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How Boundaries Can Help with Bad Behaviors

We all treat our dogs like they are actual human babies (myself included) and this is totally fine! but sometimes it can be unhelpful for them. We forget that our dogs are actual animals living in a human world, living in human houses. They were not originally meant to live in houses, with humans, etc. This is why I always say “dogs do dog things”. Dogs do not think, behave, or communicate in the same way that you do, which means that you have to learn how they think and how to communicate in a way that they’ll understand. 

Most dogs have at least one bad behavior. And yes, you might have the “perfect golden retriever child” (like my first dog, Indie) who never does anything bad and is perfectly content to lay by your side all day. But this is not the reality for many many dog owners. Many of us have at least one dog in our lifetimes who we just can’t seem to figure out. Who is constantly into every. Single. Thing…. Who we constantly have to monitor. This is not a fun way to live, but I have good news! It doesn’t have to be like this. 

Bad Behaviors. This is the reason that many dogs end up in shelters. People don’t generally understand that there are behaviors that dogs do, behaviors that are normal dog behaviors, and that their dogs have absolutely no clue that their owners don’t want them to be doing these things. We see a lot of unwanted behaviors like jumping all over you (or your guests…. Or even worse, your grandma), barking at the front door and windows anytime the slightest breeze blows, nipping or mouthing, pulling you down the street when you’re on a walk, running out the front door every time they get the chance, jumping the fence or breaking out, digging up your yard and landscaping, chewing up your things. These are all normal dog behaviors– these are things that dogs do naturally if they are not given any rules/ structure/ boundaries– essentially they have to be told that these things are not allowed. We have to teach our dogs what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior in our home. 

We must have a meaningful “no”. All too often I hear “I tell them no, but they don’t stop”.... We have to have a meaningful “no” to use with our dogs. This basically means that if I say “no” they stop what they are doing immediately. This doesn’t mean that you say “nooooo…. Nooooo… nooooo” repeatedly and never do anything about it. Dogs are physical creatures, when you see them correct each other– if maybe they’re playing too hard and one of them is over it– they correct with a physical reaction (usually a nip or a threatening to nip). For most dogs, it doesn’t have to be very firm, but it does have to be consistent and firm enough.

Set Boundaries with your dog. If you want to have a peaceful life and home together, you have to set boundaries with your dog. This means, if I say “get off the couch” they get off immediately. Or if I say “go to your crate” when I have to leave for work, they go to their crate immediately. If your dog is growling at you when you sit on your couch, when you go to lay in your bed, when you hug your significant other then they probably think that they are the leader and they set the house rules (they tell you “don’t get on the couch” with a growl, and you say “okay cool”). This is unacceptable, and creates a huge amount of issues. Allowing this can lead to bites and even worse things. 

Don’t let your dog bully you. Don’t allow your dog to bully you and push you around. This looks like them sitting on you/ laying on you on the couch. Taking your food. Forcing you to pet them constantly. Whining all day long, when they want food, when they want to get out of the crate, etc. They’re telling you what to do rather than looking to you for direction and leadership. 

A yellow Lab sleeping in awkward position.

A Few Boundaries We Can Set. We can set boundaries with our dogs in a few ways:

  • Not allowing them on furniture… I let my dogs on the furniture— as long as they also get off when i tell them to, and they never growl at me. 

  • Not petting them constantly

  • Having some separation– give them some crate time, put them in a play pen, let them hang out outside for a while

  • Not giving them treats constantly

  • Not sharing food from the table (if they're being pushy about it)

  • Making them wait to be “released” when exiting the house or yard

  • Feeding in the crate/ separate from other dogs

  • Not allowing “zoomies” through the house

This may seem extreme. Not every dog needs all of these rules, but they can help a lot with general bad behavior in the house. They are pushing you around and bullying you because you let them. They’re being brats and have bratty behavior because you allow it. 

Safety. Some of these behaviors can actually be unsafe for them. It is never okay for dogs to bite/ mouth/ nip. Dog teeth should not ever be on human skin. It is never okay for a dog to bolt out the front door every time it opens. It is never okay for them to shove you over while you walk down the stairs. 

Balance. We need to have a balance– there has to be correction or discipline of bad behaviors… but there also has to be teaching of good behaviors. They have to know what things they should be doing. This can also help because if they’re used to sitting as close as possible to you while you eat, then you can teach them “down” or “place” and teach them to stay a bit of distance away from you while you eat. Teaching good behaviors can also set the tone. When you tell your dog “place” or “down” for example, don’t allow them to just decide they don’t really feel like doing it, or do it and then decide that they’re done whenever they feel like it. If you are giving a command then you have to make sure you actually enforce it– if they get up, make them do it again. I like to use a “release” command which indicates to them that they’re allowed to get up/ done with the given command.

Our everyday habits and way of life really set the tone for our dogs. We get to decide what we will allow and what we will not allow. By setting boundaries and rules for your dog, it makes it very clear to them how they should behave in the home and around people in general. This will make your life together significantly better and can often help lessen bad behaviors and instill good daily habits.

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