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Dog Training Update: Wagging on Cue

So, I spent a little time, just a few minutes, working on HOW I might teach Lilly to wag her tail on cue. We’ll have to keep working on it, but I plan to treat the the wag / no wag a bit like an on / off switch. Here is my 5-step plan for teaching this dog trick.

Step 1: Get Lilly into a neutral body position

Clicker-savvy dogs like Lilly frequently “throw behaviors at you” as they try to figure out what you’re rewarding today. So, to speed things up, I wanted to eliminate behavior options that Lilly likely associates with standing up. Asking her for a DOWN seemed to do the trick … even though she knows many dog tricks that begin with a down, including:

  • CHIN (put your chin on your paws or the floor)
  • CRAWL (crawl across the ground, keeping your body low)
  • ROLL OVER (the usual meaning)

Step 2: Get Lilly to wag

From there, I waited her out as she offered a few behaviors that I ignored. Lilly finds clicker training pretty fun and exciting, so her tail was wagging to beat the band — swinging quickly across the ground. I just started clicking and treating her for tail movement. At this point, I wasn’t convinced she knew what was what.

Step 3: Get Lilly NOT to wag

So, I used our normal WAIT cue to see if I could get Lilly NOT to wag  for a few seconds so that I could then reward when the wagging started again (hoping she would catch on faster).

Step 4: Add in the the word WAG

When her tail got going again and again, I’d say WAG, then click/treat her for wagging. I tend to be too quick on adding in verbal cues, so stick with me.

Step 5: Alternate WAIT with WAG

Then, I asked Lilly to WAIT (which I noted with our marker word YES), and I asked her to WAG (which I marked with a click and a piece of cheese).

Dog Trick: Wagging on Cue … Results

We only practiced for a few minutes one afternoon because this kind of dog training is hard for dogs (mentally taxing, I mean) and because I ONLY had a few minutes, but I did indeed get Lilly to STOP wagging and START wagging several times on cue.

We’ll keep at it, and when I think it’s funny and cute enough, I’ll shoot some video to share.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

KB - April 20, 2011

That must be a very tough one to train because it seems so unconscious for a dog.

For us, I’ve noticed that our dog R seems to believe that wagging makes his Mannersminder produce treats. Maybe I could train it that way…

Laurie Buchele - April 15, 2011

Sounds like it’s going great!!! I would keep doing what you are doing and not raise the criteria yet. She’s clicker-savvy — you know she will catch on quickly. I would also be tempted to click/treat the captured behavior of wagging in other positions and environments.

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