Puppies Learning to ‘Mand’

At this age (5 weeks tomorrow!) puppies are little learning sponges.  It takes very little for them to develop new behaviours – both good and bad!  So best to help them learn as many good ones as possible.

Puppies are passively learning to be crate trained at this age, given that they naturally gravitate to the crate as den.  Here you can see them practicing their foundation crate games, after all the hard work of learning to mand.

One behaviour many people dislike in adult dogs is being jumped upon.  But so many dogs do this.  Why?  Well, they learn the behaviour as tiny puppies, when their wee yaps and hops are deemed adorable, and are heavily reinforced through our cooing, petting, picking up and cuddling, and otherwise giving them the attention they want. As a result, puppies quickly learn that jumping up on people = good stuff!

At 5 weeks, this is a very simple behaviour to shape differently.  The Puppy Culture method is to teach puppies to ‘Mand’ (I believe this is short for ‘demand’), or offer a default behaviour when they want something.  It’s the way puppies can ask for something using their body language, in a way that we both can understand and recognize.  Essentially, manding is puppy sign language.  It is giving puppies a voice.

While you can choose just about anything as the default ‘manding’ behaviour, sit is the recommended one for many reasons.  The first behaviour you teach a dog will be its strongest behaviour throughout life.  Teaching a sit certainly is handy as a default.  For one, the dog is stationary (and thus not getting into trouble).  Sitting requires no props, can be done anywhere, and is the one behaviour just about every human the dog encounters will ask him to do.

While there may be good arguments to teach a lie-down, a stand, or even a behaviour in motion, as the puppies’  default, until I come up with something I think will serve them better, I am going to go with ‘sit’.  To date I have not found teaching a stationary default to in any way shape or form affect the dog’s ability to be a stellar working or sport dog.

In this two minute video you can see how I start to teach ‘manding’, or the sit-as-request-for-attention behaviour.  This is the second session with the puppies, and you can see how quickly they learn!  I wish I had videoed their first session, when they were going bonkers and climbing the cage and barking and otherwise carrying on.

After just one 2-minute session with the five of them at once, all that fussing has already notably diminished.  Here, in training session number two, they make even further progress.  Amazing!

Two points of note from this video:

  1. Around the 2:25 mark, you can see Cooper offering an amazing ‘mand’ as he moves back from the rest of the pack and sits.  And I missed it!  Bad trainer.  He then moved into the crate and tried again, which I did catch and reward.   I will have to brush up my rewarding timing and watch for these perfect little windows for learning.  And keep an eye on Mr. Cooper and his approach to learning.  Clearly a clever boy!
  2. I mention that I am in particular rewarding having the puppies look up at me.  There’s a strategic reason for this.  Studies have shown that when a dog offers eye contact, both dog and person experience an oxytocin release.  Oxytocin is the bonding chemical, the one that is connected with the feeling of love.  Interestingly, this oxytocin rush we get from dogs making eye contact only happens when the dog initiates the eye contact voluntarily.  It does not happen when we ask for it.  So I am teaching these puppies to make eye contact as a way of encouraging everyone to fall in love with them.  Sneaky, no?

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