I was at my mechanic’s the other day, perusing the books in the waiting room while my car was being worked on. There were a number of children’s books, primarily the Golden Book series, including one entitled My Little Golden Book of Manners. In it were written two sentences: “Good manners are not just things to learn” and “Good manners help to make a person nice to know.”
For me, these ideas form the foundation of dog training. If there’s a misconception that owners fall into, more often than not it’s the idea that once a dog has been taught something, the dog “knows”. How often have I heard “My dog knows he’s not supposed to do that!” The number one reason behind dogs “forgetting” is that owners do not remain consistent with rules and leadership. If the owner no longer insists on routines being a certain way, the dog will abandon those ways and revert back to whatever the dog chooses. If you want your dog to be well-mannered throughout life, you must communicate with the same language, the same rules, from start to finish.
Here’s an analogy: Humans, if they wish to drive a motorized vehicle on city streets, take some form of driver’s education, a written test and a road test. Some people are naturally good drivers, others, not so much, but if they are able to pass the tests, a license is given and off the driver goes for the rest of his life to navigate the streets “knowing” the rules.
Is it enough that the driver “knows”? Can we count on him to follow the rules and always be safe around others? No. Time and again, humans prove that “knowing” isn’t enough, guidance and supervision are required throughout life in order to keep everyone safe.
Let’s say that after a few years of driving, when you’ve spent every day pulling up to a stop sign at the corner, you pull up only to see there is no longer a stop sign. Anywhere. Not on your corner or anyone else’s. Your instincts tell you to stop but the rules are no longer there to say “Stop!” It will take very little time before everyone is sailing through without stopping at all and the obvious will result: accidents, maiming and possibly, death. It doesn’t matter that you’ve stopped at that corner 11,587 times before, that you know you’re supposed to stop. Apparently the rules have changed. You might slow down at first but eventually you sail right through. If there is no stop sign, no one will stop.
It is exactly the same with training your dog. If you see something inappropriate for your dog, you instruct your dog “leave it” and don’t allow contact. If you always use the “leave it” command, your dog will automatically swing away and leave it alone, whether it’s garbage, another dog or whatever. But if, after a year of constant supervision you decide that your dog “knows” and you slide on the supervision, it’s a guaranteed bet that your dog will not leave it but instead will sniff, eat, annoy, etc. Why? Because you indicate you no longer care or show concern. If you dismantle the stop sign, the dog will not stop.
Constant, consistent leadership is what helps a dog to handle itself throughout life and a calm, well-mannered dog is always nice to know.