Social Manners: Teaching & Learning Through Play

Social Manners I is a four-week series designed to teach your dog--through fun and games--to tune out distractions (the lively commotion of other dogs playing with their people), resist temptations (like barking, or crashing their neighbors' party), and give you his undivided attention. After all, you're giving him your undivided attention, tugging ropes and tossing balls and squeaking squeakies till you're both ready to drop. And in this atmosphere of lightheartedness and overall silliness, we also do some serious practice of a trio of important behaviors: recall, retrieve, and settle on a mat between bouts of play.

Recall: Dogs play on 15-foot long lines, so they have freedom to run, but not to ignore you when you say, "Come!" Working on recalls in a controlled but distracting setting is an essential intermediate step that some of us tend to skip. If we leap ahead from easy recalls in class or at home, to off-leash recalls out in the wild and crazy world, we've missed all the mid-distance practice our dogs need to make this challenging behavior really solid. It's how we end up with dogs who "only come when they feel like it." In Social Manners, we help you make sure they come--with gusto!

Retrieve: Retrieving is a natural behavior for a lot of dogs, and those who don't retrieve can learn how. Bringing back a toy so you can throw it again is a fun-filled game that reinforces coming to you; it has a recall built right into it. And throwing the toy can even become a reward for a recall, in place of treats. This is a great way to incorporate "life rewards", i.e. non-food reinforcers, into your training. Play can be a high-value reward for a toy-motivated dog. For dogs who start out a bit baffled by toys, we help you ignite a love of play.

Settle: Settling on a mat is one of the most useful skills we can teach our dogs. It's like an OFF switch. As we alternate between playing and settling, playing and settling, our dogs learn how to self-regulate and shift modes quickly. They also learn that when we interrupt their play, they can resume pretty quickly. This builds impulse control and encourages a willingness to put play on hold.

We section off the training facility so there's a private space for each dog-owner team. Dogs can hear and smell each other, but they won't be allowed to see each other until their skills are strong enough to handle the added distraction. By the end of the four-week series, many dogs are able to focus on their owners, come when called, retrieve toys, and settle on their mats--all in full view of neighboring dogs. Most dogs benefit from taking Social Manners more than once; the skills are challenging and take time to master, plus playtime is just plain fun.

Many dogs who complete this program are then eligible for Social Manners II, an advanced class that incorporates off-leash play with other dogs. Dogs are paired up two at a time, and the trainers will give you blow-by-blow commentary to help you interpret canine body language, understand the dynamics of happy play, and recognize when to interrupt to preempt a scuffle.

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If you are have questions about our Social Manners class, email our Training Department.