Mand behaviours – how to cultivate and change them

Akira displaying a play mand

Written by: Laura

Laura is founder of Easy Peasy Obedience, and works in positive methods based on teamwork and games, and with focus on minimising frustration in the training - for both dog and human.

Published: January 30, 2022

Why did I write this blog? 

Mand behaviours seem to be a constant subject for pet parents. Either because they want to teach them to their dogs, or because a dog has chosen a rather… inconvenient behaviour to mand for different needs. Often self-chosen mand behaviours turn into demand behaviours which can be super overwhelming for the pet parent because it’s so difficult to change. To fix. And I get that. That’s why I’m here to tell you that it’s not, and of course, I’m going to explain how along the way.

What is a mand?

A mand a behaviour that makes it possible for a dog to achieve what he wants or needs in a given situation. A classic example of a mand behaviour, is ringing bells to go potty. This is often taught by the humans, and sometimes it backfires because ringing the bell could also lead to great fun outdoors and play, so we can’t fault the dog for trying. I have personally never utilised the bells because they require learning an additional skill to effectively turn them into a mand, and I’m lazy, but if you want bells, please do not let anyone stand in your way. One of the more common mand behaviours that often turn into demanding behaviour is barking. To my luck, I have never lived with a demand barker, but I have offered hugs, support, and guidance to those who do. Currently, I live with a dog that used to have a demand-walk all over you behaviour when she wanted food and while it’s not the end of the world with a 10-kilo dog, it was still fairly annoying, so we changed that.

Why should I cultivate mands?

Because mands makes living with your dog so much easier. At the present time, Akira has mands for food, walks, directions, treating her allergy break out and much more. It may sound like a lot of work, but I promise you it’s not, and it will help you live a comfortable life with your companion as your communication turns from one to two sided. You may also ponder why I chose the word cultivate above, and not train, and the simple answer is that I prefer working on behaviours that already exist within my dogs. Dogs are stellar communicators and they do have a lot to say, if we care to listen.

Cultivating a mand from scratch

This is my favourite, and the one that takes the absolute least work. Let’s say you want your dog to have a signal for going out on a walk because that is a super handy thing for your dog to be able to request. For this, you’ll have to do the following:

  1. Observe your dog around the times you usually go for walks. Pay attention to the behaviours he displays and pick one. Write down if necessary. You can also choose another random behaviour that happens during the day, but choosing one that already happens in the context makes the job easier.
  2. When the chosen behaviour happens the next time, get off your feet and take your dog for a walk. I like to pair this with a cue to tell my dog that I will grant her wishes. It’s usually “okay then”.
  3. (Optional) If necessary, you can create a decline cue. Creating a decline is rather simple. Give your cue. Mine is “not right now” and ask the dog to go lie down and resume your activity.

Keep in mind that it’s super important that you make sure that your dog’s basic needs are covered in general if you want to introduce this kind of cue. And beware, especially for potty mands, that if the mand becomes hectic or demanding, then we have no business declining.

Changing a demand to a polite mand

I like politeness. So of course my terrier walking all over me and getting in my face to get food wasn’t exactly on my top 3 list of enjoyable things. So I set about changing it. When changing a demand into a polite mand of your choosing, it’s important to be proactive. This means you’re going to have to fulfil the need your dog mands for before the demanding behaviour begins. Some may suggest that you just ignore the demanding, but that will result in lots of frustration and eventually end in an extinction burst, while your dog has not necessarily learned any new, alternative behaviour. And we would really like to avoid that. For all of us.

So, in order to avoid that, you need to do the following:

  1. Take note of when the demand tends to happen. For Akira, that was steady around 6 pm.
  2. Pick out a behaviour you would like to replace the demand. I chose that I wanted to have Akira come and sit and look at me instead of walking all over me. Watch your dog and pick out a behaviour that’s displayed around the time the demand will naturally happen.
  3. Prevent the demand. Around 6 pm I started watching Akira, and the moment she started to get up and walk towards me in that particular way, I greeted her and asked her to sit. 

  4. Immediately fulfil the need. The second her butt hit the floor, I would get up and go prepare her dinner.
  5. Repeat until the polite mand has replaced the demand.

Some final thoughts on mands

With my dogs I have cultivated a range of natural mands for them. We have a quite pleasant two way communication style and we do enjoy making our decisions together. They are free to decline my wishes, within reason of course, and I am free to decline theirs, also within reason. Some things just has to happen. But, none of this would have been possible without making sure that my dogs have their basic needs met in general. If you are behind on enriching activities, adventures, chewing opportunities, food, sniffy walks, exercise, and other basic things, it’s important that you look into fulfilling these if you have trouble with demanding behaviour, before you try to change these into polite mands. This is because we as pet parents need to address the underlying causes of the demands before we can cultivate the mand and even dream about getting to a place where we can politely decline it without disrupting the household. With that as my final thoughts, I hope you have enjoyed reading and I would enjoy if you would share some funny, quirky, or handy mands you have with your animal, in the comment section.

Nikuya manding couch time

Above, is a video of Akira manding for treatment of an allergy-related rash

Above is a picture of Nikuya manding for couch time

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