Lord Dundreary: Why does a dog waggle his tail?
Florence: Upon my word, I never inquired.
Lord Dundreary: Because the tail can't waggle the dog. Ha! Ha!
- Our American Cousin, 1885
Wag the dog is, in politics, the act of creating a diversion from a damaging issue.... The phrase originates in the saying "a dog is smarter than its tail, but if the tail were smarter, then it would wag the dog."
- Wikipedia, Retrieved Fall 2021
What Wags Your Dog's Tail?
Treats probably wag your dog's tail. Chasing a ball may wag your dog's tail. Other dogs? Reuniting with a family member who has left the house for twenty whole minutes?
Whatever makes your dog wag is the fuel that drives your dog.
If you can wag that tail, you can wag your dog.
When you ask your dog for something, does
that get their tail wagging?
If the answer is no... then ask yourself, "how can I change that?"
A Change In Mindset
Instead of asking yourself "how can I get my dog to _____" we want to ask yourself, "why doesn't my dog love to do ______?" and focus on changing that.
No one ever asks how to make their dog dig holes, or how to make their dog jump up on people they love, or how to get their dog to chase squirrels. Dogs love to do these things.
What if you dog loved walking with you, on a loose leash, just as much? What if your dog loved
running to you when they are off leash at the park? What if the dog loved
to lay down when visitors arrive? What if your dog loved
doing the things you asked them to do?
If your dog isn't wagging their tail with delight when doing something you've asked of them, ask yourself... why?
To do that, we need to confront an unhappy truth about the dog training industry.
Dogs Don't Like Most Training
The kinds of training that most people want and need for their dog involve the word "no".
No jumping. No biting. No digging. No running away. No pulling. No dragging. No scrounging. No raiding. No chasing. No nipping. NO FUN.
Dog trainers are constantly being asked to undo thousands of generations of breeding - stop a border collie from chasing things, stop a spaniel from going after birds, or stop a husky from running.
But what's the alternative? Let an Irish Setter sail over fences into traffic in pursuit of a crow? Let a Border Collie chase down bikers? We can't do that.
But what if we didn't shut those instincts down? What if, instead of constantly scheming on ways to ruin a dog's fun, we switched our focus, and theirs?
For The Love of Dog
If you asked your best friend to do something for you, would you want them to do it of their own free will? Or would you rather they felt they had no choice?
Dogs have very little choice in their lives. They are hostages in our homes. They can not feed themselves, they cannot even fill their own water bowls. They are absolutely helpless to the whims and mercies of their humans.
Can you blame them for trying to exert some control where they can? Whether it's helping themselves to unattended sandwiches or dragging a protesting child down the street, most dogs are just trying to squeeze some fun and a sense of independence from their rigidly-controlled lives.
When a dog feels compelled and controlled by their person, they stage little protests. Sometimes they are so miniscule that only a trained eye can see them.
A yawn that ends in a slight whine. A fraction's hesitation. Refusing to make eye contact. A long slow stretch as the dog sinks into a "down".
These are the protests of a dog trained through control. The dog knows that if they do not obey, they will be punished. The punishment could be anything from loss of freedom to physical pain, but the dog knows that they have no choice - their human will stand over them and ensure that the command is followed.
For dogs who feel safe and able to do so, the protest may be more obvious - refusing to sit at all unless a treat is offered up front, a sudden need to scratch an itch that only arises during the least convenient moments, or staying just out of reach at the park.
All of these behaviors say the same thing:
don't like this. I don't agree.
Whether the protest comes as an unenthusiastic sit or a 20 minute game of can't-catch-me, they all mean the same thing - that something is wrong.
We love our dogs, and our dogs love us. So why should working together be anything less than joyful?
Our goal is not to bribe or compel a dog. Our goal is to show a dog that working with us is the waggiest game in town.
Do you have to compel a teenager to play video games? Do you need to pay someone to eat their favourite dessert? Of course not.
Well, your dog should love working with you more than a fifteen year old loves their Xbox.
Your dog should love you more than Trainer Carol loves Diet Pepsi.
And if they don't - well, that's when you call us.
We'll help you get that dog wagging.