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That's 'yes ma'am,' 'please' and 'thank you'

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That's 'yes ma'am,' 'please' and 'thank you'
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Glad to see you stopped back to sniff around a bit more. The topic is manners.

My family started raising puppies for Leader Dogs for the Blind in 1999. Our first pup was a regal German Shepherd Dog dubbed Deuce. Resplendent in his own tux, he made local history by accompanying daughter Laura and her date, Jon, to the 2000 Senior High Prom in Detroit Lakes.

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That same spring Deuce and Laura marched up the graduation aisle to receive "their" high school diploma. From Deuce, on through 11 more puppies, the most common question we have been asked is, "How can I get my dog to behave like that?"

The answer is manners training. That coveted behavior of a good service dog (or any dog) is the result of diligent training. Good temperaments in breeding stock are important, but good genes don't always produce great pups.

Each pup is an individual, and personalities in a litter of puppies will be as varied as personalities in a family of children. But there is no excuse for bad manners from either puppies or children.

The behaviors that attract folks to my Leader Dog puppies are their manners. To be a canine good citizen and a good service companion, the pup must behave so well that her presence is nearly invisible. While still an active duty police officer, I attended a mandatory refresher course on pursuit driving in St. Cloud.

My colleague, Officer Rob, and I arrived at the motel late in the evening, just after the dining room closed. The hostess assured us we could eat in the lounge and seated us at a booth. I introduced my young Lab Traeh to the bartender, and then directed her under the table.

Our waitress appeared, Rob and I ordered and ate dinner, visited with the waitress and bartender, then prepared to leave. As Traeh appeared from under the table the waitress asked who had brought her in. I explained the dog had been there the entire time. The waitress argued the point with both Rob and me.

She adamantly stated that she would have known a dog was present as she had been to our table several times. Finally the bartender intervened and assured the waitress that Traeh had, in fact, entered with us. That, my friend, is a well-mannered dog.

People often ask me at what age I start training a puppy. My answer is always the same, "As soon as I get my hands on her."

I believe the best training starts by setting the puppy up to succeed, then rewarding the behavior I have guided her into. Make it easy for your puppy to make the right choice -- yes, I said make the right choice.

Dogs absolutely have the ability to reason and choose, or service dogs would not be able to master the skill of willful disobedience (evaluating and refusing to perform a command that would put the handler in danger).

Equally important is correcting poor behavior immediately, whether at home or in public. If I allow my pup to jump on you as you approach, and I don't correct the action, I have just given her permission to behave in that manner.

My response is "No," which means stop and look at me. Then I give the puppy a job she can be praised for such as a "Sit" command. When she is sitting calmly, I will invite you to pet her, which becomes a reward for her good manners.

Between us, we have just turned a bad behavior into a positive training session.

Take your new buddy with you every chance you get. The socialization your pup will get with people and other dogs is a huge piece of the manners training puzzle. Why do you think service dog groups want their puppies raised in family homes rather than in a kennel with daytime trainers?

Families are way more social. People, kids in particular, are coming and going. Visitors, activities and other pets add a whole new dimension to your pup's world. The puppy that spends hours rather than minutes with you each day will be much more content and in tune with you.

To maximize your pup's vocabulary comprehension and personality development, allow him to live in the house. The extra contact allows you more opportunity to correct undesirable behaviors, teach the positive things you want your dog to know, and cement your pup's bond with you. No one will ever look at you with as much adoration as your dog. Do not miss out on that.

Good manners in pets are like good manners in children, a work in progress. Make your corrections whenever and wherever the breach in etiquette occurs. Follow the correction with a requirement you know your pet can perform, then heap on the praise. Your family and anyone else who has contact with your pet will love you for it.

E-mail Linda at lkwiedewitsch@yahoo.com with questions.

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