Getting the wiggles back

Sometimes, we can’t control when our dogs’ wiggles stop. The environment is unpredictable, as are canine cognitive dysfunction symptoms. But we can help bring their wiggles back, ensuring they feel safe, enriched, and happy.


IMG_1451In the months since Earl received his canine cognitive dysfunction diagnosis, his separation anxiety symptoms have increased. He has never liked being left alone; my husband and I have upheld our promise to him since adopting him more than four years ago that we will never leave him alone for longer than he is comfortable. But lately, these separation anxiety symptoms are more intense. His tolerance for my being away from home has decreased, and he’s become more sensitive to me and my husband’s fluctuations in work schedules.

Last weekend, I had a long day at work. Earl wasn’t alone – he was at home with my husband, and had a day full of walks, puzzle toys and snuggles. But it took him about three hours after my return home for him to settle. He paced, panted, and barked. Not even snuggling in bed, his safe space, could calm him. Though he gradually calmed down, he was still exhibiting signs of stress and anxiety throughout the next morning.

It’s never an easy thing to witness your dog exhibiting signs of stress, particularly when the tools you usually use to help your dog calm down and feel better don’t seem to be working. It’s also not easy to realize that these episodes will likely increase in frequency as your dog gets older.

Following a few hours of anxiety on my end the following day, I decided my primary focus for Earl should be helping him getting his “wiggle” back. A friend and training colleague helped me coin the term “wiggle parameter” a few years ago when we were working with her dachsund. When her dog was happy and relaxed, her body was loose, wiggly, and waggy. Regardless of where we were in our training plan, we kept an eye on her dog’s “wiggle parameter” to gauge whether we were moving too fast or whether her dog needed a break from training.

(Bias alert: I’m not one of those trainers who dreams of dogs with perfect “obedience” style behaviors. I want them happy, wagging their tails, and wigging their bodies, feeling joyous and stress-free during their training experiences. If that means they wiggle a bit — or a lot, depending on the size of their tail wag — during a sit-stay, that’s fine by me!)

Returning to Earl, following that stressful evening of hours-long pacing and panting, I made a mental list of things that Earl loves, and called it “The Wiggle List.” Every dog’s wiggle list will be a bit different. Earl’s list includes:

  • Puzzle toys
  • Canine fitness work on his FitPaws equipment
  • Chewing (he only has 6 teeth, but he still loves to chew)
  • Snuggles in his safe spaces
  • “Sniffari” walks where he can explore and sniff

The Wiggle List will not only help Earl feel safe, but it will help me have a plan when his CCD symptoms escalate. And if one item doesn’t bring the wiggle back, I can move on to another on the list.

Sometimes, we can’t control when our dogs’ wiggles stop. The environment is unpredictable, as are CCD symptoms. But we can help bring their wiggles back, ensuring they feel safe, enriched, and happy.

–  Maureen Backman, MS, CTC, PCT-A is the owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco. She is also the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and Muzzle Up! Online. To get in touch, email her at  To purchase her training DVDs, visit Tawzer Dog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s