Teaching Good Manners

Pet parents of well-mannered dogs always wear that contented, all-is-right-in-my-world look. Sure, they’re lucky, but they’ve done a few things right too. Some of their secrets are listed here. These principles work on dogs of any age but they’re best started during puppyhood and applied consistently into the golden years.

  • This is important stuff. Bad behavior can be mighty frustrating; it’s by far the most common reason pets are relinquished to shelters.
  • Proper management of a dog’s mistakes is important but the real win comes with reliable canine leadership. That means catching them doing something right – often.

Dogs are highly social creatures who need a great deal of activity.

  • Daily vigorous exercise, preferably with other dogs off-territory, is basic.
  • Mental stimulation in the form of interactive play (playing ball, Frisbee, obedience, agility) also translates to a more well-adjusted dog.
  • Rotate interesting toys like food puzzles daily to satisfy Bowser’s inner hunter/scavenger.

Dogs need structure

  • If she’s required to work for what she gets (earned privileges), she can learn to watch you for instructions instead of demanding attention by flinging herself at you.
  • Make a list of your dog’s favorite things: food, a pat on the head, taking a walk, a kind word, going out, coming in-everything.
  • Require her to work for every bit of it. You and I work for living; your dog is already programmed to survive by being your faithful subordinate.

Getting started is easy

  • Have your dog drag a leash (drag line) around the house.
  • Just before he goes outside, eats dinner, whatever, hold the leash and say “Ozzie, Sit”.
    • Voice control is a very healthy thing.
    • If he isn’t clear on the concept he’ll need to learn basic obedience skills.
    • Consider a class from an AKC member dog obedience club.
  • You are in charge; your dog’s job is to pay attention and follow directions. Only then should he get what he wants.

As your dog’s leader it will be your job to anticipate triggers that can lead to bad behavior.

  • At the first hint that she’s about to jump on a guest, chase the cat, or set the house on fire, grab the drag line and a treat and say “Harriet, Come”.
  • Rather than committing the crime, your good dog will reap a more satisfying reward: your affection and a tasty morsel.

A dog who flings himself at visitors can be taught to lay down when he’s still 10 feet away.

  • With the drag line in one hand and a treat in the other say “Ricky, Down”. This means that you want him all the way down: elbows, tummy, and hips.
  • Hold the food at dog nose level, but give it up only after he’s been fully on the floor for at least a few seconds.
  • The security a dog will enjoy from its person’s consistent, canine-specific, leadership will improve everybody’s lives.

Other annoying behaviors-

  • How about that daily shoulder dislocation you get when your dog pulls you around on leash walks?
    • Jerking on her for struggling against the leash (an artificial barrier for a dog) would only punish her frustration. Nobody wins.
    • It’ll take time and patience to teach your dog to accept a head halter but it’s so much better than strangling her with a choke chain or prong collar.
  • You can correct sneaky indoor behavior like counter surfing and jumping on furniture automatically with booby traps like a Scat Mat, or Snappy Trainer.
    • Despite the abundance of food at your house your dog, like all canines, is sure that the great famine is only 20 minutes away.
    • Don’t tempt your natural scavenger. Set him up for success by keeping your kitchen counter free of tid bits (dog bait).

A word on punishment: fuhgeddaboudit.

  • Goofy dogs think you’re playing if you knee them in the chest or step on their toes when they jump on you. Besides, who wants to hurt a dog?
  • And for cryin’ out loud, leave the alpha rolls for the wrestlers. Scared dogs and assertive personalities may bite if they feel intimidated.
  • Your dog loves you. Fear and pain poison good friendships.
  • Teaching with kindness and consistency is the path to a lifelong trusting friendship.

Finally, it’s OK to avoid some problems.

  • An otherwise great dog whose only vice is food aggression should be left alone when eating.
  • If she raids the garbage, store the trash in a latched cabinet.