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How To Set Boundaries With Your Dog

By Kayla Fratt

Dogs, like all social animals, do best with clear boundaries and consistency in their social structure. Inconsistent or unclear routines in your home can create anxiety or lead to your dog not being sure how to act in a given situation. While sometimes it’s tempting to bend the rules in the name of fun or kindness for your dog, it can actually be unfair to your dog. 

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Think, for example, about a roommate situation where some days your roommate doesn’t mind that you leave your shoes in the mudroom, but other days demands that you bring your shoes all the way up to your second-story bedroom. That lack of clarity would be quite frustrating, right? Similarly, clear expectations from your boss and coworkers — whether those expectations are high or relaxed — are imperative for workplace comfort.

It’s also important to remember that boundaries for your dog aren’t simply about what your dog isn’t allowed to do — it’s also about you respecting your dog’s space and advocating for your dog in public. While many owners focus on keeping their dogs off the furniture or enforcing structured walks with their dogs, they often neglect to advocate for their dog when their dog is stressed.

In my house, dogs are allowed on the bed and couch, provided they don’t put their noses in my food and get off if I request (and reward them for complying). They are not allowed to put their paws up on counters or tables and will not be rewarded for pestering me while I work. In return, I am sure to reward them heavily when people come to the door, I protect them from strangers who want to pet them, and I ensure that dog-dog introductions go smoothly. I don’t allow drunken friends to carry them around or poke into their crates, and I don’t allow anyone to bother them while they’re eating.

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I am sure to reward them heavily when people come to the door, I protect them from strangers who want to pet them, and I ensure that dog-dog introductions go smoothly. I don’t allow drunken friends to carry them around or poke into their crates, and I don’t allow anyone to bother them while they’re eating.

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Of course, setting boundaries for your dog isn’t enough if your dog doesn’t know what they are! For example, it’s unfair for me to punish my puppy for putting his nose near my ice cream or for not getting off the couch when asked if I have not taught him to lie calmly at my feet while I’m eating and to comply with the cue, “off.” 

I prefer to use SMART x 50 to teach dogs to follow the patterns and boundaries in our household. Basically, this “See, Mark, And Reward Training” involves feeding your dog fifty (yes 50!) treats per day for small things they do right around the house. By rewarding my puppy for staying at my feet while I eat, I start teaching him boundaries without having to resort to punishment. 

Similarly, I set up specific training situations to ensure that my dogs understand “off” and “leave it” rather than just punishing them for trying things. In many cases where my clients are frustrated with their dogs for not complying with rules, it’s actually because the owners are unclear about expectations and/or have not taught the dog how to listen to their cues. The owners haphazardly punish the dogs out of frustration, but no one really knows how to succeed in their home life! What a mess! (But it doesn’t have to be.)

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In many cases where my clients are frustrated with their dogs for not complying with rules, it’s actually because the owners are unclear about expectations and/or have not taught the dog how to listen to their cues.

Boundaries with dogs are all about clear, two-way rules and expectations. If you can’t articulate the patterns that your dog is supposed to follow, there’s no way your dog will be able to succeed! Try to express your boundaries and rules in writing for your friends and family to clear things up for all involved. It’s our job is to protect your dogs from unwanted interactions and uncomfortable situations, and to make their “roles and responsibilities” clear so that they have a chance of following them.


Kayla Fratt is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant and the owner of Journey Dog Training. She’s passionate about helping owners prevent and treat behavior problems in their pets. She also works as a conservation detection dog trainer with her border collies in Missoula, Montana. She’s an avid runner, cross-country skier and a budding agility competitor.

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