Setting Boundaries

I have often read and even used the phrase myself of “setting boundaries” for dogs. But what exactly do we mean by this? And why (and if) should we set boundaries?

The dictionary defines boundary as: a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing lines. A boundary wall. A limit of a subject or sphere of activity: a community without class or political boundaries.

While this might shed some light as to what we mean when we say that we need to set some boundaries, I want to explore the topic further. In setting boundaries for our dogs I suggest we ask ourselves the following: How does this boundary setting look in the daily lives we share with our dogs? Who will be teaching the boundaries? And who will reinforce or exercise consequence? And no, I am not talking here about shock collars, water bottles, vinegar in the eyes, etc. type consequences… we can do better than hurting dogs, people – in order to get our message across. For me then, boundaries mean teaching rules to my dogs in all sorts of circumstances.

For example: If they come onto the bed in the am to say hi and just hang, Rio absolutely cannot paw us on the face as she did the other day to get our attention. When she did she was asked immediately to get off the bed and she was not invited up until much later. Every single time she even raises her front paw she is off the bed.

What they can chew. My house is really impeccable – almost with no trace of dogs living here except for dog beds, basket of toys – okay there are dog toys on the floor on a regular basis and yes, the dog hair that we vacuum twice weekly. I do not have legs of furniture that have teeth marks or paw prints on the sofas etc. I have made sure my dogs where taught early on by re-directing them to something appropriate if they had the “thought” of gnawing on our furniture. We also make sure the dogs are properly exercised every single day and that they are also mentally tired which makes management of mischievousness or just pent up energy a cinch.

Rules or boundaries are also in place for dog & dog interactions. Be it between Deuce and Rio or my dogs with their pals. I watch these interactions like a hawk and intervene when needed. Here is an example of a consequence: When they have a friend over or a Board & Train client’s dog, sometimes Deuce will resort to wanting to herd Rio. What he does is benign, but still obnoxious: He proceeds to go after Rio’s neck when she is playing with the other dog or just getting somewhat excited. I ask Deuce to stop by saying enough Deuce! Most of the time he can curtail his managing of Rio by me telling him to stop as above. However, if I notice that curtailing himself is becoming a struggle for him, I give him a tennis ball for him to carry around.

He can’t carry the ball around – which he loves doing as part of his love for all balls, and get to Rio’s neck. There – problem solved!

Rules must be in place for ANY child & dog interaction. I don’t have young kids in my life but when my dogs – which really like kids are around other peoples’ kids I watch these closely and re-direct both kids and dogs (mostly it’s the kids that I need to educate, quite frankly) as to how I want them to interact with my dogs.

For families with kids this is a pressing matter. For families with dogs that do not like kids this is an emergency. And in the interest of clarity: Most dogs find kids (the age demographics vary here) too unpredictable and highly arousing to feel comfortable around them. Kids will be kids… think of little girls screaming or little boys running at the dog with a plastic sword…

Even those dogs that truly enjoy hanging out with kids, have limits as to how much they can take. Last, if parents do not set rules of engagement between their children and dogs – theirs or others, everyone loses.

Kids do not necessarily know how to safely interact with dogs- they must be taught to be empathetic and respectful. By this I mean: No riding the dog as a pony- it is NOT a pony! No pulling of any extremities, hitting, kicking, etc. Respecting the dog’s bed, crate or anytime the dog moves away from the child – again here the parent must exercise choices for both parties. If children are taught early on how to respectfully engage with any animal chances are they will share many great moments together and both will remain safe and in the home.

These are a few examples as to how we set boundaries for our dogs and dogs in our care. One last thing, none of the boundaries I set with my dogs is based on the grossly misunderstood (social) dominance paradigm. And I strongly suggest you scrutinize any given advice as to setting rules and consequences that are based on dogs wanting to dominate us.

Boundaries are good for dogs when they are fair and we have taken the time to teach them what we expect of them. It puts the responsibility on us to keep everyone safe while extending a good quality of life for all.

When dogs have learned what is expected of them they can relax. In those instances when they cannot follow through with our rules we must take a moment to figure out what about “breaking” the rule is reinforcing for the dog – as the behavior will continue. Once we have done so, it behooves us to find ways to fill in that need appropriately so that the boundaries remain in place.