How to Train Your Dog to Wag His Tail

Hard
1-12 Weeks
Fun

Introduction

You're holding a house party and want to impress your friends. How awesome would it be to teach the dog to wag on command?

Picture the scene: Your 5-year old niece, Annabelle, adores the dog. You say to Rover, "Wag if you love Annabelle," at which point he wags his tail to a blur. How thrilling is that for the little girl! 

While wagging on command is not a core skill, it is a fun way to bond with your dog during training sessions. Indeed, any training where the dog learns a new skill can build his confidence and add to his enjoyment of life. 

Defining Tasks

A happy dog is a waggy dog. It is lovely to see a dog willingly participating in training, and when the result is a waggy tail it makes everyone smile. 

You can use either a verbal command, "wag", or a hand signal (or both), but whichever you choose, be sure to be consistent and praise the dog when he does as you ask...which then makes him wag some more. 

Getting Started

Many dogs will voluntarily wag a tail when shown a toy or ball, but it is more challenging to do so on a verbal command only. For this reason, your time is better invested teaching a puppy basic commands that will keep him safe in an emergency. However, this is the ideal trick to teach an adult dog that already has high-level obedience skills. 

To teach this behavior you will need:

  • A ball or toy the dog really likes and makes his tail wag
  • A clicker
  • Treats
  • A treat bag to wear on your belt
  • A soft towel for the dog to lie on
  • A quiet, distraction-free room

The Capture the Wag Method

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Step
1
Understand the idea
The idea is to reward the dog when he wags his tail. Over time, you add a cue word, "Wag", and a hand signal (such as moving your hand from side to side). Eventually, you can make the hand signal barely noticeable in order to have the dog do tricks such as, "Wag your tail if you agree with me."
Step
2
Be vigilant for a wagging tail
When the dog sees something that makes him happy and he wags, capture the moment by praising him and saying "wag". Try to do this in a variety of situations so that the dog begins to link the reward to the one action (wagging) rather than playing with a ball or a toy.
Step
3
Encourage a wag
If waiting for the dog to wag his tail is a bit hit and miss, then use a prop such as a ball that will encourage the dog to wag his tail. Having an object handy that guarantees a wag can speed up the training.
Step
4
Use cue signals
Add in a hand signal, such as weaving your hand from side to side in a way. This gives you another way to cue the behavior, which is useful if you want the dog to do tricks.
Step
5
Phase out the props
Gradually phase out the use of props, and use the cue command 'wag' to get the desired action. Remember, praise goes a long way, especially when teaching a dog to wag his tail on command.
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The Isolate the Tail Method

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Step
1
Understand the idea
In the 'Capture the Wag' method, it can take a while for the dog to realize which action is being rewarded. You may think you are rewarding a wagging tail, but the dog might think the praise is for standing still or looking you in the eye. A way around this is to lie the dog down, so that the only thing that moves is his tail. That way, when his tail starts to move and he gets a reward, this speeds up his understanding of cause and effect.
Step
2
Consider using a clicker
A clicker marks the exact moment the dog does the required action, in this case wagging. However, first it's necessary to back up a step by clicker training the dog. This means teaching the dog that when he hears a click, he gets a reward. This is easily done by scattering a handful of small treats on the floor, and clicking as the dog eats each one. In this particular case, you would click the moment the dog starts wagging. This provides a clear message as to what is being rewarded.
Step
3
Lie the dog on his side
Make sure he's on a comfortable mat, so that he is relaxed and not anxious. Wait for him to wag his tail, then use the cue word "wag" OR click him and then use "wag".
Step
4
Anticipate the wag
As he gets the hang of things, start saying "Wag" in anticipation of the event. When he obliges, click the moment to mark it, and then give a reward. Keep practicing this.
Step
5
Now practice in a standing position
Once the dog links "wag" to the muscular movement of his tail, you can allow the dog to stand and practice in more natural positions.
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The What NOT to Do Method

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Step
1
Never force a wag
The wag is a happy movement and should remain so. Never force the dog to wag his tail, as this makes a mockery of the whole idea of a happy wag.
Step
2
Never punish the dog
Be sure to keep the mood light, happy, and playful. If the dog forgets earlier lessons or seems to be disobeying, never punish him. This will only make him anxious and less likely to wag.
Step
3
Don't overtire the dog
Don't push the point and practice for too long so that the dog becomes resentful and stops enjoying the session. Remember, short training sessions held twice a day are much more effective than one longer session where the dog loses concentration.
Step
4
Don't expect the dog to compete with distractions
Train the dog in a quiet environment away from distractions. It will be too hard for him to understand the subtleties of what you are trying to achieve if there are other things going on around you. Start your training in a quiet room, and as he becomes more accomplished you can practice in other places
Step
5
Don't make fun of the dog
Always respect your fur-friend. If your intention is to teach him to wag on command, so as to do tricks, make sure the tricks are not demeaning or disrespectful to the dog.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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