What do we mean by a well-mannered dog? And why does it matter? Dogs don’t come to our homes pre-programmed with polite social behaviour or habits.
In her 2012 book Plenty in Life is Free, Kathy Sdao said it well: “[dogs] have no innate knowledge of what we want and limited natural skill at comprehending our attempts to tell them… But dogs are behaviorally malleable… Using patient, systematic training, we can help them put the pieces in place.”
It is down to us as guardians and caregivers to teach our dogs how to live in our homes and our world
At On Kew Dog, we believe helping dogs learn and understand how to live successfully with us is key to having an enjoyable dog for life. And frankly speaking, a well-mannered dog makes for an easier life for both you and your dog – with your dog understanding better what to expect and how to behave in and outside of the home.
Dogs are individuals. And each dog needs to feel safe and happy to learn.
Before we undertake a training plan, we also need to remember that each dog is an individual with a number of factors playing roles in shaping your dog’s personality and behaviour. These factors include genetics, breed traits, physical health, learning history, early life experiences, environment, and emotions.
And just like us, dogs need to feel safe and happy to understand what we’re asking, to learn what we’re teaching, and make good choices. At a minimum, we need to ensure their safety and welfare needs are met, which is why an initial consultation should review medical history, nutrition, daily routine, and who else the dog interacts with in his/her life.
Training for a happy, well-mannered dog can evolve at different life stages and we should adapt our approach for each stage:
Teaching Puppies Manners
Congratulations on your new puppy! Puppies arrive in our homes as sweet cuddly living beings… but who knew they could also be land sharks that chew and bite everything in sight? And how do we teach these little sharks what our cues mean for ‘Sit’, ‘Come’ and ‘Lie Down’? How do we help puppies mature into well-mannered dogs?
Here is where we focus our training for puppies to build their skills and confidence:
- Socialisation – building up positive experiences to new things and people, positive associations with handling and grooming
- Home skills – housetraining, sleep schedule, appropriate play (with people and other dogs), settling on a mat or bed for quiet time, ‘legal’ avenues for chewing/digging/jumping up
- Foundation skills – attention to their human, loose lead walking, reliable recall training
Steffi’s Story as a Puppy
In a previous blog, we wrote about adopting our dog Steffi at the age of 16 weeks. We thought starting with her as a puppy would be easy – how naïve we were! We did some things right – putting in place a regular daily routine for her, a crate for her to sleep in and take time out, taking her to puppy school with a positive reinforcement trainer, and exposing her to new environments (public transport, pubs, cafes, the vet), people and other dogs.
As Steffi became an adolescent, we found there were some things that still needed lots of work…
Reinforcing Manners with Adolescent Dogs
So your cute little pup learned some great skills and you’re proud of what he’s learned, but as he gets older, he seems to be forgetting his manners and training? Or you worked really hard at ensuring your pup got positive experiences, but she’s suddenly appearing wary of things or situations? Or maybe you even missed puppy classes and now need to focus on training for your growing pup?
Adolescence is a totally normal developmental phase on the way to becoming a mature adult who makes good life choices. On the way to becoming a mature adult, your dog might show more worrying behaviours (over excitement, fear around other people or dogs) or exercising ‘questionable’ choices (like not coming back when called). With patience and a training plan, we can guide them on their way to becoming a happy, well-mannered adult.
Here is where we focus our training for adolescent dogs to guide them through this critical development stage:
- Foundation skills – attention to their human, ignoring distractions, loose lead walking, reliable recall training
- Enrichment activities – to help tire out their brains (activity feeding, sniffing on walks, trick training)
- Training or behaviour modification support to address problem behaviours – like barking, chewing, counter surfing, digging, jumping, nipping/mouthing, pulling on the lead, stealing
Steffi’s Story as an Adolescent
We adopted Steffi not knowing her full background, including what breed her parents were. The rescue’s best guess was that she would be a medium sized staffie cross. As Steffi grew larger and larger (she’s a lean 35 kgs as an adult), it became apparent that we really, really needed to work on her loose lead walking.
Being pulled around by a large dog is not fun, and can be embarrassing! So we set about teaching her to walk on a loose lead – reinforcing her with treats for walking at our side or with a ‘U’ shape to the lead if she was slightly ahead. She also loves sniffing the ground, so another reinforcer is providing opportunities to sniff, with the extra benefit of tiring out her brain J
We wished we started teaching loose lead walking when she was much smaller, but the good news for us, and all late starters out there, Steffi learned and models loose lead walking beautifully.
How to have a happy (and well-mannered) dog? Let dogs be dogs
One more thing: Let dogs be dogs. After all, one of the reasons we love dogs is that they’re dogs! We’ve touched on a number of topics on how to teach a dog to be well-mannered. Well, what about happy? As well as looking after their safety and welfare, it’s really important to give them the freedom to express their natural behaviours and just be themselves, including:
- Sniffing (on walks, with scatter feeding)
- Chewing (appropriate toys and foods)
- Digging (in designated digging areas)
- Rolling or swimming in mucky stuff (the smellier the better)
- Chasing their ‘prey’ (lure toys, hide & seek with toys, ‘clicking and treating’ for spotting ‘prey’)
- Play time with their favourite humans and dog friends (or not, if they don’t enjoy the company of other dogs)
- Exercising choice (choosing routes on walks, whether they want to play or train, whether they want time alone)
Steffi’s Story – Rolling in deer pee
One of the greatest pleasures in life for our dog Steffi is rolling in deer pee in Richmond Park. If you’re wondering whether deer pee smells bad… well, it’s absolutely disgusting! But watching the look of sheer joy on Steffi’s face when she’s rolling in the grass, we can’t deny her that pleasure. And after all, Steffi’s coat is washable as is her dog bed in the car. A quick wash when we get home is a small price to pay so that she can express perfectly natural dog behaviour.
More to come on manners for Rescue Dogs and Adult Dogs
There is a lot more to say about all of these topics and we haven’t yet talked about Rescue Dogs or Adult Dogs… so stay tuned for more content to come.
Are you ready to enjoy a happy, well-mannered puppy or adolescent dog? Then get in touch, we’d love to help.