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Setting the House Rules for Your Dog

Heel. Sit. Down. Stay. Come. That's what comes to mind when most people think about training their dogs. Training your dog to respond to obedience commands is an important part of training that builds your dog's confidence, teaches your dog to look to you for direction and gives you a means of controlling your dog when you need him to behave.

But if you want your dog to be a civilized member of your household, there's a lot more to training than teaching commands. There are decisions that you need to make about how you want your dog to behave around the house when he's not on command. These decisions should be made as early in your dog's life as possible, but it's never too late. By setting house rules for your dog, you let him know which behaviors are acceptable and which are unacceptable in your home.

The guidelines you set for your dog's behavior around the house will make a big difference in what kind of companion your dog will be. There's no "right" or "wrong" when it comes to choosing many of these house rules. They are based solely on your personal preferences for what kind of behavior you want to allow.

So, in each of the categories below, choose the option that's right for you and stick with it. The key to teaching house rules is making a clear decision and sticking to it. Consistently enforcing the rules that you've chosen will prevent confusion for your dog and will teach him to be the perfect companion you've always wanted.

House Rules

Furniture Rules

When it comes to furniture rules, you have a lot of options. On one end of the spectrum, there's teaching your dog to stay off the furniture completely, on the other end, allowing your dog free access to all of your furniture at all times. In between, there are other options that can allow you to have the best of both worlds - allowing your dog only on certain pieces of furniture, allowing your dog to come up on the furniture by invitation only, allowing your dog on the furniture only when it's not occupied by people or teaching your dog that he can be on the furniture unless he's told to get off.

With all of these options, it can be hard to decide which way to go. There are many things to consider when deciding what your furniture rules will be. First the practical issues - your dog's size and whether he's a drooler or a heavy shedder.

You should also consider how much time you want to dedicate to teaching your dog the furniture rules. Teaching your dog that he can get on the furniture freely or that he must stay off completely are the most clear to the dog, so they will be the easiest to teach. The other options will take more time, consistency and dedication to teach.

The rest of your decision should be based on what will allow you to enjoy your dog the most. If snuggling with your dog watching TV is your favorite thing to do, you might choose the option of allowing your dog free access to the furniture, allowing him up by invitation only or allowing him only to get up on the one piece of furniture you sit on to watch TV. If you aren't crazy about having your dog sharing your space when you're on the furniture, you might consider having your dog off the furniture completely, teaching him he can only get on the furniture when nobody else is using it or allowing him to get on only one piece of furniture and keeping the rest of your furniture for human use only.

Do You Need a Dog-Free Zone

Another decision you will need to make is whether you want your dog to have access to your whole house. Some people have areas of the house that they would prefer to remain dog-free, such as the kitchen, the baby's room or a formal dining or living room. Some owners even prefer to keep an entire floor of the house dog-free and to only allow the dog to be on the first floor of the house.

These decisions should be made prior to getting your dog, if possible, since it will be harder to teach your dog the boundaries if he's already used to having free run of the house. As with all of the house rules, you should make a clear decision that everyone in the family is aware of and be sure that everyone is enforcing the rules consistently. It will be very difficult for your dog to reliably stay downstairs if your kid is sharing a bag of Cheetos with him up in the bedroom while you're away from home. To enjoy your relationship with your dog to the fullest, you should not be overly restrictive with the areas of the house you allow him to be in. Remember, you want your dog to have enough access to the house to get plenty of attention and time with you and your family.

To Jump or Not to Jump?

Should your dog be allowed to jump on people? In most cases, no. However, some owners with very small dogs aren't bothered by jumping or even enjoy it. But you should think long and hard before making the decision to allow even a small dog to jump on people. A small dog that jumps will not be as overwhelming as a big dog that jumps, but he can still rip people's stockings, put muddy paw prints on pant legs and scare small children.

If you do choose to allow your small dog to jump, remember this - you can't correct him for jumping at any time. So, if you're wearing nice clothes or if you're around a person who doesn't like dogs or is afraid of them, you can't use correction to stop your dog from jumping, since he has been taught that jumping is an acceptable behavior. You will have to pick your dog up or take him out of the area to prevent jumping, since correction under these circumstances would be unfair.

If you don't want your small dog to jump up, you need to teach him an alternate behavior, such as sitting, that he can use when he greets someone or when he wants attention. Many owners with small dogs have a tendency to be inconsistent with corrections for jumping and confuse their dogs, so pay attention to what your dog is doing and be sure to notice and correct every single jump.

There are some big dog owners that like having the dog jump up and "give them a hug", too. I strongly recommend that all large dogs be taught not to jump up on people. However, if you just can't live without those hugs, there's a training option for you, too. Step one is to teach your dog that he's not allowed to jump. When he's reliable on this and has not jumped on anyone for a month or so, you can teach him the command, "Give me a hug" and teach him to come up only on that command. Teaching "yes, you can" or "no you can't" is always easier than teaching "sometimes you can", so if you choose this option, you must be absolutely consistent about the rules and you will need to dedicate more time to teaching them.

Going Through Doors and Gates

Another house rule your dog needs to learn is not to go through a door or gate that leads to outside without permission. Since following this rule reliably is crucial to your dog's safety, it should be taught to all dogs. You should teach your dog that he can't go through the door or gate until you give him a release command (like "okay" or "free"). For very small dogs, the other option is to teach your dog he can't go out unless he's carried over the threshold (how romantic!).

This rule applies every time the door is opened - when you're going out without your dog, when you're taking him out for a walk, when somebody's coming in, or when the door is accidentally left open. You should teach this rule for every door and gate that leads outside, except those that might sometimes be left open for the dog to come and go through freely (the sliding glass door that leads to the backyard, for example). Teach the dog that the rule applies only to going out, not to coming in... that way, if he does end up outside your property somehow, he'll know he's allowed to come back in!

Bolting out of doors or gates is a serious problem that can lead to your dog running away or being hit by a car, so teaching your dog that he can't go out without permission is one of the most important house rules. A consistent training approach followed by all members of the family will keep your dog safe at home where he belongs.
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