Manners …Children and Dogs

How do we teach a dog “Manners”?

Same way that we teach children. We show good leadership. We are consistent. We are vigilant and we persist until certain behaviours are “proofed” in the child or in the dog.

Some people imagine that a dog can be taught “manners” almost instantly. And they have scant understanding of what is appropriate in different settings. So people find themselves in a setting with their dog, say, arriving at a boarding kennels.  Another dog is standing close by and barking at the new arrival.

And the owners of the arriving dog ask their own dog to …sit.

Right in front of another barking dog!

And then they proceed to insist that their dog should “sit”. Actually, they insist on,

“Sit!….Sit!….SIT!  Sit-sit-sit!  SIT!!! ROVER!!!  WILL . YOU.  SIT!!!!!”,

(Rover rarely does sit…but perhaps he may do. On the tenth pleading).

Of course, anyone who knows even a little about dogs and their training will know that this is an unreasonable request of poor Rover. No dog wants to sit and place himself at risk right in front of a dog that is busily threatening him. Self preservation kicks in and kicks back at all the owner’s frustrated exhortations. It is not fair on the dog to ask this of it in these conditions.

But there are things that we should ask of the dog.

And we should ask them consistently and we should persist in our asking / training until we get them consistently every time from our dog.

Things like waiting until the dog is told he may come forward, for example. This is basic training and something most people could do successfully with their dogs. And it represents “manners” for the dog as well as providing a safety technique for his every day management.

Why should we let our dogs drag us out through gates and doors? Or into cars and out of them? Training a dog to wait until he is told to move forward can save its life.

I once suggested (foolishly, because it was to a man who already knew everything) that the dog he owned  and which we had bred and reared and loved really should not be allowed to just bound  out of the tailgate of his car each time he opened it up. He didn’t see the need, however, to teach her the simple command, “Wait!”

I confess that I was not a little angry to hear, some months later, that she had charged past her owner from out of the rear of his car, bolted across a road,  and had got killed.

Just a little manners taught to her might have saved her life.

Children too can benefit from being taught “manners”.  Perhaps such teaching might save them too in some of the  situations that life will throw at them.

One time I found an old book dating from the early 1960s on the subject of “Courtesy” and written with the teaching of children and young people in mind. It was produced by the Christian Brothers and was, in fact, approved for teaching in schools in Ireland by the Irish Department of Education. It would have been in use in Irish schools probably around the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s.

I took the little book in to the senior Primary class that I was teaching (in the new millennium) and the children were fascinated by some of the ideas in it.  I was quite taken aback by their level of interest.  Many of the social conventions it contained were long outdated; perhaps through lack of use rather than lack of need.

I was astonished to find how few of the points made in that little book were familiar to the children. Many of the ideas that one would take for granted that a child of twelve or fourteen would surely know, were quite new to them…

 Why should you not speak with food in your mouth?

 Why not sit as close as you like to the fire?

Is it always wrong or rude to listen in to other people’s conversations?

Some of it they thought was hilarious and we all laughed outright at such offerings as,

“Do you stare at people, or cast your eyes around aimlessly in a giddy manner?” 

They were perplexed by such strict social rules as govern how to greet other people or how to introduce people to each other. (For those who are interested“A man is introduced to a woman, a boy to a girl, one of lower rank to a superior”)

Many of the points gave rise to much discussion.

 What could not be claimed about that little book was that the children found it boring. They were interested. It introduced concepts that some of them had never come across before and, surprisingly, they were keen to discover.

Perhaps they had an innate sense that knowing such things might save them in some tricky social situation in the future?!

But maybe not.

Perhaps young people today do not need such outdated “manners”. Isn’t education all about accepting the child as the person he is?  Who really cares whether someone says Thank You or not?  Why should children be encouraged to involve themselves in such servile acts as holding open doors for other people?  Surely all this “manners” stuff is a throwback to Victorian attitudes towards children?

I would argue that even in our modern times, with all our imagined advances, all our glitter and gadgets, we are still human beings and we are still needful of being able to live successfully within a social group.

One of my friends, who is a teacher, once asked a student to leave his classroom because he said the student  had displayed a lack of manners. As he exited, the student sneeringly asked his teacher,

“What’s Manners anyway?”

And he got this masterful response…

“Manners is … realising that there are other people in the world besides yourself”

Oh yes!

And sometimes we do not seem to be doing that too well in our society today.

Young people no longer know how to greet a person from an older generation, for example. Nobody teaches them how to do this anymore.

Most of the time, if today’s teenager is able to utter anything at all in response to an adult’s  greeting, only  something guttural between a cough and a growl falls from their lips. Or else it is the insipid, meaningless, and gifted to us from certain T.V. shows,


There is a general coarsening evident in our society now. Certain elements of the media in this country showcase the trend rather too well. We have presenters on national radio and T.V. who no longer hesitate to use words that often fall with a very nasty thud on the ear.  Standards of behavior on our national broadcaster leave a lot to be desired.

We should expect better.

If more of us kept simple, old fashioned, “Good Manners” at the forefront of our minds we might find living today a lot more pleasant. We might hesitate before we “post” stuff on social media sites.  We might think before we open our mouths. We might expect that invited guests to shows on our national T.V. channel (Such as that recent Late Late Show on R.T.E.1   February 16th 2015) should at least treat us with respect.

Some of the carnage on our roads, for example, is simply a result of poor “manners”.  We get behind the wheels of our cars and promptly forget that  “ there are other people in the world” besides us.

Some of the adults we all encounter in our daily lives could do well to read a book like the one that the Christian Brothers produced all those years ago. One thing they did  get right maybe.

Both humans and dogs live in social groups and need to learn how to get along with their fellows.

Good manners oil the wheels of any social group and keep everything running smoothly.

We really shouldn’t neglect to teach “manners” despite how advanced we may think we are today.

About consistentclarity

I have been involved in education all my working life. I am trained as a teacher and have taught both children and adults. I am fascinated by how people and animals learn and all that they have in common. Music and literature have been central in my life.
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