“Manding” is a term used in Puppy Culture that refers to a behavior we have taught a puppy to use (usually a “sit” but it can be any behavior we choose) to get our attention. Manding opens a line of communication between a puppy and a human. It is intended “to give puppy a voice,” as Jane Lindquist, the author of the Puppy Culture program puts it. It’s the puppy equivalent of a young child learning the magic word, “please.” In its most basic function, manding replaces yapping, nipping and jumping on humans to get attention. Instead, the puppy learns to sit politely. That part is nice—but the magic comes from the very act of empowering a puppy to express itself in a socially appropriate way. Puppies do just fine getting attention from one another by jumping and mouthing, but that isn’t what we want to teach them to do to us.
Jane makes it abundantly clear that manding is not a top-down rule, but a bottom-up communication. It’s not a required behavior; puppies are not expected to mand in order to get something they want. However, it increases their chances of being heard. Just like the word “please” adds a layer of additional social meaning of agreeableness and politeness to a child’s request, so it is with a puppy’s manding. At its core, it’s a prototype for nuanced social behavior. It’s a path towards subtlety and refinement in the canine-human dialogue.
There is a danger of confusing manding with a sit, understood as a rule, and quashing a budding communicator. However, if taught correctly and understood as a puppy’s expression of wanting something, it is a highway of communication.
Ever since I started teaching my very young puppies to mand, I have been discovering puppies’ numerous requests that I would have missed, or misunderstood, if not for their ability to mand, and my ability to recognize it as communication.
Here is probably the cutest example I caught on tape of what I’m talking about. Below is a video collection of short nosework training sessions with a 5-week old puppy. This was Wally being asked to use his nose to find a treat hidden in a plastic cup arranged in a row of other empty cups. The cups are lined up on the tile grout line, to allow scent to waft from underneath. As Wally gets it what the game is about, I am increasing difficulty by adding more cups, and finally asking Wally to find a cup without food in it, but only smell of food that had been there. It may not look like much, but it’s a complex, difficult task for such a very young puppy. I make a mistake of not giving Wally a break after a couple of very successful sessions. Mind you, every session is less than 20 seconds, but it turns out to be too much. Wally is feeling overwhelmed and so he comes to me and mands.
Isn’t this the most precious “please give me a break” communication? This is the magic stuff: a puppy empowered with a voice. Of course Wally got his break right away. Manding made me a better trainer and a better listener.
Another example of manding being a powerful bottom up communication involves an adolescent dog. I taught Ruby manding as a baby and I never faded it out. I have continued to listen to her polite manding requests: sometimes obliging, sometimes not, but acknowledging her always. I know what you might be thinking. And you’re right: most of Ruby’s manding is “please share” while I’m eating, but honestly Ruby communicates very effectively about a myriad of requests. It’s a point of pride to know what she wants in any given moment, and it strengthens our bond.
One day, after a few days of not feeling well, I was standing in the kitchen preparing dinner when Ruby manded. I absentmindedly handed her a sliver of a carrot, which Ruby didn’t even look at, refused to accept, and shifted her weight to mand (sit and stare) with purpose. It was as if she was trying to spell PLEASE in capital letters. I asked if she wanted to go out but she did not budge. As I was searching in my mind for what she might be possibly saying to me; Ruby pawed at me just as I felt myself blacking out. I had enough notice to sit on the kitchen floor first. For the next few days Ruby manded every time I was about to feel lightheaded; a good several seconds before that sensation, giving me time not only to sit on the floor but to find a nearby chair or sofa.
It is nothing new that dogs have abilities to smell miniscule changes in our bodies and can be trained to sound a medical alert. But trust me when I tell you that it is very easy to miss their communication if it’s too subtle. What manding gave me was the skill to listen to a very inconspicuous signal. Ruby had a voice, a vocabulary, to speak to me, and used it in a new situation. Ironically, over 10 years ago a different dog of mine, Kate was screaming her concern at me when she sniffed cancer in my body, but for the longest time I did not understand her. I shared that experience in this article. Kate had to make up her expressions, while Ruby had a manding skill to use. The truth is, both girls did great talking to me, but manding taught me to listen.
For anyone using the Puppy Culture protocol of manding, I encourage you to not replace it with a top-down (coming from you to the dog) rule of sit. By all means, teach a sit, and demand it when appropriate: sit when waiting to go through the door until released, or when people come to visit, or when waiting for dinner to be served–whatever. But you do not need to have “sit” replace manding. Let your puppy continue having a voice, a way to say “please”. Acknowledge, and sometimes oblige. You might be surprised at what they have to say.