs who would run into the glass door every time they are trying to pass through if it were not for some assistance from people.

We can help dogs avoid this danger by putting decals on the glass, blocking the door with a chair or leaving the screen door next to the glass one partly open. Still, it would be easier if dogs learned to take proper precautions on their own like Tucker, who is staying with us this weekend, managed to do.

Tucker is a sweet dog who is fearful of many things. He hesitates or backs away with his body lowered and his ears back if he encounters people or dogs he doesn’t know, new places, brooms, trash cans, sudden noises, and a great many other things that are encountered regularly in modern suburban life.

Given that Tucker is hesitant about so many ordinary, harmless things, it’s no surprise that a door that he bumped into really affected him. Luckily, he was not moving quickly at all when his nose hit the glass, so he was not physically injured. Still, he was obviously distressed enough by the incident for it to influence his behavior ever since.

We now have a chair in front of the door which we only move when we are about to open the door, so Tucker is not at risk of another accidental collision. However, he does not seem to know this. Each time we move the chair and open the door, he approaches ever so slowly until his face is past the “danger zone” at which point he trots through and into the yard. He behaves the same way when coming back inside.

He learned to check that the path was clear after one episode, but that’s unusual. Most dogs don’t seem to figure it out after one collision or even after many of them. It’s likely that the reason Tucker learned this lesson so fast is that he is fearful and is trying to avoid the feeling of being afraid. His response is good in the sense that he is less likely to run into our glass door again, but the ease with which he learns to be cautious of trouble extends beyond that situation.

For example, he was running through our living room to take a treat from me after I called him, and he skidded a bit on our wood floor. Since then, he has walked around that particular spot on the floor. Similarly, he heard a loud noise (I have children!) while he was walking down the stairs, and we had to re-train him to go up and down the stairs using a lot of treats, praise and patience. When my purse fell off the counter, he became afraid of it, and backed away when I picked it up later in the morning. So, while most dogs don’t learn to watch out for the glass door after bumping it to it just once, they also don’t learn to be afraid of locations or items that are innocuous but happen to be associated with a single instance of being startled.

Do you have a dog who has learned to avoid a glass door? How about a dog who easily learns to exercise caution even when it is not necessarily warranted?

 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Social Roles and Relationships in Dogs
CAAB Chat about friendship, jealousy, grief, and bullying

CAAB Chats are a new program featuring monthly discussions among CAABs (Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists) about topics that matter to people who love animals. This month’s CAAB Chat is about Social Roles and Relationships in Dogs, and will involve a conversation about friendship, grief, jealousy, status, bullying, gratitude, and more. Anyone can register to listen in to the live chat (which is this Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 2 p.m. Mountain Standard Time) free of charge, and replays are available for a fee.

I have listened to the previous CAAB Chats on Canine Communication and Response Prevention and really enjoyed them. This month I’m excited to be one of the CAABs doing the chatting, along with my friend and colleague Camille Ward, PhD. CAABs Suzanne Hetts, PhD and Dan Estep, PhD will be moderating the discussion, and we are all excited about the topic and discussing it with one another. We hope that everyone who signs up to be a part of it will feel like they are listening in as we candidly discuss topics that matter to us, just as we would at a conference or even over a cup of coffee (or other beverage of choice.)

There are so many questions about social roles and relationships in dogs, and this list is just a few of the ones we find particularly interesting and hope to hit on.

How do friendships develop among dogs?

Do dogs have preferences for their play partners? What contributes to those preferences?

How do relationships among dogs, and between dogs and people go wrong?

Why do we seem to have so many dogs who assume a “bullying” role with other dogs?

How are the relationships dogs form with each other similar to those they form with people?  How are they different?

Can dogs feel gratitude?

What do dogs experience when another dog they’ve lived with dies?  Do they feel grief?

Since the discussion is informal by design, there’s no telling exactly where it will lead, and that’s part of the fun. Additionally, those listening in are asked to submit questions they’d like to see addressed, and those will surely lead to interesting parts of the conversation.

CAABs all have a scientific and research background and many of us have worked with animals with serious behavior problems. We spend an inordinate amount of time thinking, reading and talking about animal behavior (not to mention a lot of time with animals themselves!) We love chatting about our work, which is a labor of love for all of us, and this week’s CAAB Chat is just one more opportunity to do so. We hope you will join us!

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Q&A with Denise Fenzi
Dog trainer Denise Fenzi talks about methods and perceptions with

On engagement and relationship building:
Over the past 30 years or so, there has been a steady shift from force-based methods to much kinder and gentler methods of training. Most of these kinder methods have emphasized using food rather than force to get behaviors, and I’m a huge advocate of this change.

However, in the switch to food-based training, we seem to have lost some of our basic positive interactions and expressions of joy with our dogs. Instead of learning to joyfully work together, we “pay” our dogs with cookies—and once they’ve paid, many owners forget to tell their dogs how proud they are of whatever [the dogs] accomplished. I think this is a terrible loss. Humans can be so much more than Pez dispensers!

Great training should not be about substituting cookies for approval. Great training should be about getting needed behaviors (often through food), then taking it further. That next step —relationship—is what fascinates me about dog training.

Building a relationship with a dog is much the same as building a relationship with another person. While sharing food is a fundamental pleasure, no one would say that the meals “create” the relationship. Food simply supports one aspect of it.

What’s really being developed (quite possibly over a meal) is an understanding and an awareness of that other person; the thing that develops, which we call relationship, is incredibly hard to explain or put into words. It is sympathy for their circumstances —both what goes right and what goes wrong. It’s about knowing what makes them happy or sad. It takes a relationship to know that, since each person has unique needs. The stronger your relationship with another, the more likely you’ll make the right choices.

We can have exactly the same type of relationship with a dog, but I think very few people are aware of that. When I think about the time I spend with my dogs, most of it [involves] trying to build that underlying foundation. I study my dogs carefully to understand what matters to each of them. I pet them and play with them, and soon I learn what does or does not work for each one. I know what frightens them, and I support them as needed. I also know when to back off and let them solve their own problems. And each dog is completely different!

I do use lots of food and toys to train. But at the end of the day, my goal is much bigger than acquiring behaviors. It is finding out what we can become together. Since this is a unique process (just like it is a unique process to develop a relationship with another person), it never gets tiresome, boring or “rote.” It’s fascinating. And it can take you places that most people have no idea were possible with a dog.

On what her peers in IPO and competitive obedience think of her use of positive reinforcement:
In IPO I am not well known because I have not competed in a long time … So I doubt they have any opinion about me at all. In competition obedience, I think there are a variety of responses.

At the lower levels, I think most competitors like what I am doing and are interested in learning how to train with more positive methods. At the middle levels, I think there is curiosity mixed with a good dose of doubt. They have been raised on the idea that dogs must learn that they have no choice about training, and they struggle to believe that this might not be correct. This level of trainer is already using mostly positive methods to train new behaviors, but they don’t understand the final steps that are important if you want to compete and still not use compulsion.

At the middle/high levels, I am an irritation. They want to believe that they have the most current and best methods, and it irritates them that I am succeeding without compulsion, because they are convinced that it is not possible. This group often speaks very poorly about me, but they know nothing about my methods nor do they show any interest in learning. They have already decided that what I am doing is not possible. The high level trainers mostly ignore me. They are successful however they are training, and they neither know nor particularly care what else might work.

Of course, those are generalities. I have supporters and detractors in all camps, but those are my basic observations.

News: Guest Posts
Home-Schooling for Dogs Could Be Catching On
“Do As I Do” scores high

A rambunctious five-year-old Labrador Retriever who until a few months ago knew not a word of any language, obeyed no command, charged around the house or zipped through any hole in the fence before one could utter the name he didn’t seem to recognize has become my 91-year-old mother’s great and constant companion. He sits or lies by her when she is sitting or lying down. He moves with her when she goes somewhere with her walker and when she tells him to give her clear passage. He accompanies her when she walks around the pool for exercise. She says, “He is a good boy.” My mother has never trained a dog. She had a nice trained dog once, but she had been trained by someone else and given to her.

But Rocky, as he was named by my mother’s granddaughter, received no formal instruction from any source. He was neutered, which helped slow him down, but more profoundly, he and she opted for companionship and accommodation over ignoring each other. She talks to him constantly, telling him what she wants him to do. If she praises him, she is not effusive. She may occasionally slip him some food when she is cooking, and he will if given a chance steal her breakfast bagel. There is no system to it, but there is consistency.Top of Form

More than a few dog trainers who follow behaviorist principles that require a stimulus, a reward or punishment, for learning to occur would argue that Rocky is untrained—that is that he still will not perform on command the actions demanded of him—except he comes when called. He moves when told. He tells my mother when someone is at the door and stands by her when she opens it, thereby providing at least the illusion of protection. If that is not training, what is it?

My friend and fellow Psychology Today blogger, Marc Bekoff (“Animal Emotions”), might call the process dog teaching or dog learning.

It might not be as quick or as systematic as one of the common schools of training, including those that use electric collars and choke chains and those that rely on clickers and food rewards or other positive re-enforcers. But then again the results might be quicker, deeper, and longer lasting.

I have seen no statistics on the numbers of dogs educated in this fashion, but I imagine it is substantial. Essentially it relies on the dog’s innate curiosity, desire to please, and recognized ability to imitate behavior and recognize words and emotions, traits which arguably thousands of years of living with humans have served to enhance. It also requires the human have an interest in being with the dog and interacting with him or her in a meaningful way—what used to be referred to as “quality time” with the hound. Praise and rewards are meted out more according to the person’s nature than any program or schedule. They do not have to involve food. Our Kelpie Katie was unmotivated by food—she would ignore food rewards—but when a tennis ball appeared she went on high alert. Even then the ball was not essential to her learning something.

This intuitive style of dog teaching is not without its intellectual underpinnings thanks initially to Edward Tolman in the first half of the last century. He proposed that learning had intrinsic value and that people and animals could learn in the absence of immediate rewards—latent learning it is called. That idea underpins what is called the social theory of learning, which also views learning as a social endeavor that can involve imitation of behavior that is demonstrated or verbally described.

In an article in the January 28, issue of Applied Animal (Behaviour Science, entitled “Should old dog trainers learn new tricks? The efficiency of the “Do as I do” method and the shaping/clicker training method to train dogs,” Claudia Fugazza and Ádám Miklósi of the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, look at a canine system of social learning that relies on the dog’s great capacity for imitation called Do As I Do (DAID) compared with clicker training, which relies on the timely delivery of rewards to employ the dog’s associative abilities in shaping its behavior. (The article is only available by subscription, but here is the Abstract.) The clicker becomes a stand-in (secondary re-enforcer) for the actual re-enforcer, usually food. Clicker training is individualized instruction that requires the dog to figure out what earns rewards.

Fugazza, a graduate student in ethology developed Do As I Do in order to study social learning in dogs. To do that she had to develop protocols for teaching them. Judging from its success, it should gain a wide following. In this method, trainers, usually the dog’s primary human companion, use standard reward-based techniques to teach the dog to associate a small number of gestures with the command, “Do It!” The dog is then shown a new task and taught to perform it upon being given that command.

 

For this study, Fugazza and Miklósi compared the speed in learning three sets of tasks of increasing complexity, from knocking over a glass (simple) to opening or closing a locker or drawer (complex task) to a sequence of actions, like hopping on a chair and ringing a bell or opening a locker and removing a purse (compound). Objects were involved in each task that were not considered part of the family dog’s normal repertoire so that mastery of the task could be construed as learning. In the simple task there was no difference in performance between clicker-trained dogs and Do As I Do dogs, but that changed as the tasks became more difficult. Do As I Do dogs performed noticeably better, with more of them learning the task in the allotted fifteen minutes than clicker-trained dogs. 

No one knows how the dogs are making the connections, and in their conclusion Fugazza and Miklósi thought it more important to downplay that result in favor, Miklósi said in an email, of providing trainers with as many methods as possible so they can choose the one best suited to their needs.

That is a tactical decision rather than a scientific one. It is grounded in the recognition that, especially commercial dog trainers and trainers of working and service dogs, like to use what has worked for them in the past with the kind of dog on which it has worked. That is one reason punishment-based forms of dog training persist. 

For home schooling, time, patience, devotion—and a daily reminder of who has the big brain—are the keys to success and those come from discipline we often need more than the dog.

Used with permission of Mark Derr and Psychology Today, see more from Mark Derr’s blog “Dog’s Best Friend.”

Also see http://thebark.com/content/dogs-are-asked-just-do-it

 

 

 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dogs Welcoming Soldiers Home
The dogs’ behavior is fascinating

The kinship I feel with dog lovers allows me to share the following with no concern that any of you would fail to understand: Yesterday I was in need of an emotional pick-me-up, but I was short on time, so I wandered over to YouTube to look for a dog video that would quickly make smiling a sure thing.

The first video I came to was called “Dogs Welcoming Soldiers Home” and I watched it once just for pleasure, enjoying the reunions. I especially loved the Great Dane at about 1:20 because a Great Dane on its hind legs is always a striking image and because this was my childhood breed.

Then, I couldn’t help myself, and I watched the video again. This time, I observed the dogs carefully the way I do when I am working. Several aspects of the dogs’ behavior interested me.

The most obvious behavior was also the least surprising. These dogs were exuberant, leaping and spinning (presumably joyfully) when greeting their returning soldier guardians. They were out of control in the best possible way.

They were so revved up that energy was exploding out of them, and that included vocalizations. Many of these dogs were whimpering and whining and making other loud sounds, but not barking. It’s hard to say what all these vocalizations mean, but I feel comfortable saying that they were likely indicative of dogs feeling intense emotions. The sounds they made seemed very expressive to me, even though I can’t claim to know precisely what they were expressing. It is interesting to me that so many of the dogs made these sounds. Since this was a compilation video, it is possible that the loudest dogs were chosen because the person who compiled the clips found these sounds interesting, as do I.

The close physical contact that the dogs sought with the people was fascinating. The dogs generally seemed not to be able to get close enough to the people. Many of them seemed to be pressing their bodies against the people in a way that’s not typical. Primates, including humans, often seek out the ventral-ventral (bellies together) contact of hugs, but it’s not very common dog behavior. Even most dogs who jump are more likely to make contact with just their paws rather than with their bodies.

In other contexts, such as cuddling on the couch or floor, many dogs do seek close contact, but that is more often lying next to or on top of people, rather than behavior that looks more like a human hug. These dogs were not resisting hugs and being picked up the way many dogs often do, but seemed quite comfortable with those human actions. (A few even jumped into the soldier’s arms.) One exception is the Golden Retriever at about 4 minutes who tolerates but doesn’t love the prolonged hug from behind. Even this dog soon settles in and seems somewhat more comfortable with full contact with the person in a slightly different position.

The most surprising behaviors I noticed were the tail wags. It has been well documented that dogs experiencing positive emotions tend to wag their tail higher to the right, and the study found that to be particularly true of dogs greeting their guardians. I would have expected dogs to be so joyous when greeting a guardian after a long absence that their tail wags would be to the right. Yet, in this video, many of the dogs exhibited left-biased tail wags, which I found curious. Certainly, the dogs seemed happy to see the people. After all, their enthusiasm is what makes this video so wonderful in the first place.

I can only speculate about why left-biased tail wags were so prevalent in this video. Dogs cannot understand the concept of deployment, and since most of these service members were probably gone for about a year, it’s likely that the dogs were surprised to see them again. It is my belief that many dogs whose guardians are gone for extended periods of time have already grieved for these people as though they are gone forever, which could make their return wonderful, but also startling. Perhaps confusion or shock factored into the emotions of the dogs enough to counteract the joy of the reunion that I thought would lead to right-biased tail wags.

If you have had an extended separation because of military service or any other reason, what was your reunion with your dog like?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Positive Training Is Better
It’s not news, but it is science

I hardly think it will be a shock to anyone reading this, but according to a recent study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, positive training techniques are better than negative methods. Specifically, they promote less stress in the dog, and are better for the dog-person relationship.

A soon-to-be published study called “Effects of 2 training methods on stress-related behaviors of the dog (Canis familiaris) and on the dog-owner relationship” supports the beliefs of many trainers, behaviorists and guardians that there are substantial advantages to training with positive reinforcement.

In this preliminary study, researchers compared the behavior of dogs being training with positive reinforcement (desired behavior results in the appearance of something positive such as a treat or toy) to those being trained with the use of negative reinforcement (desired behavior results in the disappearance of something negative such as pressure on the leash or body). The data were collected in advanced dog training classes at two different training centers and the behaviors of interest were sitting and walking nicely on a leash.

The dogs being trained with negative reinforcement performed more behaviors that indicate stress in dogs (such as licking their mouths and yawning) and more lowered body postures (the tail down and either the ears lowered or the legs bent in a crouching posture) than dogs being trained with positive reinforcement. The dogs trained with positive reinforcement gazed at their guardians more often than the dogs trained with negative reinforcement. This suggests a stronger connection in those pairs, although the authors acknowledge that those gazes could be a result of dog looking for the reinforcement.

The researchers conclude that positive training techniques are less stressful for dogs and likely better for their well being. This matches my experience with dogs and the people training them. How about you?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Wag the White Part
The trick is in the voice

“Are you such a good dog? Can my sweet girl wag her tail!” It’s lovely to see a dog respond to these questions with a great big tail wag. It’s even more charming if she can take it a step further by performing one of my all time favorite behaviors. Here’s a description of the next step.

The person continues by saying, “Now listen very carefully because instead of wagging your whole tail, I want you to wag just the white part.” When the dog wags just the white part at the tip of her tail, it’s a real crowd pleaser.

Of course, this particular format of the trick requires that the dog’s tail is white at the tip only, and that is only true of some dogs. For dogs whose tail has no white at the end, you need to change your phrasing, perhaps saying, “Wag just the tip” or “Now just give me a little wag” but the dog’s behavior is the same.

It is possible to train a dog to wag her tail in response to the cue “Wag your tail” and to wag only the tip of the tail when she hears, “Just the white part.” However, some dogs will perform the behavior you want without really being trained to do so. The secret is in the enthusiasm of the person’s voice. When you say something along the lines of “Are you such a good dog? Can my sweet girl wag her tail!”, you need to say it in the overly exuberant manner that we all have when praising or greeting our dogs. It’s that enthusiasm that is going to make your dog wag her tail whether she’s been trained to do it on cue or not.

Then, to elicit the small, just-the-tip tail wag, you completely change your tone of voice, becoming very serious and talking more slowly, quietly and slightly deeper. So, when you say, “Now listen very carefully because instead of wagging your whole tail, I want you to wag just the white part”, the key is not what you say, but how you say it. Many dogs will respond to the change in your energy level by dialing back their tail wag to a less lively one, and for dogs with a white-tipped tail, that makes it look like they are cleverly responding to your instructions to wag only the white part.

Some dogs reliably do this the first time and every time, but in other cases, it takes some trial and error to figure out exactly what tone of voice and level of enthusiasm prompt the dog to exhibit the right amount of tail wagging for each part of this trick.

How does your dog’s tail respond when you vary your tone of voice and level of enthusiasm? Do you have a wag-the-white-part (or a wag-just-the-tip) dog?

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