Establishing structure and boundaries for your dog is important for a number of reasons. It helps your dog understand what is expected of them, which can lead to fewer problem behaviors and a more harmonious household. Well-defined structure and boundaries also provide your dog with a sense of security and predictability, which can help them feel more comfortable and confident.
In addition, establishing structure and boundaries can help you communicate more effectively with your dog and strengthen your bond with them. By setting clear rules and expectations, you can help your dog learn to trust and respect you, which is essential for a happy and healthy relationship.
There are several steps you can take to establish structure and boundaries for your dog. These include establishing a daily routine, setting clear rules and boundaries (and being consistent with them), supervising your dog, providing plenty of mental and physical stimulation, and seeking help from a professional if needed. By following these steps, you can help your dog become a well-behaved and happy member of the family.
Let's dig into each of those below.
Establish a Daily Routine
Having a consistent routine can help your dog understand what is expected of them and can help prevent problem behaviors. This doesn't necessarily mean the same schedule each day or feeding your dog at a certain time (though they always seem to know when it's time for dinner, don't they?).
There are some things that my AmStaff mix, Kono, can expect we'll do throughout the day, including walks/training sessions, time on his "place" cot, and time in his crate (even when I'm home), as examples.
Because I crate him every time I go out, when he sees me changing my clothes or grabbing my purse, he runs into his crate without me saying anything.
This translates to when we travel, and when I continue to implement structure by using his travel crate, he is able to adjust to a new environment more easily because he already understands what's expected of him.
Set Clear Rules and Boundaries
These will be personal to YOU and how you want to live with your dog. Decide on what behaviors are acceptable and which are not, and be consistent in enforcing them. You might be okay with your dog on the couch but not on your bed. Or maybe you prefer no dogs on any furniture at all.
Start by making a list of your rules—when you have a clear understanding of what the rules are, so will your dog.
Here are some of my rules for my life with Kono:
- He's not allowed on my bed. From day one, I've enforced this because I like having my own space to sleep, and he's a 70 lb dog who sheds.
- He's not allowed on the couch. He actually used to be allowed on my old couch, but when I got my new one, I enforced the "no couch" rule from the start and he's never tried to get on.
- Jumping on me is only allowed during play. For me, clarity in communication is one of the most important things when it comes to dog training. Kono knows when we're in a play session, and he knows that during that time, it's totally okay to jump up on me. When I'm putting on his collars and we're about to go for a walk, however, I don't want him to jump on me.
- Respect thresholds. I expect that when I open the front door or my car door, he'll stay and won't run out until I give the okay, or "Break."
Once you've set clear rules and boundaries for your dog, it's important to be consistent in enforcing them. If they're allowed on the furniture sometimes but not others, it may not be clear to them what the rules actually are.
Supervising Your Dog
When you first bring a dog home, whether it's a puppy or just a new adult dog, using a leash is a vastly underrated way to keep an eye on them. Tethering your dog is a great way to provide structure initially and prevent problem behaviors such as chewing, jumping, or going to the bathroom inside.
Keep in mind that in this context, tethering absolutely doesn't mean tying your dog up outside and leaving them there. If you're able to, tether them to yourself. That way, you can keep an eye on them until they understand your rules.
If you can't always supervise your dog or use a leash, teaching the "place" command or crate training can be useful tools for your daily life.
Provide Your Dog Plenty of Mental And Physical Stimulation
It's super important to provide mental and physical stimulation for your dog. Many problem behaviors occur because they aren't properly fulfilled. If your dog hasn't been exercised or mentally stimulated, it shouldn't come as a surprise if you find toys and other things around the house destroyed.
Part of the trust that we're aiming to build with our dogs is teaching them that they can trust us to make sure their needs are met, and in return, we expect that they'll respect the boundaries we set.
Physical stimulation is pretty straightforward—walks, runs, play sessions. You can provide mental stimulation through cheap enrichment activities, training together, or letting them explore their environment.
Seek Help From a Professional
If you're experiencing behavioral issues that seem out of your control, seek help from a professional if you can. Dog training can be expensive and is a privilege (and dog trainers should be paid well for their knowledge), but not everyone can afford it—for those who can't work with a professional, there are other resources available, such as podcasts, or Kono's Club, our online community for empowered owners to support one another and share their resources and what's worked for them.
By establishing a daily routine, setting clear rules and boundaries (and being consistent with them), supervising your dog, providing plenty of mental and physical stimulation, and seeking help from a professional if needed, you'll be well on your way to building a deeper relationship with your dog and living a happier life with them.
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