What makes a good dog citizen?
This week I am running a dog training workshop on this exact subject, teaching our owners and their pups what to do. ‘Manners!’ I hear you all cry. ‘Dogs need to do as they are told!’. Well, that’s great, but how do we start teaching these?
A good dog citizen comes from a good human teacher.
Dogs aren’t born knowing about manners, any more than young humans are. Gone are the days where we used to frighten children and dogs into being too scared to do anything. Nowadays we understand that the quickest way to a happy, sociable adult person or dog is to train them to do the right things without fear or force.
The idea of a good citizen is to take on board that we live in a society with others. This means that certain behaviours aren’t ideal and some are downright illegal – stealing, violence, being noisy are examples.
Dogs live as a species that we bred deliberately to do things for us and are somewhat dependent on us for most of the time. We have a powerful responsibility to help dogs learn what ‘manners’ look like, rather than expecting them to automatically know.
The worst approach to teaching a dog is to wait for them to go wrong, and then yell at them, smack them or yank them around on their leads. Poor things! There are laws against doing this too, so don’t do it.
Who trains the dog?
You are the teacher, so if they haven’t learned something, that’s not their fault. And even if they have learned something, they aren’t ‘wrong’ or ‘naughty’ if they fail. You need to teach them that no matter what the temptation, they aren’t allowed to just jump up at people. You do that by teaching them how to stay calm, really thoroughly, rather than punishing them.
Teaching dogs is a skill, and it’s ok to admit you don’t know how – yet. That’s what us dog trainers are here for. We are highly trained, experienced professionals who see around 30-40 dogs a week, so we definitely know better than someone in your family or some fella down the road who happens to shout at his dog occasionally or suggests a prong collar.
So, what really does make a good dog citizen? You do, by taking your dog to ‘school’, whether it’s at home, in a class, or both. This means you learn how to teach your dog, because really, you need training, too.
Be a good dog citizen by investing time into learning how to – with modern methods and rewards, not punishment – get your dog to do that tricky job of being a family pet.
– Karen Wild