Once upon a time there was a social norm that dictated that dogs who violated strict rules for indoor behavior should be banned outside. When I was a kid, dog trainers of the day often told customers that letting their dog sit on the bed or other furniture would give the dog too much privilege and make him believe he could do (dominate) the house.
Well times are changing.
Today, progressive, science-based, strength-free training and behavioral experts are realizing that most dogs do not try to be dominant on the couch. They are just trying to be comfortable – and maybe want to be close to the people they love!
You can use couch time as reinforcement for behaviors you like (such as being friendly and cuddly) and temporarily revoking couch permissions for undesirable behaviors (such as being too intrusive or insistent in yours) Lap climb if you prefer your dog to calmly curl up for you next). A happy “Oops, gone!” (with a treat to toss on the floor if you haven’t already taught your dog the “off” keyword) will remove them from your lap, and a “wait” hint will keep them on the floor until you are ready are to invite them up. No dominance over it!
The truth is also what you are allowing your dog to do in your own home Your Choice – and while it can lead to behaviors that others see as “bad manners,” it really is Up to you. In your house, you have to make the rules!
Here are some general rules from the past that many dogs (and their people) now make fun of:
■ No dogs on the furniture. From 60 years ago until today, all members of my family have allowed dogs on the furniture – and none of our dogs have ever done a dog coup.
I love the solid feel of a warm dog’s body on my back in bed, and my evenings are usually spent on the sofa watching TV and typing on my laptop. Our little dog Sunny snuggled up to my right side and the middle / large quay curled up on the top left of me. I suspect Kai lived in a household with no dogs on the furniture before he came to us. Even after living with myself and my husband for nearly six years, I still have to reassure him that it’s okay to jump on the sofa and often talk him into a treat with a treat (although he jumps on the bed without persuasion). .
Of course, if you choose not to have dogs (and dog hair, drool, dirt, and leaves) on your furniture, that’s fine, too. But you’re missing out on one of the greatest joys of sharing home with a dog! We keep our furniture covered and wipe the blankets when the company reveals immaculate furniture underneath.
Note: If letting your dog sit on the furniture contributes to inappropriate behavior such as growling when someone approaches, you may need to restrict access to furniture while you are working to change the behavior. For more information about management and training protocols for this behavior, see Modifying a Resource Guard, WDJ May 2020 and Resource Conservation and Procedures, August 2015.
■ No begging while eating. When I was a child, my mother often complained about my father’s habit of feeding our dogs scraps of food from the table – but he did it anyway. That dynamic is intact in my house over 50 years later as my husband Paul freely tosses cheese, vegetable sticks, popcorn and anything else he could eat at our dogs. Sunny and Kai sit politely six or eight feet from his chair, eagerly awaiting the next treat.
While I am free to share treats with my dogs during our days together, I choose to do so Not feed them while I eat my meals and therefore they never “beg” from me while I eat.
The good news: dogs can learn to watch out for a family member who doesn’t hand out treats and not to annoy others.
If you want to make sure your canine family members don’t get too pushy for treats, but still want to throw a little bit of your food away from time to time, you can use mat training to teach them some impulse control in addition to being close to your table and the delicacies on it. (See “Useful Matters,” January 2020.)
■ No jumping up. I used to be as persistent as anyone in teaching my dogs to be polite to people – and we still teach polite greetings in the basic good manners classes taught at my training center. However, Sunny, our 25-pound mix of Pomeranian and American Eskimo dogs, convinced us that getting your dog to jump up can make sense.
For one thing, Sunny is reasonably small and generally no real harm is done if he puts his paws on you. Second, when he came to us he was a bit wary of new people, especially men (including Paul), and I didn’t want to stop him from interacting with people in any way. After all, he’s happy to jump in the air so I can catch him in my arms and that’s just so damn cute that I don’t have the heart to discourage the behavior. In fact, we’re showing it to friends.
You can still teach your dog to greet people politely, but you can also teach him a “jump up” cue to make sure he is only reinforced to jump up when prompted. This is especially helpful when one or more family members enjoy having the dog jump on them. (For more information on teaching a polite greeting, see “Meet and Greet? Or Not!” September 2018.)
■ Use the toilet outdoors only. What? Is there any other acceptable alternative to this?
Actually there is! People who live in high-rise buildings sometimes find it almost impossible to get their dogs outside on time. In this case it makes sense to create a “legal” indoor dog bath.
This does not mean that the dog can go anywhere in the apartment. There is still one particular place that needs to be eliminated. There are a variety of dog litter boxes and types of absorbent substrate available from pet stores and online. Some use trash, others use artificial turf, and others use real grass. Just Google “dog litter box” to find them.
■ No barking. It is interesting to note how many of the old rules have to do with natural, normal dog behavior. Unfortunately, far too many trainers these days encourage their clients to use “no-bark” collars (shock or spray) to punish their dogs for barking rather than allowing dogs to bark when it is appropriate and them teaching to be calm when it is not. (See “Why Dogs Bark and How to Stop Them,” March 2017.)
We happen to have two dogs that are pretty good at barking, and both of them have tall bark that can get on your nerves. We are fortunate to live in the middle of our 80 acre farm. I can kick them out in the back yard and if they bark at the horse in the pasture behind their fence or the wildlife in the woods, no one will complain.
When we’re in the house I appreciate that they bark to let me know someone has pulled into the driveway (I can’t hear the cars pull in, but they can). However, the excitement / excitement that barks when we walk to the door to go to the barn can annoy me. We’re working on it.
MY HOUSE RULES
So that you don’t get the impression that my dogs are unruly monsters who run amok in our house, I can assure you that this is not the case. We have rules, just not the same rules that used to be common in many dog houses:
■ Wait for the feeding bowl. Not only is this polite behavior and the easiest way to teach a “wait” behavior, but it is also a great impulse control exercise and minimizes chaos during feeding time.
The mess part has been more important to us the last few years when we had five dogs, but it’s also helpful with our current two. Sunny and Kai each go to their feeding places while I prepare their meals and offer a standard seat when I approach them to feed. I tell them to wait, put the bowl on the floor, mark yes, feed a treat, then say “Okay” and release them to eat. (See “Waiting for the pet bowl” on the next page.)
■ Wait at the door. This life-saving rule applies to any door that leads outside, as well as to getting out of the car. It’s easy to teach and offers great door arrow insurance. Sunny and Kai have gotten so good at it that we can even leave barn doors open while we feed horses, and they only go out by invitation. If you’ve already taught Waiting for the Food Bowl, it’s pretty easy to carry over to doors and other places.
■ Wait at the top of the stairs.
I like this one because it allows me to walk down the stairs safely without worrying about tripping over excited dogs. Again, it is easy to generalize quickly if your dog already knows “waiting” in another application. Starting at the top of the stairs, tell your dog to wait, take a step down, tag, come back, and feed. Continue this step by step until you are at the very bottom, then invite your dog to join you.
■ No wrestling in the house. There is nothing wrong with allowing your dogs to rough indoors if you want to. I just prefer them wrestling outside. They play hard together in the barn and have learned that if they wrestle inside, I’ll put them in the back yard. So they are using it now to let me know that they want or need to go outside. I love that they taught me a cue!
■ No barking indoors. Okay, true confession time: we’re still working on this one.
It wasn’t a problem until Sunny arrived at our house two years ago, but he can be pretty noisy and when he starts Kai happily joins in.
I use treats wisely for “calm” (positive reinforcement – the dog’s behavior makes a good thing possible) and stop progress and turn my back when the barking breaks out (negative punishment – the dog’s behavior makes a good thing go away) . With this complementary tactic, I can now make it down the stairs and out the back door at 6 a.m. on the way to the barn without a cacophony of barking. I am sure when this pandemic is over and we have house guests again, they will appreciate it.
Aside from these, of course, we have the normal, obvious house rules – no chewing on things you shouldn’t chew, no getting up at the counters, no chasing the cats, no getting in the trash, etc. But overall, when you have fewer rules and Allowing your dog to make more of his own decisions in your home is a healthier companion and a better relationship between the two of you. So yes, you have the rules you need and want, but don’t let anyone else tell you what they should be. It is your house; You have to make the rules.