Skip to main content

Episode 4 of 12

How to set boundaries for your dog

  • Not ready to watch all of this course now?

    You can find it on YouTube or get it on email at a convenient time by signing up.

It’s tempting to give your dog all the freedom it wants, but this is likely to lead to bad behaviours which not only affect the dog’s life, but you as the parent. In this post, we’ll address the best ways of setting boundaries for your dog — it’s worth noting that like most dog parents, you’ll get the most out of these tips by implementing them as soon as possible — preferably whilst your dog is still a puppy.

Why dogs need boundaries

First, let’s discuss why dogs need boundaries and why you do too!

Dogs are pack animals, so they will seek guidance on what to do and what not to do, and when to do it. Setting good boundaries of appropriate behavior will help your dog feel confident, enhance your relationship with them, and prevent behavioral issues in the future.

This is one of the most common fears new dog parents encounter — you shouldn’t feel bad about being assertive! In fact, dogs prefer it that way. They are looking for someone to lead them, and showing your authority is really an act of love, not just being bossy.

Reasonable boundaries

Below is a basic list of boundaries that are important to set with your dog. These will lay the foundations for good behaviour in the home and its interactions with your family and friends.

Not begging or barking for food — as a basic rule, you should always look to incentivize the behavior you want from your dog. So in this instance, if your dog repeatedly whines or barks for food — and you give it — you’re just encouraging your dog to repeat this behaviour next time. So instead, you should be teaching your dog to sit quietly (i.e. display good behaviour) before he or she can be fed.

Resting quietly during meals — if you’re feeding your dog scraps during or after meal times, the dog shouldn’t be interrupting or disturbing the occasion for you. So our recommendation is to make your dog sit quietly away from the table until you’ve signalled it’s permissible to be fed.

Showing which toys can / cannot be chewed — this is to keep your kids (and your wallet!) happy. Favorite toys can simply be tucked away in a space dogs can’t access. But equally, you can encourage dogs to chew certain toys by raising your levels of excitement and playing with the dog only once the toys you’ve permitted to be picked up, have been picked up.

Limiting space — especially in a puppy’s first few weeks and months, you don’t want to give them full reign over your home. This only encourages them to become more dominant and intruding as they grow. Keeping your dog in a few rooms at the start of its home life isn’t cruel. It encourages the right behaviour and allows them to recognise you as the house leader.

The owner’s responsibility

While setting these boundaries, the most important thing is to remain calm, clear, and consistent with your approach. Good training and dog behaviour takes time and like most things in life, repeated practice only makes you better at it.

To learn more about setting boundaries and dog behavior, I always recommend consulting your family veterinarian, a veterinary behaviorist, or an experienced dog trainer.