What does a wagging tail mean?

What does a wagging tail mean?

What does a wagging tail mean? Difference between excited dog and happy dog.

This is one of the most simple concepts which for some reason dog parents struggle more often than not.

What does a wagging tail mean?

A wagging tail means simply excitement. And excitement means excitement.

Let me put it in a different way so you can understand where I´m coming from. Excitement doesn’t mean happiness.

Your dog can be excited insecure, excited nervous, excited dominant, excited anxious, excited aggressive, excited overwhelmed, excited fixated, excited obsessed  and of course excited happy. But your dog can also be happy and calm or happy and in control or happy and out of control. This last one usually doesn´t last very long. When your dog gets out of control the happiness usually vanishes soon because he/she will get in trouble.

So again, excitement is excitement and happiness is happiness.

Let’s start with a big missconception in regards of reading your dog´s body language. Wagging tail means excitement not happiness. Your dog can be wagging his or her tail and start an attack or a fight. Your dog can be wagging his or her tail and be fixated or obsessed with something, resulting in self injury, excessive barking or simply pure insanity. And of course your dog can be wagging his or her tail and be happy too. So just know and acknowledge that wagging tail means simply excitement.

Don’t assume that because you see a wagging tail means a dog is friendly or happy.

Besides from preventing fights or aggression, which are a lot of times started because we (humans) didn’t take care of the excitement before the fight, there are other issues and unwanted behaviors that are caused because of uncontrolled excitement. Such as jumping, excessive barking, nipping, pulling on the leash, leash aggression, destructive behavior, nagging, rough playing I could go on.

I see a lot of dog parents or even trainers using food to control their dog´s excitement. For example when jumping on guests or walking their dogs on a leash Here is the thing, food gets your dog excited. Redirecting excitement with food is not getting to the route of the problem. I also see dog parents correcting or punishing their dogs for jumping or pulling on the leash. Excitement is not something to be punished for either.

The only way to control excitement is with calmness. I won´t get into a lot of details here because I’ve covered this in other blogs. Check out: The Secret or Respect and Trust. But I´ll give you a big tip of how this can help you in a more practical way:

Before you start communicating or doing an activity with your pup think of what are you trying to accomplish. Is it an activity that involves your dog to get excited or to get calm. For instance if you are going for a walk on leash you want your pup to be calm not excited. Or if you trying to put your dog in a crate and close it your dog should be calm not excited. Usually I wouldn’t use food in neither of those situations. But if I want my dog to come to me when called I want he or she to get excited and come fast. In this case I would use food, a toy or or praise  with excitement and play. So in this case to get your dog excited make sense.

Whatever activity you are doing where you expect your dog to listen to you, you want your dog to become your energy not you becoming your dog´s energy. If you have no control or awareness of your body language and energy your pup won´t listen to you. They simply can’t. The same way you wouldn’t listen or follow the lead of a drunk person. It´s not personal.

This has to do with bonding and communicating not with training and conditioning. The fact that your dog will do things for you because you have a treat in your hand doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is listening to you. Conditioning, training and imprinting behaviors it´s not the same as bonding and communicating. The first one is a method created by humans the second one is created by nature. In the first one you acquire a technique in the second one you acquire awareness.

© Gabriel Riesco, Fairfield CT,  December 2017

How Do I Get Respect And Trust From My Pup?

How Do I Get Respect And Trust From My Pup?

The 3 most important things you need to have with your pup is Love, Respect and Trust. If you are reading this or you’ve  worked with me in the past means that you Love your dog and that love is not something to be concerned about. Respect and trust seems to be more of a struggle in my years of experience. For some reason there’s a lot of confusion here.

So let’s start with Respect. Respect is commonly miss-understood with showing who is the boss. It has nothing to do with it. You don´t ask , demmand or gain respect. This is not something you achieve. Respect is something that you give and you get back in return.

The question is how do I give respect to my dog? The answer is simple: acknowledge and treat  your dog as a dog.

Let me explain this with an example. If I treat you as a dog, you´ll agree with me that I´m miss-respecting you. Well, if you treat your dog as a human you’re mis-respecting your dog. I could write an entire book about how to Acknowledge dogs as dogs, but to keep things simple I´ll give you a couple of tips for you to be aware and to think about:

1- Instead of talking to your dog, listen to your dog.  95% of dog´s communication is through body language and energy. Meaning in silence. Yet 90% of my clients do not know how to communicate with their dogs in silence. Dog´s don’t understand English or Spanish or Chinese.

2- Understand your relationship with your dog. Who is the parent? Who is in charge? If your dog is in charge don’t expect him or her to listen to you. Respect the relationship and accept your responsabilities.

Being a parent is a privilege, not a right or entitlement. Dogs don’t care about liability, human laws or rules. They have no idea how to behave in a human environment. They need you as a guide and as a leader. Understanding your relationship means to accept your role as a parent or decision maker and to be accountable for it.

3- Be aware of your state of mind. This is a big one! If you are not in control of yourself don’t expect your dog to listen to you in a willing  and a cooperative way.

What I mean by this is to be in control of your body language and your energy. This is a skill that you might need to re-learn. We are animals too. Body language and energy is not a foreign language to us. This is our common and universal language.

4-  Be aware of your your dog´s sate of mind. This is huge! You have to be sensitive and reactive to your dogs state of mind instead  of trying to impose your dog training program. Dogs are not computers.  Ex: If your pup is anxious and you give her a treat because you feel sorry, you are rewarding anxiety. Even if your pup sat down for the treat.

5. Be present. Dog´s can’t live in the past or in the future. They can only live in the present. So don’t allow your mind to take over and navigate around time. Be present!!

So, How about Trust?

Although all the above applies for getting your dog to trust you, the main way to gain trust with your pup is with Leadership. By leadership I mean taking the responsability to take over and being accountable. I don’t mean entitlement or dictatorship. The difference between Leadership and entitlement or dictatorship is that the first one comes from acceptance and the later ones come from imposition, force and fear.

Your dog won’t trust you if you don’t lead with confidence and calmness. The same way you wouldn’t trust someone that doesn’t know what she or he is doing. Think about it. What would you do when you come into a place where the crew doesn’t know what they’re doing? Well, you either take over, you get out of there if you can or you crap in your pants. And that’s what dogs do too!!

© Gabriel Riesco, Fairfield CT,  November 2017


Crate Training

Crate Training

What’s a crate?

A crate is a safety confined small space where your pup should feel safe and relaxed.

In nature this would be the same thing as their “Den”. This is where they can crash and feel safe. A Den in nature is small, cosy and usually there’s only on entrance or doorway. Danger can only come from one place so its easy to protect.

When living with humans dogs usually find their own little corner maybe underneath a bed or furniture to snuggle up. This is kind of their domestic dens.

Crate training means that you train your dog to feel safe and relaxed in the crate. Basically you want to think of the crate as their ¨den¨.

A crate is not a place to punish your pup or a place for your pup to hide. If your pup is in a fearful state of mind close the crate before he or she gets in and use it when he or she is relaxed.

When should we use it?

Crate training is basically used for three reasons:

1 – Potty training and house training: The crate is a great tool to create a schedule for your pup. Because dogs don’t pee or poop where they sleep you can use the crate when you can’t supervise him or her to avoid ¨accidents¨ in your house.

2 – Destructive behavior: A crate or a pen that is puppy proofed allows you to have a space in your house where your pup doest have access to chew on your furniture, shoes or more importantly things that can actually kill them or injure them such as electric cables, medicine etc.

3 – In certain cases for separation anxiety: Crate training can come pretty handy to prevent or to fix separation anxiety. It teaches your pup to be left alone and sleeping.

How to Crate train.

The first thing you should work is on letting your pup in and out of the crate. You can do this by simply luring your dog with treats or a desirable toy into the crate. Do it several times during the day. Don not close the gate when doing this. Other things that can help is to hide treats or food crumbs in the crate so your pup spends some time there looking for them with the door open.This will create a positive association with the crate.

IMPORTANT note: While you do this don’t put a lot of excitement, keep it low key and do it in silence. The reason why is because a crate should be a relaxed place where your puppy is going to sleep or simply relax and calm down. It´s counter productive to get your dog all excited to go to the crate and then shut the door and expect him or her to relax and calm down. This is a very common mistake.

Once you’ve created a positive association with the crate, you also want to practice leading your dog to the crate with a leash and making him or her wait  before leaving the crate. Do not force or push your pup into the crate, just lead him or her gently and confidently. This is a good practice because food creates excitement and excitement is what your are trying to avoid when you are crate training your pup. You want your dog to go calmly to the crate, remain calm and get out of it calmly too.

If you leave an excited dog in a crate this becomes a jail not a den.

The second step is to leave your pup for a while with the door close. The best way to do this is after a long walk or a good session of training when your pup is tired and ready to crash. Leave your dog in the crate while he or she is calm and take him or her out of the crate while he or she is still calm. Don’t wait until they start baking! If not your dog will learn that barking gets him or her out of the crate.

Do this in silence and don’t say good bye or talk to your dog. Engaging with your dog and creating excitement before  leaving him or her in the crate gets your pup confused. Dogs don’t understand what good bye means because they don’t understand English.  Good bye is not a command and is not good manners its just a tease.

So to recap a little bit and avoid confusions: Use treats or toys to create a positive association with the crate, but once your are going to close the door be calm and avoid excitement.

© Gabriel Riesco, NYC,  November 2017

The Secret

The Secret

“Difference between Training/Conditioning and Relationship / Bonding and Communicating”

There is a big difference between these two concepts that are usually misunderstood or completely unknown even among some professional dog trainers.

1.-   Training / conditioning  means teaching your dog human language and cues to condition your dog to obey certain commands like sit, stay, down etc – usually  with treats and positive reinforcement or sometimes with punishment. (This is based on Pavlov and Skinner´s theories ): “If you do this : “sit”, you get this: “reward” or if you do this : ¨unwanted behavior¨ you get this : ¨punishment¨.

2.-  Relationship/ Bonding and communicating with your dog means using energy and body language to communicate espec, trust, love, and boundaries – usually in silence. What you establish here is basically three things: 1.The relationship you have with your pup  2.The way you communicate with your dog.   3.Acknowledging your pups state of mind

Your dog can be highly trained with conditioning and training techniques and yet still have a lot of behavioral issues. I see this happening more often than not.

Any given human can have very sharpened skills or even be a genius at maths, law, or computer programming but still struggle with social behavior, boundaries, manners or simply adapting to an environment. Acquiring a specific and sharpened skill doing something doesn´t mean you are social adaptable to an environment.

A simpler way of seeing this is thinking of Relationship / bonding / communicating as social behavior skills, such as good manners, respect, trust and boundaries and thinking of training/conditioning as going to Harvard or MIT , where you can learn very specific skills.

You don´t need to be a genius or go to Harvard to be successful with social behavior and you don´t need to be successful with social behavior or balanced  to be a genius. You can have one or the other, both or none.

The one that will put you or your pup in trouble is the lack of social / behoavioral skills. This has to do with Respect, Boundaries, Rules and Limits. In animal world this has nothing to do with being ¨good¨ or ¨bad¨, it has to do with being ¨in control¨ or ¨out of control¨.

In other words you are not gonna go to jail because didn´t go to Yale, but you will go to jail if you destroy Yale.

Most of my clients did already a lot or some dog training. They took their pups to obedience class or taught them a good amount of commands and skills like sit, stay, leave it, off, lay down, bring me a beer etc  you name it. Wether they used positive reinforcement techniques or punishment to teach them it doesn´t really matter. (Although I don´t recommend punishment).

The fact is that even after being successful at training all those commands, the pup is still having behavioral issues. Why? Because the lack of Respect, Trust and Self Control.

There are several reasons for this:

1.Your Relationship with your dog. If your pup doesn’t view you as their ¨parent¨ or decision maker then he/she will expect you to listen to him or her. An example of this is when I hear the dog owner saying:  ¨My dog only listens to me when he or she wants to¨ or ¨My dog only listens to me when I have a treat on my hand¨.

2. The fact that your dog learns the meaning of a certain human word  (ex: sit)  doesn’t mean that your pup is actually going to obey when you say so. The same way you can know the meaning of a Speed Limit Sign and yet you decide to drive faster 😉

3. Your pup learns to listen to your reward (treats, toys etc) not to you.

4. If your pup is in the wrong state of mind, no matter how much training and conditioning you´ve worked on, your pup wont´t listen. Any animal on fight/flight state of mind will not listen to anyone unless you force them. And forcing does not create acceptance it creates resistance. BTW by any animal I include humans!

Knowing when and how to use and integrate this two different approaches (Training/conditioning and Relationship / Bonding and Commnicating) is key in order to create and to maintain a harmonious relationship.

Usually when you want to add a behavior you use positive reinforcement (Conditioning and training) and when you want to remove a behavior you use boundaries, limits and rules (Relationship, Bonding and Communicating).

© Gabriel Riesco, NYC,  November 2017

 Separation Anxiety 

 Separation Anxiety 

Separation anxiety is a fairly common problem in the city. Your dog will become stressed when you leave your house or when your about to leave. The photo above is how my dog is when I leave the house. As you can see he is not very concerned. And that´s how you want your dog to be when you leave the house: Nice and relaxed.

Some of the most common symptoms of separation anxiety are: excessive salivating, urinating/defecating, barking, howling, whining, scratching walls, digging, destructive behavior, escaping, pacing. Sometimes it can cause self injury.

Causes of dog separation anxiety.

This can happen because of  a change in residence, change of parent or a sudden absence of a family member. It can also be developed through time with dogs that were never taught to be left alone.

Separation anxiety is easy to understand and to solve if you understand some basic concepts of dog and human psychology. There are basically two main reasons why this can happen:

  1. Your relationship with your dog. This is the most important one. If your dog thinks he or she is in control of the household or of you, then you are in trouble. What your pup is telling you is not to leave the house, but you leave anyways. Imagine you tell your 5 year old not to leave the house, but she leaves anyways and manages to lock you in the house. Now she is running around the street with cars coming in and out. Who do you think is going to have anxiety? You or your 5 year old? Of course you. Why? Because you are the parent and you are in charge. If your relationship with your dog is upside down, basically what´s happening in your pup´s mind is that you are the rebellious teenager that is leaving the house without his or her consent. This causes anxiety. You can confine the body in a crate, in a room or in the garden, but if you don’t convince the mind your pup will go crazy. A lot of cases of separation anxiety they simply disappear when you change the relationship. It happens fast and the change is dramatic. It´s like taking a big heavy load out of your pup´s back.They simply relax and enjoy life. I´ve seen it many times myself.
  2. Your pup´s state of mind. Separation anxiety can still happen even when you know 100% sure that you are the one in control of the household or the parent in the relationship. What happens in this case  is that your dog gets anxious because you are LEAVING. He/she  escalates and gets out of control. In his/her mind when you LEAVE means you are not coming back. Wether you come back or not its not important at that moment, because dogs live in the present.  There is a fine line where your pup will escalate or will calm down. Your  ability to prevent your dog from escalating before he/she gets out of control or anxious is key. Success is NOT how long you can go out of your house until your pup barks or get anxious. Success is going out of your house with your dog being calm and coming back while your pup is calm. Even if it´s for 5 seconds. If your pup can be calm for 5 seconds he/she can be calm for 5 hours. It´s a matter of working on duration.


Note: It´s very important to know that if you don´t have your relationship with your pup clear nothing will work.

© Gabriel Riesco, Fairfield CT,  November 2017