Good Canine Manners - has your dog got it?

All right, I humbly admit: my dogs are all spoiled rotten. They are practically allowed to do whatever they like - sleep in my wardrobe, climb on me when I do my morning push ups, jump on the settee, roll in the mud like warthogs, or even sit on my lap when I am having supper.

Still, you will seldom see me giving them any commands at all - simply because they have something called Good Canine Manners.

In a nutshell, we have a couple rules we had "discussed" with my dogs, and agreed to follow. These rules make up what I call Good Canine Manners, or GCM for short.

People can certainly have a dispute on what constitute "good manners", as these can be very different depending on individual values and tolerance level. Some people teach their dog to wait for a signal to commence eating, others couldn't care less about it. Most people will never let the dog enter the bedroom, and then we know those who would never sleep without their best friend tucked right next to them under the duvet.

We are all different, and that's all right. It is your dog, it is your home, and you have the right to keep both to your own standards. Problems occur though when you bring your dog to public places where people might be not so lenient with your dog. As my neighbour, Ricky would put it: "I don't care what you do with your dog, as long as it does not leave its dump on my lawn." Well said. End of argument.

To put it simply, Good Manners would be a set of rules of conduct or behaviour that abides to a standard accepted or called for by the environment our dog becomes a part of. We could say, your dog have good manners when it acts in a way not to cause havoc or discomfort to others. In other words, your dog does not annoy the world around him.

(As a side note, I have to add that more often than not, the fact that a dog annoys a person has more to do with the person than the dog... But that's for another post.)

At our school, we advocate teaching dogs to consistently abide to these very principles, in order to create harmony between man and dog.

1. ZERO TOLERANCE for aggression

Above all, this one is the N1, indisputable law written in stone for all dogs, big or small: Any bite, (or even intention to bite!), attack, nipping, even scratching – even a menacing growl or snarl is completely unacceptable, and must evoke immediate response from the owner. Aggressive behaviour towards any members of the pack (family), or any human, child, dogs, cats and other pets our dog encounters, including squirrels, birds, chickens, sheep, horses and farm animals must be immediately blocked.

This is by far the most important rule a dog must abide at all times. It is the responsibility of the current owner - even in case of rescue dogs.

There is one exception though: when a dog is attacked by another dog or a person, he is certainly allowed to defend himself.


This is a no-brainer: when a dog is called, it must return to its owner/handler immediately. Not walk - run! No dogs should be allowed to be off-the lead that is unpredictable on the re-call.

3. Go to BED!

There are times we don’t want the dog to be in our space. We wish him to go to his bed or his crate. One of the first things to teach a dog: This is your bed darling, and when I ask you, you need to go there, and stay there until told otherwise. No discussion!

4. No fouling inside

A dog must be properly house-trained at an early age. Fortunately, it does not take a college degree to teach dogs to respect this rule, and they generally learn it in no time. The second, less known part of this rule is not to allow the dog to toilet in the middle of the pavement, or to mark every single lamp post in the street, so its pee splashes all over the place. Let's not give any reason for non-dog people to hate our friends.

5. No jumping on people

Dogs must be taught not to jump up when greeting people. A person may dislike, or is afraid of dogs, his clothes can get dirty from its paws, etc. This rule especially applies to children, who can be easily frightened by a jumping dog, misreading it for an attack, which can result in a triple or fall.

6. The SideWalk Rule

Dogs must be taught at an early age: stepping off the sidewalk without permission is a big no-no!

A dog must always stop at the curb, and wait for the owner's/handler's signal to cross the road - even when walking with a stranger. Whether one wishes his dog to sit down every time they hit a crossing is up to the owner's preference. It is easier to teach a dog to stop with adding the Sit! command though.

At a later stage the Sit can be eliminated.

7. No means NO!

This is elementary: the dog must stop whatever he does when the command ‘NO!’ is given. That's it. Full stop. End of discussion.

8. Never leave the property without permission

It is your responsibility as a dog owner to make sure your dog never goes out to the streets and wanders around town. Solid fencing is vital, but also to teach the dog not to run through the front door, gate or garage door, or climb the fence. He MUST wait for a human’s command to leave the property at all times.

9. Drop it!

A dog must let go anything held in his mouth without a hassle on command. It can be a toy, tennis ball, even his bone. There can be several occasions when we need to take away something that the dog picked up, or keeps in his mouth. It can be as simple as a sharp stick, or something he decided to eat but must not – a dead rat, or a Lego cube. A dog must, must, must be taught at an early age: Listen buddy, when you hear “Drop it!” – you DROP IT!

10. Never leave a vehicle without permission

It is a rather simple, but crucial rule: when we take the dog in a car (or bus, train, subway), and we open the door, the dog must always wait for the command to leave the vehicle. Good Canine Manners also mean that the dog is properly trained to STAY PUT when being driven in a car: no barking like crazy at passing cars, no jumping to the front seat from the boot, and definitely not chewing up the upholstery. (And for the record: owners with "good human manners" never allow their dog to put its head into the wind!)

11. Taking a treat with style

Part of good manners for a dog includes the ability to GENTLY accept a treat or toy given by a human. A dog should never attempt to bite off the fingers holding the treat. Sounds like a wee thing - until it is your hand those sharp teeth are clenched on.

12. Food on the table is a "no-game" for dogs

Must never take food off the table, or touch any food lying around, including biscuits placed in a bowl for the guest, and chocolate-bells hanging from the Christmas tree.

13. The door-policy

When going through the front door, a gate, a doorway, any exit, passage, egress, what have you, the human always goes out or goes in first, and the dog comes second - on command. As simple as that. The only exceptions are when entering or leaving an elevator, or public transportation, such as a bus or train or tube: in those cases, you should let your dog go ahead, so you can keep a watchful eye on him/her at all times. (Working dogs and guide dogs, of course, are different: it is usually their job to lead the way.)

14. A dog must never beg for food at the table

We have all seen this: a dog sitting right next to the table when the family is having a meal, and staring/drooling at the food. This is not okay! In fact, a dog has no business in the kitchen, or around the table at mealtime. End of story.

15. "Hoovering" is frowned upon

Eating poison or harmful substance is by far the most common threat to our pets. Menacing dogs and passing cars are a distant second. At an early age, a puppy must be taught not to pick up and eat stuff (s)he finds on the ground, including human feces, cow dung, manure, carcass, bones, dead fish, leftover food, garbage etc. – or if she does, she must promptly bring the “treasure” to you.

16. Do not touch what is not yours

A dog is not to destroy property: shoes, bags, clothes, furniture, cables, books, a parcel, the mail the postman just threw in etc. are off-limit! To teach to respect property is not difficult, given the fact that it is done at an early age, and that we make sure the dog has plenty of opportunity to chew and play. A golden rule in dog training: The basis of destruction is boredom.

17. Excessive barking

Do not allow your dog to bark like a broken record without good reason. Dogs that bark with no end usually do it to attract attention or to get what they want, and they should be promptly discouraged to do so.

I recently went to town to pick up a few things in PetsAtHome. There was this little white sponge, some sort of Havanese, standing in queue with her owner. She was barking incessantly. The owner did nothing to silence the dog, and neither did the staff, or the other customers. The dog was the "elephant in the room", and everyone was pretending it is not even there. Please, for all of our sake, do not allow your dog keep barking for no apparent reason. This rule is similar to those children who noisily run around, and cause havoc in a busy restaurant on a Sunday afternoon. Everyone there asks the same question: Who are these parents??

18. The STAY! command

A dog must be taught to follow the Stay! command. He must lie down, and remain calm until told otherwise. It is fairly obvious which dog has good manners, and which one lacks those, when we see how a dog behaves in public places, such as a pub/restaurant or on a bus: how many commands does it take to make him lie down, and stay put.

19. Open your mouth!

The reason why we believe this rule belongs to good canine manners is because throughout our dog's life, there will be several occasions when we need to look into his mouth: to remove a bone stuck in its jaw, to examine the teeth, to put a tablet on the tongue when the dog is sick, or at the time of a visit to the vet. Our dog must be taught to open his mouth on command. Because make no mistake, if a dog does not want to open his jaws, you have little chance to convince him, unless you want to use heavy force - never a good idea.

For those who wonder: it takes about a week to teach this command to a dog.

20. Play nice!

Every dog must know how to comfortably interact with other dogs (and pets). This means to be able to. play with other dogs without causing harm, pain or fear. This is especially true with dogs that are greater in size and strength - they must be taught at an early age how to be gentle when meeting smaller breeds. Dogs that cannot play but only bully other dogs need to be properly (re)trained.

(Before you ask: yes, this rule also stands for being gentle with kids: all dogs must be trained to remain calm and docile around children. And yes, even when those children have never been taught how to behave around dogs.)

My heart goes out for dogs whose owners keep them separated from other dogs in order to avoid any incident, and justify it by saying "oh, my dog does not really like to play..."

Wrong! The fact is, the dog has not been trained to play. And he misses out big time, as playing with other dogs is a significant part of a dog's life.

This type of training is called socialisation, and it can be done at any age, not just in puppyhood.

By the way, the above rule applies to being nice to guests too. Your dog has good manners when he allows other dogs to come and visit your house, without making a fuss about it. I have encountered too often with the warning "You are welcome to visit us, but please leave your dogs at home, because our dog does not like visitors in the house..."

Excuse me????...

21. Lead walking

And last, but definitely not least, Good Canine Manners include no pulling on the lead when out on a walk. Have you thought we left that one out?... Think again. Big dog or small, young or old, dogs must be taught how to walk nice and calm when on the lead.

So there you go. In our book, these twenty-one points make up Good Canine Manners.

Our bet, while reading through the list, you were ticking off how many of these points your dog would pass with flying colours. A result of 16 ticks or more is remarkable. Hats off!

Whatever the "score" would be, remember, there is no such a thing as "bad dog". There is trained, and there is untrained. As simple as that.

Thank you for your care.


The team of Dog Training For Humans