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What are Companion Manners?

Companion manners are those manners-type behaviors that you dream about, when you think about getting a puppy... even if you get a Newfie pup who will weigh 160 pounds at a year old, you don't picture him mugging you at the front door when you try to leave for work (or, when you get home)... or knocking you down as you cross the kitchen to put his breakfast food bowl on the floor... or, taking out the front window when the neighbor walks down the sidewalk... or barks non-stop at the slightest noise.  Believe it or not, this is not a dream... having a dog who exhibits calm, happy behavior is NOT an unreachable goal.  Even if your dog is a 5-year-old 80-pound rescue... you just need some help getting 'over the humps'.  That's why I'm here.

 I am a Big Believer in just jumping in and reinforcing appropriate behavior, when and where I find it... even if it appears to be accidental. I don't wait for training sessions -- life is one long training session, here.  Don't misunderstand me... I do set up training sessions around specific scenarios when they're needed... but I try very hard not to let these little nuggets of perfection pass unrewarded.  Using this methodology, it's just as easy to reinforce non-behavior as it is to reinforce behavior... what I mean by this, is that if your dog walks to you without checking out the garbage can that's next to you -- reinforce him! If he walks past the pizza on the counter without sniffing (or worse {grin}), give him a piece of the pepperoni. Doing this encourages good everyday manners!

Manners/companion training is just a way of teaching your animals that there are rules (some "hard and fast", some less so) for living all together in a group.  This is how we teach our animals "companion behavior", so that things move smoothly... like "how to get everyone fed/toileted before work in the morning", or that "this is how we answer the door when someone knocks or rings the doorbell"... these rules teach your animals that there is a flow to "how things progress" so that you can get out the door.  They're important, and it's probably stuff that you do all the time, you just don't realize that you're doing it, or maybe you don't realize that it's something that you *need* to do.

Manners Commands are the "please's" and "thank you's" of the canine/human relationship. These are the commands that you use to teach your dog not to bite in play, not to jump on guests, not to take food without asking, not to "dive into" a food or water bowl before you put it down, not to jump on other people's furniture, not to jump out of the car until you're ready, not to pace in agitation when they see another dog, etc.

To Train.... or Not to Train

I have never met a dog that wasn't trainable.  Never.  And, I've seen some pretty out-of-control dogs.  With some pretty frustrated owners.  These owners often think that I'll come into their home and wreak some sort of *miracle*... and I usually can, pretty quickly... but it's not a miracle.  It's just that I understand how this behavior stuff works.  You will too.

First, sit down and write out what your dog's doing that's driving you crazy... make a list.   Start with just 2-3 things.  Then, I want you to make another column... these behaviors will be what you want the dog to do INSTEAD of what he's doing. Be specific, and be practical (remember, this is a DIY exercise, so it'll be YOU doing the work).  Now, video what's happening that you don't like, and send it to me with your notes about what you want to see happen, and include your phone number.  I'll call you to clarify, then I'll get to work designing exercises to help you achieve what you want.  You'll decide if you think you can work this way.... whether you think you will be able to expend the time, energy, stress and money to work on these situations... to me, it's worth it.  You aren't me, and only you can make this call.  You have to weigh all of this against other life choices.

Access to test subjects:

Certain exercises to teach appropriate behavior around other people will mean that you'll have to have people to practice with... so, pick people to use for this, and make note of these on your list, above.  Often, owners live out in the country, where they don't get many visitors, or they just like the secluded life. I'm one of these... I don't often get visitors, outside of clients.  If I want to teach a particular dog how to act around a particular person, that's easy: I just set up exercises with that person.  But, if I want my dog to behave a certain way with anyone who comes to the front door, I have to have more than just the UPS guy ringing the bell once a week... it takes alot more imagination and set-up.  See what I'm saying?

So, you get the neighbors, and family members, and neighborhood kids (get the parents' permission for this) to act as test subjects to teach your dog manners at the front door.  Teach them how to do it first (the people), then work on teaching the dog how to respond.  Think about this: do you want him to stand, or sit, do you want him to remain a certain distance from the door?  Get it in your head, and work on ways to teach these little bits of behavior, then incorporate them into the final repertoire later..

**Note: put a sign on your front door that says : "My Dog is Learning Manners... Don't Touch Him until all 4 feet (or his butt, if that's your wish) are on the Floor!"  Then, enforce this.  Otherwise, people will undermine what you're trying to teach, even unknowingly.  If you can't enforce it, manage the dog, either on leash or in a room while you're answering the door.**

DO NOT put up a sign that says "Beware of Dog"... this intimates that you think your dog will bite, and you can lose your homeowner's insurance for this!  Instead, teach your dog to love everyone who visits; teach them that visitors cause a prty to happen.

Now, you've got the neighbors trained in how to act when they ring the bell... you have to design exercises to teach your dog how to act first with people that he knows *and likes* at the front door.  The end result of these exercises is that you want him happy, but not overwhelmed.  Work with 1 person until he shows that he's bored with that person, then use a new person.  Take about a week, using a different person every day.  Then, I'd take a day or 2 where every hour each of these test people take turns ringing the bell, just to reiterate to him that it doesn't matter who's on the other side... you cannot do too much of this kind of training, so it's okay to err on the side of caution!


Sometimes there are things that you want to teach that lie outside the realm of what's normal... I think it's important to decide, in these kinds of situations, whether training is *feasible*... by that, I mean that it's a matter of weighing the stress involved in the training process (for everyone involved) against the benefits. This, of course, is entirely situational -- it depends on your situation, and your commitment to making a change... and I can't give you the answer. For example:

When I started doing the training stuff, I operated 3 businesses out of my home, and often had clients in and out of my office (over half of these clients were elderly, so my dogs had to be really gentle, even in their happiness). My dogs had to have access to my office, because I spent ALOT of time there -- and I refused to be separated from them. Since 2 of the businesses had *nothing* to do with dogs, and because many people simply have no desire to be greeted at the door by a [albeit well-behaved] HERD of dogs {grin}, it was necessary for me to teach my dogs to LEAVE the office on-command when someone knocked at the door. The steps I used to accomplish this will be detailed in the article "The Kitchen Command", on the website.  Basically, when someone knocked on the door, my 5 dogs were taught to go into the kitchen (separated from the office by a half door), and then would  be allowed (or not) to greet the visitor.  There was a decent chance that they'd have the opportunity to greet, so the reinforcement level was high enough that it worked well.

However, if I didn't have the client traffic in my home office, I doubt very much I would have bothered to teach something like this to my dogs... yep, it's useful (to ME), and it IS a pretty nifty little trick... but I wouldn't have gained enough benefit to justify the aggravation that I went through, in figuring out the sequencing.

And, when the dogs *are* allowed to just greet at the door, it's usually a family member who has learned Common Sense around my dogs... I'm VERY picky about this. My younger sister is afforded this "honor" of being greeted by the Herd. Other family members are allowed to be greeted by the dogs individually... and, still others, a few (PopeyeTheIdiotBoy has the habit of choosing humans seemingly at random, and making The Mean Face... I tend to giggle, which just doesn't HELP matters {grin})... and a couple more, not at all. It's all relative (no pun intended {grin})

If someone doesn't have enough foot-traffic (visitors) that they can call on to perform exercises with the dogs on a *regular* basis, then I usually suggest setting up a room (or rooms) that are restricted from visitor use, and allowing the dogs to chill out and chew on a Kong for the visit (simply teach the dogs to accept this prior to a visit... an hour or so a few times per week should be plenty to "prime" them for this). If, for example, owners live far enough away from traffic that they rarely see someone walk past their fence, then it makes more sense to just call the dogs into the house when someone passes (or, just let them BARK for the 2 minutes), rather than try to build exercises around someone's passing every 6 months. The same (in my opinion) would be true of having visitors...

I also have a real tendency toward utilizing this same mindset in situations regarding garbage cans, food on counters, etc. Why stress yourself and your dog, when it's easier to just put things away?  You can use baby gates or a half door to keep them out of the kitchen, or use a stationary board to confine them away from where you're working, or teach them to "settle" on a rug.  There are lots of management options that you can use... it just takes imagination.

Using keywords

Keywords are the cues or commands that you choose to form an association for your dog, so that you gain control of an act. It does not matter in the least what words you choose to use, so long as everybody uses the same word to mean the same act. Consistency is the key, here. Following are just a few of the keywords for manners that we use in our home. We also use "outside" for the dogs to go potty; "drink" for obvious reasons; "bite" for "do you want a treat?"; "bye-bye" for going in the car; "walking" for going for a walk; etc. This is how you teach your dog to understand you: simply talk to them. Use short sentences containing the keyword, or just the single keyword, keep it light and happy, and repeat the word in association with whatever you're pairing it with. For instance, I repeated "drink" over several days, whenever I was refilling their water bowls, and both Cis and Zoey caught on fairly quickly. Both girls have a fairly decent understanding of vocabulary, now (they even understand "no kitty-cat!" {grin}). If they're barking at a noise, I can say "just the kids" in a nonchalant tone, and they stop, because I've taken them many times to the door and shown them the kids, and repeated the words. Take the time to teach your dog to understand you.

Manners keywords include:

settle: this cue gives you the power to remind your dog to "chill out", if he's racing through the house, or nervous at the Vet's, or you want to trim his nails.

off: if he jumps up on people, or furniture, this one allows you to control it.

easy: to help remind young puppies and older dogs understand that humans are not chew toys.

leave it: to give you control in situations when your dog is way too interested in another dog, or something icky.

wait: allows you to get out of the car, and get yourself together, before getting the dog out, or can allow you to get your house keys out of your purse while standing at the front door holding 3 bags of groceries and the dog's leash. This differs from the "stay" command in that the dog can wait in any position it wants to: the command is not "position dependent" -- and yes, dogs can differentiate between the two.

speak/quiet: allows you to "turn it off" when the barking gets to be more than you can handle, within limits. This is best taught when the dog is barking for reasons other than gaining attention. If your dog is barking to gain your attention, trying to teach this command is reinforcing the barking.

out, give, or drop it : allows you to remove anything from his mouth. These are used in retrieving, tug-of-war, and in teaching limits to dogs who guard toys.

You can give a "cue" or "command" to most behaviors that you want to teach to your dog, and thereby gain control of that action -- the only real limits are your imagination and creativity.

Brenda Rushman CCBC

Find Test Subjects...
Using Keywords...
Teaching Bite Inhibition...


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