Most dogs will not keep you guessing about the abundant love they harbor for you. Want proof? Just bend down and ask. Use that special voice reserved for small children and pets, hold his squishy little snout in your hands and utter the words, “Do you love me? Do you, boy?” Then get ready for a wildly enthusiastic response. That is one of the beautiful things about having a dog: the many ways he shows his love for you.
Let’s talk about that wagging tail. It matters not if it’s a little powder puff nub or a long, rebar-like table sweeper, a dog’s tail is perhaps the most effective tool he uses to demonstrate his love. Even when your pup is lying lazily in a patch of sun, with zero motivation to rise, that tail will start sweeping the floor at the mere sound of your voice. Other dogs take a more involved approach. When he hears the garage door open, signifying your arrival, this dog runs to greet you—and I do mean he runs. He will skitter around corners, crumple scatter rugs, and bang into walls in his eagerness to see you. His tail starts going, beating a rhythm against every surface in its path before the wagging drifts toward his haunches, creating a wiggle-butt cuteness that is hard to resist. The more you respond to his antics, the more pronounced becomes his wiggle-butt, tail wagging, and often prancing and whimpering performance. If you’re lucky enough to inspire this greeting, you’ll agree that it’s a sight to behold and impossible to ignore.
There is a point where vigorous tail wagging can become a problem. Ask anyone who has overlooked the fact that their dog’s tail is on the same level as the coffee table and dared to use it for the purpose it was intended. Many a steaming mug of java or full glass of wine have met their demise in that way. And then there are the perils we can’t foresee. Once, we had a mud room at the front of our house. It was especially useful for taking off coats and stomping snow from boots. When arriving, we would burst through the door in a flurry of conversation and boot stomping, coat removing and putting down of groceries. Our Labrador was in the mix immediately, crowding and prancing, and whimpering… and yes, wagging his tail against the bench, and the walls, and us. We had developed a routine where I would put the baby on her feet while I helped her siblings remove their coats and boots. This was new, her being sturdy on her feet, and it made the coming inside process so much easier. It struck me that she was a remarkably patient baby to wait so quietly until I was ready to pick her up again. But, hey—who am I to question the small wins? One day, while she stood waiting, I noticed that her arms were bent at the elbow and her hands rolled into fists, pulled together to cover her face (think Joe Louis in the boxing ring, guard up). At first, I was perplexed. Why would she cover her face like that? And then our excited dog moved in, banging his tail vigorously against the arms she used to shield her face. I scooped her up. No wonder she didn’t complain. She was too busy protecting her face to cry out. I was at once both shocked that I hadn’t imagined the danger and also extremely impressed by her ingenuity. After that, her waiting perch was changed from the floor to the bench. You see, every dog owner can tell you that it’s a whole lot easier to move the targets than it is to calm a happy tail.
Sometimes the tail wagging is reciprocal. You show your dog love, and he responds in kind. As far as my dogs are concerned, my love is best put to use by making dog biscuits. I like to fill the biscuit tin with a flavor combination of homemade biscuits, and I can get pretty inventive with the recipes. We don’t want dogs with bored taste buds, after all. That, and the truth is that our dogs are exceedingly spoiled. Recently, I made a recipe that only a dog could find yummy: peanut butter and pepperoni. You may pinch your nose, but by the tail action that followed, I’d say it was the perfect combination of salty sausage and nutty goodness. Throughout the cooking process and the taste-testing (them, not me), our dogs found them extremely wag-worthy. Tails swished and chops were licked. Repeatedly. Even sitting in begging mode, their tails swept the floor. So, I ask, how do my dogs love me? Let them wag the ways.