Updated: Nov 7
To begin I need to clarify a couple of terms:
A cue is a request for a behavior. If the pup is fortunate, a tasty treat might follow the cue if the behavior is offered as requested.
A command is an order. It implies that if the behavior requested does not follow the command a consequence is in the works.
"Manding" is an offered "sit".
To the casual observer, manding might look a lot like sit; it is not. Asking a dog to sit, either by cue or command, is something initiated by the handler. Manding is freely offered by the pup, in my case.
Young puppies have much to learn. They are busy figuring out how to communicate with each other. This involves a lot of body contact. They put their feet on each other and they bite each other. They have no way of knowing that this type of communication will not be welcomed by the humans in their lives.
It is a difficult concept for a canine to learn the absence of a behavior. For instance, teaching a dog to keep his feet off of you is not the same thing to the dog as teaching four on the floor, although this might look like the same behavior to you.
Puppies like their humans and ask for attention. It is such a gift to them to let them know how to ask. In my training program, the first behavior I formally teach my pups is to mand. This is most easily taught using a clicker paired with tasty treats such as baked chicken or string cheese.
At some point between three to six weeks of age, puppies begin to learn to chew, in addition to understanding how to lick up food. Once they know how to chew it is possible to teach puppies to take food from fingers. In my training session with young pups this may be the full content of the session! Taking food from fingers can be a little bit of a process for the pups. Once they learn how to accept, and then watch for, treats from our hands the next step can happen.
This is SUCH an exciting time for me!!!!
I look forward to this threshold from one litter to the next because it is the beginning of creating a partnership with a dog and a human that will span the rest of the dog’s life. This is so important to both! Being friendly with a dog, and caring about a dog, isn’t the same thing as having a working partnership with a dog; in a partnership, you both give and you both ask.
Manding gives the pups a voice – this is huge! In this process the pups learn to look forward to “training sessions,” although they don’t know that is what’s happening for the first few sessions. They just know they are having a good time! They learn that their behavior, their choice, can make a human do something. This pivotal point is so important.
Any animal appreciates the feeling that they have some control over his environment. In most cases I think of knowledge as power; this is certainly true for puppies. I think of manding as a gateway behavior; it is the first trained behavior my puppies learn, and it helps to build an understanding of “behavior-click-pay” that leads to training many other behaviors as the puppies mature.