Puppy Wiggle

Bingley as a puppy wiggles his way into a twister game.

Bingley as a puppy wiggles his way into a twister game.

Last December we hosted a “Client Appreciation Open House” and one of our owners arrived with Sparky, an adorable new puppy, who wiggled profusely and curled in on himself so much that he looked like a donut! Emma and I were enchanted and delighted by this squirming bundle and gushed that Sparky had the perfect “puppy wiggle.” The owner asked me what I meant by puppy wiggle and why do I want to see it in young dogs? Perhaps more than anything else, it is a squirmy looseness to a dog’s movements and a softness in its approach and interaction with people that shows me that this is a dog with a high (and appropriate) social drive to people. Dogs with straight spines, stiffness to their movements, or hard interactions with people cause me to pause as their body language is not saying, “Come thither,” but rather “Stay where you are and no one gets hurt.”

Cashewing Flatties greet Emma.

Cashewing Flatties greet Emma.

So, when meeting a new dog, or assessing him for social drive I will count the number of friendly interactions that I have with the dog in the first minute of meeting him. A friendly interaction is when the dog approaches and engages with me for 2 or more seconds, in a soft way such as sitting to be petted; leaning, wiggling or curling into me (looks like a cashew nut, curled in on himself); or if he jumps, it is with a soft look and he will stay there to lick or nuzzle me. If his tail is wagging it incorporates his entire being and may be rotating like a helicopter blade (which I love to see). This sort of gentle interaction shows me that he is truly friendly, not just aroused or excited.
This puppy was stiff, had hard eye contact, and no wiggle.

This puppy was stiff, had hard eye contact, and no wiggle.

On the contrary, a dog who is more interested in the environment (especially if the dog is in his home environment which is not new) than meeting people, who stands stiffly (may or may not have a wagging tail, but if wagging, the tail is not helicoptering), will not make eye contact or gives hard eye contact, and/or moves away from me, rather than into me, when I pet it, is not a dog with a high social drive to people. One thing that really makes me suspicious of a dog is when it does the “pounce off”. This is where an aroused dog  rushes up to you, jumps up, and uses its two front paws to literally bounce off of you. This interaction takes a second or less and is not friendly, but a sign of arousal (high energy for whatever reason). It reminds me of charging in basketball. I imaging the player who is bowled over by his opponent feels much the same way I do when a dog ricochets off me.

I find a common mistake is confusing excitement or arousal with friendliness. Think of it this way, if someone is loud, boisterous, looks all around the room but not at you even when talking to you, moves quickly to greet everyone, but never stays to talk with anyone, and seems more interested in the surroundings than the people, then you might be amazed at his energy, but you are not likely to think of him as a particularly friendly or engaged person. Dogs who pounce off, move away from petting, and puppies who do not wiggle at the sight of humans, are indicating to me me that they may be energetic, but they most likely do not have a high social drive to people.
The most important thing I look for in a puppy is his social drive to people as it is the single best indicator of the potential for a successful future with his new family. If you are meeting a puppy for the first time, either as a prospective adopter, or as a friend, pay close attention to this body language as it will let you know if he wants to meet you as much as you want to meet him.

Behavior or "What the heck?" General Informational or Doggie Demographics Your new dog or puppy2 comments

2 Comments
  1. Thanks! “Cashewing” (bless you!) was a new phrase to me and it’s so descriptive of that desirable behavior!

  2. Julie Smith says:

    Thanks Laura! I wish I could take credit for the expression, but I first heard it from Colleen Pelar at All About Dogs in Virginia. I too thought it was a perfect description.

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