How a Pod of Fun Gets Training Done! Remote training success with the Manners Minder

Lily Performs a Down-Stay for a Treat from the Manners Minder

Do you ever fantasize about having a well-mannered dog doing a perfect down-stay when guests arrive and ring the door bell?

Jumping up to greet visitors is a natural and easily reinforced behavior for dogs, most of whom get really good at it! Typically when dogs jump up on people, people reflexively look at them, speak to them, touch them and more, all of which shrewdly reinforces the dog for jumping. Since we know that dogs will repeat what they are rewarded for, jumping on people can become quite a solid undesirable behavior in no time.

Teaching dogs not to jump on guests and to behave calmly is a common request from dog owners everywhere, which is why I am an advocate of the Manners Minder Remote Reward Training System designed by Dr. Sophia Yin, Applied Animal Behaviorist. I have to tell you, I love this tool! The Manners Minder (MM) is a great gadget that rewards dogs for polite manners in a variety of situations.

In positive reinforcement training we always look for something we can proactively teach dogs to do as a replacement behavior for the one we would like to extinguish (in this case jumping). Dogs can’t jump on people if they’re in a sit or a down. We call that “reinforcing an incompatible alternate behavior.”

The exercise “Sit to Greet” is a well-known training protocol and antidote for jumping too, with the same basic goal as the MM. With “Sit to Greet” dogs learn that they will only get attention from guests and strangers when they remain in a sit. When executed correctly, attention is removed or withheld (negative punishment) when the dog is jumping around excitedly, and attention is forthcoming (positive reinforcement) when the dog is in the sit position. “Sit to Greet” is effective, but it can be cumbersome in a home environment, and overwhelmingly dependent upon the humans consistently doing it correctly…while juggling the leash, the dog, the guest and not letting the cat out. Teaching “Sit to Greet” however, is definitely recommended for greeting strangers out on walks.

Manners Minder With Kibble & Remote Control
Manners Minder With Kibble & Remote Control

For busy households, enter the Manners Minder. With this remotely controlled device, a dog receives treats and reinforcement for doing a down-stay away from the door, while the hubbub at the door goes on. No more jumping or practicing undesirable behaviors. Measuring roughly 14” x 9” x 7”, this little pod of fun gets training done! Extensive step-by-step, very clear instructions, a DVD and a cool target stick accompany the Manners Minder. It has a place to store kibble, a bowl to dispense the kibble, and various finely tuned settings for kibble distribution. It can dispense just one treat at a time or multiple treats. The rate treats are dispensed can be adjusted, from the manual setting to any automatic interval from 3 to 300 seconds. It also operates quite easily in either manual or “Down/Stay” (automatic) modes.

Powerful principles from operant conditioning make this device so effective. The MM emits a tone right before a treat or treats are dispensed into the bowl. Dogs quickly learn that the sound of the tone means that treats are coming (sound familiar clicker trainers?), and with proper trials and introduction to the device, success is within reach! Dogs love the MM because it is a fun rewarding game to play. People love the MM because their dog is no longer mugging visitors.

Here’s an example of how it might work once your dog has successfully completed the training:

Dinner guests set to arrive at 6:00 p.m.

Treat equipped MM turned on in Manual mode at 5:50 p.m.

6:10 p.m. doorbell rings

Dog placed in Down-Stay on mat in front of MM

Owner uses remote control to dispense treats manually every 5 seconds or so

Owner greets guests at door

Tone followed by treats every 5 seconds

Dog remains in Down-Stay while owner greets guests

Owner stands between dog and guests while working the remote control

While dog remains on mat owner continues to tone & treat remotely

After 30 seconds to a minute, dog is still in place on mat

Guest can greet dog while in a down-stay*

Dog targets off mat and receives treat from owner

* Just like in “Sit to Greet,” if the dog breaks out of position the guest may not interact with him and treats will stop.

Settings for the Manners Minder
Settings for the Manners Minder

Unlike teaching freestyle “Sit to Greet,” the downside of the MM is that it requires batteries that you need to make sure stay fresh. The sleep mode helps to reduce the drain on the four “D” cell batteries in the unit if you need to leave it on for extended periods of time. Kibble can jam in the dispensing wheel now and then, but there are two sizes of wheels meant to accommodate various kibble/treat sizes and avoid frequent jams. You also need to be careful not to lose the remote control unit itself (it’s small) as that would certainly take all of the fun out of the “remote” training system. The upside of the MM is that you can have the unit manage your dog for you while you manage your guests!

The Manners Minder is currently distributed by Premier Pet Products and can be found at various outlets.

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