We often talk about teaching our pups ‘manners’, basic manners which we aim for our pups to establish fairly early on, thereby resulting in them being a joy to live with throughout life. However, the term ‘manners’ is fairly broad, what exactly do we mean? And how do we sift through the basic manners to find what is essential, fairly important, and just plain personal choice?
When we define the term ‘manners’, we can say “the way in which things are done, being done, or happening; mode of action or occurrence”. So the way in which dogs DO things, the way in which they go about behaviours and the way in which they act on their impulses in varying situations. Largely, the ‘manners’ you teach your puppy will be dependent on what you see as acceptable or not, some people have far higher/lower standards of precision when asking for behaviours from their dogs. Some want a dog who will walk at heel consistently, others are happy to have a dog sniffing about on a loose lead. Some require their dog to be reliable off lead at all times, others are happy with a long line in the park. We all aim for the best, but ‘the best’ is subjective and our commitment to teaching certain manners is dependent hugely on us and how much we ‘care’ if our dogs are highly obedience trained or not.
For example, my dog gets hugely excited when she sees her friends and people she knows, does she jump about? Yes! Do I care? No. But, if she was jumping about in that way to everybody she sees in the street, or when I am preparing her dinner, or trying to put her lead on, I might have something to say about it! So, largely the behaviours we want to see are context dependent and we are more relaxed in certain situations. Does this create confusion for our pups? Possibly. We can try to avoid this confusion by teaching for example an ‘up’ and ‘off’ cue, so ‘up’ signals you can put your paws up for a cuddle, ‘off’ signals all 4 on the floor. There’s a lot to be said for working with a typical puppy behaviour and turning it into a trick/behaviour on cue. Personally speaking, I wouldn’t want my dog to lose her enthusiasm for seeing people she knows or her excitement at seeing her ‘dog friends’, however I wouldn’t want her to leap at people in the street. So, we find a happy medium and ensure she has cue words for tucking in next to me at heel and keeping all 4 on the floor. I don’t want to diminish or dampen her personality, but I don’t want her running riot either.
Manners are often associated with impulse control, and self-reinforcing behaviours. When we think about ‘bad manners’, what behaviours do we think of? We think of jumping up, counter surfing, pulling on the lead, barging through doorways, or over the top begging for our food! Teaching our pups to have some self control, or to perform alternative or incompatible behaviours, can really help with general manners. We often expect our pups to STOP doing what they’re doing, but don’t give them an alternative, a rewarding alternative behaviour to perform.
Let’s have a look at some common puppy behaviours which we would say lack manners!
- Sitting/waiting for collar/lead – We can’t spend 20 minutes trying to get our pups to calm down for a collar and lead to be put on every time we go out! Practice when you’re not going out, pick lead up/put lead down, lead on/lead off throughout the day etc. Teach your pup to ‘retrieve’ his lead? Thereby associating the lead with something other than ‘walkies’? Make it a fun training game.
- Door-way manners – We don’t want to be pushed out the way (especially if you have a large breed!) every time we go through a door! Start to encourage a ‘watch’ before opening the door, build it up so your pup knows to watch you before going out, thereby gaining a slower/calmer exit.
- Patience/control around food – We don’t need to go over the top, but we need to teach some ‘calmness’ or relaxation around food ie. when we are cooking, eating etc. Teach a ‘leave’, change where reinforcement is coming from, scatter feed outside when you’re cooking? Provide a kong in his crate when you’re eating? If he can’t perform the behaviour, it can’t be reinforced!
- Car control – We need to ensure our pups travel safely, also ensuring they don’t leap out and run the second the door/boot is open! Teach an in/out cue. The pup only gets out with the ‘out’ cue. Or a sit or watch before getting out?
- Greeting new people – We need/expect our pups to learn that not all people are going to appreciate their enthusiastic advances. Teach an incompatible behaviour when you have guests, or walk by people on walks, work on your ‘settle’ cue, teach your pup to tuck in next to (or behind) you, ensure people don’t interact with your pup until he is calm, think about what you WANT your puppy to do instead? Teach it!
These are just a few of the basic ‘manners’ (or lack of!) we usually require from our dogs. ALL of these are perfectly do-able with a bit of training and teaching a few new cues. There are so many ways to encourage the behaviours we DO want to see, especially when dealing with young pups who are still very much learning about the world and the environment they live in. We all have varying standards of what is and isn’t expected from our pups, some have very high standards and require impeccable control, others are more relaxed in their approach, whichever you are, ensuring you have taught basic training exercises including those listed above will undoubtedly help your pup with regards to safety at home and general control in public places. The term ‘manners’ is so wide-ranging and very open to interpretation, think about what you require from your dog and what you don’t, write a short list and make sure everybody in the house is aware of what training is going on at any one time to teach all of the behaviours. Make teaching these things fun for your puppy! None of the above are about ‘controlling’ your pups desires or needs, or ‘forcing’ him to do anything he isn’t comfortable with, it’s merely training your pup thereby resulting in the increase of the behaviours we want to see; patience, calmness, focus, and control of his impulses.