Without Rules, the Dog rules!

Libby strikes one of her best "I am adorable" poses! 

Libby strikes one of her best "I am adorable" poses! 

I don't usually allow dogs (or cats) on the table....but you have to admit, Libby makes an adorable table decoration!  And it was so cold down on that tile floor at my feet the last few days.....I guess sometimes it's OK to bend the rules a little, right?

Well, since Libby can't get on the table by herself and it was just a one-time photo op, I'm not going to beat myself up too badly about my lapse. But as a general rule, I strive for consistency as much as possible.

So what kind of "dog rules" do you set in your own home? 

I typically ask new clients if their dog is allowed on the furniture. My reason for asking is to ensure that I do not allow any behavior during the "school day" at Savvy Dog that is not allowed at home. More often than not, I get a sheepish, apologetic "Yes....I know we shouldn't, but...." And my response is always "if you're OK with your dog on the furniture, then it's OK. If you don't want them up there, then it's not OK....and we can work on that."

My philosophy regarding what rules should be in place for dogs in a household is simple. Decide how you want your "dog household" to run, establish rules that support that decision, teach your dog to comply with those rules and then consistently reinforce compliance.   Easy, right? 

Not so easy. But in my opinion, definitely worth spending the time to figure out! Having a dog should be fun and enriching for you and your dog. But when our expectations of what is "fun" is at odds with what our dogs find to be "fun", life together can be quite a challenge. And even though I make it a policy to avoid passing judgment on other's rules, I'm not as tolerant of what I call the "martyr mindset".  A little bit of joking around about your dog being a 7-day-a-week alarm clock, even on the weekends, is fine. But to be seriously angry and constantly complaining about it - nope! If you're not willing to take the time to make, teach and enforce rules, you don't have the right to complain about having a "bad dog"! It's YOUR fault, not theirs!

If the idea of coming up with rules and then teaching them to your dog is daunting, do not despair. It really isn't rocket science and to prove it, I'll share mine. Your final list may be different from mine and that's OK - the specific rules themselves aren't the point. What's important is that you set and stick to the rules that make sense for you and your dog.

MY RULES (remember, yours may be different!)

  1. Dogs must wait to be cued with an "OK" before entering or exiting through a doorway, crate, gate or car door. Sometimes they go before I do, sometimes after. The important part is waiting for the cue, which is primarily a safety issue for me.
  2. Dogs do not wake up the people. No one gets attention or breakfast in the mornings until initiated by the people. The trigger for breakfast in the morning is me saying "time for breakfast", not the sunrise or the alarm or me rolling over or me putting on my slippers. (This one is primarily a sanity issue for me!)
  3. Barking is allowed "on cue" or to alert me that something is alarming. (someone at the door, a startling noise) Barking must immediately stop when I say "Enough, Quiet".
  4. Bossy barking, random, out-of-control barking and whining are not allowed.
  5. Dogs must sit still while the leash or other equipment is being put on.
  6. Dogs must stay out of the kitchen while food is being prepared or whenever they are cued "Out".
  7. Dogs must not jump up on people in greeting or to get attention at any time.
  8. Dogs must sit automatically to receive a treat, politely wait until the treat is handed to them and take the treat gently when offered.
  9. No eating out of another dog's bowl - all dogs should stay in their own area of the kitchen during dog mealtime.
  10. Dogs must not beg for food when people are eating, but should lay down a reasonable distance away from the table or other eating area.
  11. Dogs are allowed on the furniture as long as they are calm and quiet. No wrestling or roughhousing is allowed while on the furniture. Dogs should never get possessive of space on the furniture and must immediately get off the furniture on the cue "Off".
  12. It's OK for dogs to communicate that they want something by nudging my arm, bringing a toy or sitting at the door / ringing the hanging bell to go outside. However, if I say "uh-uh, not now", then further "nagging" is not allowed.
  13. Personal space should be respected - no climbing on top of people or excessive face-licking is allowed unless invited with the cue "OK, come here".
  14. When walking on leash, the leash should always hang loose - no pulling.
  15. No counter surfing, wastebasket scavenging, cat chasing or furniture chewing.
  16.  Any cue given should be complied with immediately and should not need to be repeated. Examples include Leave It, Drop It, Come, Off, Sit, Down, Stay, Wait, Out.
Four picture-perfect "say please" sits by Maggie, Jackson, Bessie and Snickers!

Four picture-perfect "say please" sits by Maggie, Jackson, Bessie and Snickers!

A few caveats.

The rules you set should be realistic for your dog and your lifestyle. If you have an energetic young Lab who loves people, enforcing a rule that requires them to sit perfectly still on their bed in a corner for hours on end when you have active, dog-loving company over may be unrealistic.

The rules should also take into consideration any specific behavioral challenges your dog may have. If your dog has a tendency to guard resources such as a place on the couch or your attention, it may not be wise to allow that dog on the furniture. Or at least set strict rules about consequences if bad behavior occurs. 

So spend a little time thinking about what rules you have set. Because, whether or not you know it, you have set rules, or at least expectations, that your dog is already living by. And it's up to you to decide if these rules are working for you!




Posted on February 5, 2014 and filed under General Training.