By Ella “Miss Manners” Pinard
We love our humans, though they do require a lot of attention and patience. Sure, there are a few “dog whisperers” who seem to be born with a real understanding of the dogs-eye view, but many otherwise wonderful human people just don’t know how to be with the dogs they love. If you are recently rescued or adopted you may not be ready for advanced handling techniques. But if you are past the puppy love stage and in a real relationship, cuddle up to your human and look interested; perhaps they will read this out loud to you. I’m going to explain how to teach your human basic good manners.
Does your human order you around, even when they want you to do something you want to do? And since most of us want more than anything to please our humans, that’s just about everything. So why do they take such a tone with us? Doesn’t it make you want disobey, just to teach them a lesson? Well, that’s what I did. For about fourteen years. Dog years, of course: I’m not that old, and I’m not that patient. Contrary to decades of pack-reviewed research, I believe that humans do have emotions much like our own and a sort of real intelligence too, but sometimes they learn very slowly.
Apparently there is an old human school of thought that we are just a watered-down version of our wolf ancestors. The wolf people famously have an alpha in each pack, the one who provides clear direction and discipline if necessary. This doesn’t mean they’re rude, just clear. But there’s a myth still being perpetuated among human people that the pack we share with them needs an alpha, and that being an alpha means being rude.
Now, it’s my nature to always want to be with my human, always keeping an eye on her. I love her more than anything, even more than a stranger with a chuck-it (and I do love strangers with chuck-its)! Beyond that, though, keeping her safe is my job, just like it’s her job to provide a home and food. So why would she think she needs to say “ELLA, COME!” in a rude tone of voice when we’re about to go outside? My human’s not generally a rude person; it’s just how she was taught. But now, after my patient training, she simply keeps me in the loop about what we’re going to be doing. No yelling, no commanding, just letting me know what we’re up to.
How did I do it? The rule is “Deafness to Rudeness,” a form of non-violent resistance. If my human told me “ELLA, SIT!” I ignored her (unless, of course, food was involved). If she called me to come, I ignored her. I got so good at this she actually thought I’d gone deaf! It wasn’t easy, because after she called four or five times – making all sorts of crazy arm-waving motions – I would finally come, and my little sister Sundog would join in the rude-fest, grabbing me by the scruff of my neck as I got close to the door and dragging me over the threshold. My human thought this was terribly funny – you can guess how funny I thought it was!
After several years, my dear human finally tried petting me and talking to me about going outside – and then rudely calling me. On those rare occasions, I came the first or second time she called, depending on the level of rudeness. Then once when I refused to sit down in the car, she turned to me and said in a gentle tone, “Ella, please sit down.” So I did. Finally it clicked with her. She decided to see if I would come and sit and such when I was politely asked. She stopped yelling commands at me. Now, when she’s getting her outdoor shoes on and is ready to go, before she can even turn around to call me I’m at the door with her, stretched and ready to go.
We’re still working on training in other situations, but we’re making fast progress now that she knows I will gladly do what is wanted so long as I’m treated with kindness and respect just like anyone should be. And she’s more willing to do what I need her to, because she understands our relationship is one of mutual love and reciprocal duty. We’re a family, not a hierarchy. Now when I tell her with wags and kisses that it’s time to go inside for dinner or that it’s time for her to come in out of the rain, she almost always listens to me. She finally sees that I am just being sensible and kind, keeping her safe and gently reminding her of her duty.
For my next trick, I may try to teach her to say “thank you” instead of “good girl”! “Good girl” is alright for puppies just learning to please their humans, but I know for a fact my human wouldn’t like someone saying “good girl!” to her, and she’s younger than I am! (Again, dog years.)
This level of leadership is not for puppies. Without focus and maturity, any leader will fail. But if you’re a grown dog ready to take your relationships to the next level, I hope this will inspire you to be patient and persistent in training your humans. With your firm and gentle guidance, I am confident your two-leggers will learn to treat you with the respect that any loving and beloved member of the family deserves. Our worth is not defined by our species, but by how we treat each other. Human people see things differently from dog people, and this can lead to misunderstandings. But we should always remember: all people are worthy of our best efforts.