How to set boundaries with your dog
Man’s best friend is a companion like no other, but no one likes a dog that fails to respect
boundaries. Boundaries are important because they ensure a dog remains respectful, both
at home and in public, and by following a few time-honored techniques, you can ensure
your pet toes the line.
Make it clear what your dog is doing wrong
A lot of owners make the mistake of disciplining their dogs at the wrong time. If you’re trying
to stop your dog eating off a plate, there’s no point waiting until it’s three mouthfuls in. To correct inappropriate behaviors and set boundaries, only discipline your animal when it’s about to commit the act. To do it any other way will confuse the situation and leave your dog wondering what it’s doing wrong.
Everyone in the household needs to enforce the same boundaries on the dog, or else the
training won’t work. In fact, the dog will come to view more submissive persons as subservient to it in the household hierarchy. Write down a set of rules (the dog can’t jump on the couch, eat leftover food, etc) and make sure everyone in the home knows to enforce
Instill patience in your dog
Here’s a neat trick: hold out a plate of food to your animal. It’s instinctual reaction will be to
try and go for the food. It thinks that the aim of the game is to eat. But the aim of the game is
to be calm and submissive. Every time your dog tries to go for the food, pull back and wait
for it to reset. Rinse and repeat the movement until the dog gets the message that its desire
for the goal (i.e., the food) is a hindrance, not a boon. Finally, after a few tries, your animal
will stop trying to lunge for the food, and will wait calmly instead. Only then should you give it
Keep doing this trick until patience becomes your dog’s habitual response. You want it to be
submissive, respecting the boundaries of the home, not overly anxious to get what it wants.
Be in front
We’ve talked about the importance of leading your dog when you go for a walk, or at the
very least, having it side by side with you. Another trick is to claim your space in the home by
going through doorways first, and using a leash to keep him at bay and waiting. He needs to
wait for the command to follow before he is allowed to proceed. With repetition, this sets you
up as the pack leader, and automatically reinforces the hierarchy. Dogs actually respect you
more – and are happier – if a hierarchy is in place. As animals that have grown up in packs,
they are happiest when they know they have a leader to follow. A dog with no pack leader is
unruly and destructive.
Claim the area around you
This final point is the most important and encapsulates all the points above. A dog at home
needs to understand that it can’t do as it pleases. While it needs to have a pace of its own (a
doggy bed with a bone, for instance) the rest of the house is someone else’s domain –
You’ll notice that dogs try to claim space by physically invading it and being pushy. They’ll
take over couches by spreading themselves big and claim food bowls by dropping their head
to the food. These are a challenge, and you need to challenge them back. Stand over the
dog when it’s on the couch and claim the area as your own. Don’t let the dog through a
doorway immediately, using the leash trick above. Make a dog wait for its food, instead of
letting it get its way right off the bat.
While this might all sound over-the-top, dogs are habitually looking for signs of their position
in the dominance hierarchy. Well, they need to be taught that they’re at the bottom of it – a
wonderful and much-loved member, but of lesser importance than the human inhabitants of
the home. Only this way will you ensure they’re a productive member of the team.