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