Does your dog have rules for you? No! Are you sure?

Do you ever add a little grated cheese or gravy to your dogs food. Or lift his muddy, wet body into the car at the end of the walk because he is just too tired to hop in by himself. Does he have his own special spot on the sofa, or on your bed?

Does he prefer a quick game of chasies around the kitchen table before you are allowed to put his lead on. Or, does he have a special bark that lets you know to open the fridge and fetch him some ham. Maybe he takes you for a walk, or expects you to keep up as he disappears into the distance when you let him off his lead?

If so, I’m sorry to say, but it seems your pooch may have you quite well trained.

Does it really matter?

So, your dog has you wrapped round his very cute little paw, does it really matter? After all, you got a dog so you could love and spoil him, didn’t you? So what if your little Prince has a special spot on the sofa, that’s not so bad, is it?

Actually the good news is that it’s fine, as long as he is otherwise a well behaved and well-mannered pup. Many are and will enjoy the closeness, but often that is far from the case. For many dogs, this is just one of a long list of habits that has led the dog to believe he is the lord of the manor. While you are the servant he has skilfully trained to tend his every whim!

small brown dog with big pointy ears looking very happy

The problem is, that when you live with this little fellow, he makes up his own rules. While he is in charge, you have no business telling him what to do. This attitude will affect all aspects of his behavior, and in extreme cases, it can cause anxiety, frustration, and even aggressive behavior.

If you let your dog please himself all day, then don’t be surprised when he pleases himself all day!

Caroline Mitchell, Gooddoggie

Is it time to add a few rules to your routine?

The bossy dog might bark incessantly at callers to the front door, regardless of how much you shout at him to stop. Or maybe he goes one step further and guards the entire cul-de-sac. This type of behaviour works well for most dogs as nothing bad happens afterwards. So, just because you are fed up with it, this is not a sufficient reason to stop.

Maybe he disappears whenever you let him off the lead and won’t come back until he has played with every dog in the park. This is, of course, much more fun than anything you have to offer. Or, maybe he cries after you when you leave him on his own. The dog that pleases himself won’t be happy when one of his people leaves the safety of the den.

All these problems, and many more, could be improved, or even solved, by adding a few rules to your dogs daily routine. In fact, knowing that he doesn’t have to make the rules any more is actually quite liberating for many dogs.

Behaviour problems made worse by a lack of rules

Toileting in the HouseGuardingBegging
Fussy EatingAttention SeekingJumping Up
Pulling on the LeadPoor RecallToy/Food Guarding
Not giving up ToySnappingGrowling
Stealing Food/ObjectsDifficulty Putting on

Here’s a few suggestions, and how to implement them. But you can come up with your own if they don’t suit you.

Rule #1 – Must use his own bed

This one will take a bit of patience, especially if Woofers has been used to the couch or your bed. But it is definitely worth it, and once you have it mastered, you can always invite him up for a cuddle or Sunday morning snooze. Just be sure he knows it is a treat and not his new spot again!

First of all, you will need a lovely soft, cosy bed which is just for him. Put it near the sofa or your bed, but on the floor. Now you are going to have to be super vigilant and watch him like a hawk. When you see him heading for the sofa just say No, or Ach, or whatever sound you normally make.

He will most likely ignore you and jump up anyway, that’s fine, you just go calmly over to him and remove him carefully. Now sit in the spot he wanted. If he tries to get up next to you, say No and slide down the sofa to be in his way again. Keep doing this until he gives up. Hopefully, he will lie on the lovely dog bed you have bought for him, but if he is stubborn he probably won’t the first few times.

Stay calm!

Consistency, and a calm demeanor, are the key to making this work. Don’t let him think you are losing patience with him, and don’t let him get away with getting up. The more consistent you can be, the better. You will have this nailed in no time!

a small white terrier dog laying in her bed with her paws coming over the edge.

Don’t be fooled by this expression, she is more than comfortable in her new bed!

Rule #2 – No snacking between meals

This is an important rule. Not only for his mental well-being, but also for his physical health, so definitely worth doing.

First of all I recommend a check-up with your vet. This will put your mind at ease that you have a healthy dog. Plus, your vet will be able to give you proper advice about what food your dog should be eating and how much. Once this part is out of the way, simply measure out a full days worth of food, and at your dogs next meal give him a portion of it. The portion size will depend on how many meals you intend to feed your dog, ie. If you want to feed him twice a day, then give him half now and save the other half for later. If he will be fed three times, then give him a third.

This article is all about rules, so we might as well squeeze in a sneaky one and insist he sits before his food is put down. Now watch him and wait, he will probably pick at it a bit and walk off. He will be expecting it to still be there later. He will also be expecting to get a few treats throughout the day, so he will not be concerned about finishing his dinner. When he does leave his bowl, set a timer, and give him five minutes to return. If he is not eating when the timer goes off then lift the bowl and take it away.

Be strong!

Now, you just have to be strong and ignore any attempts to get a snack from you. This means no eye contact, don’t speak, or touch him at all until he has completely given up begging. Any acknowledgement will give him false hope, so it’s kinder to ignore it.

I do still recommend you offer small treats as training rewards though.

At the next meal time, do the same as before. Only this time he should be a little hungrier and, unless he is really stubborn, he will eat a little more. Don’t be too worried if he skips a few meals, or picks for a day or two. Your vet has already agreed he is in good health, and if he is drinking plenty of water, he will be just fine.

Rule #3 – Attention on your terms

This is a good rule, especially if your dog is quite excitable, possessive, or if he suffers from separation anxiety. To apply this rule, it is quite simple; just ignore your dog whenever he comes looking for attention. By that I mean, don’t look at him, talk to him, or touch him. The hard part is identifying what exactly is attention seeking behavior. Well, it’s any behavior that forces you to give out extra attention.

Some dogs are very obvious about it and jump all over you. Perhaps he likes to crawl onto your lap and lick your face until you pet him. He might persistently drop toys at your feet, or bark at you until you talk to him. Or maybe you can’t resist laughing when he humps his teddy on the rug right in front of you.

In any case, ignoring works in stages. The first step is don’t acknowledge it and take your hands away. If the behavior persists then you need to step up your efforts, so turn your head away so you are actively ignoring him. The next stage is to get up, and then walk away. And if he is still trying his best then it’s OK to just leave the room for a minute or two.

It’ll get worse before it gets better!

It’s normal for the behaviour to get worse before it gets better when you do this. He’s used to getting a reaction so when you ignore him he’ll just try harder. When he tries harder, you go to the next step and try harder, and so the cycle continues. Stay strong, and patient, and he’ll realise it’s no coincidence and he’ll stop trying.

Follow-up by remembering that he wanted a fuss. Next time he is behaving calmly and not expecting it, call him over and pet him to your hearts content.

Remember, there is no limit to the amount of attention you can give him, it’s just the way in which he gets it that is important.

And finally…

If these rules don’t suit you, feel free to come up with your own. Maybe you could insist your dog sits before you throw his ball. Or why not take the ‘sit for food’ rule to the next level and teach him to wait in that position until you say he can have his food. You could have him walk to heel and sit at every kerb, or shake hands with every new person he greets. Perhaps there is a room you want to ban him from using, or you want him to travel in the boot of the car.

Whatever it is, be clear in your own mind what you want him to do. Then think about how you can help him get it right until he is clear what is expected of him.

If your dog has picked up a few bad habits, you will have to work on them separately to get rid of them completely. But at least you will know that your dog does not think he is calling all the shots and when you say ‘No’ he will be listening and trying to learn. Also, it is important to make sure everyone is working together. Dogs are quick to spot a weak link and will exploit it. So make sure the whole family agree to the new house rules and are happy with them.

What rules do you have for your dog?

How can I help you with your dogs behaviour?

If you would like help solving your dogs behaviour and training, then please get in touch! Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in and around the Dundee area, and as far as Carnoustie, Broughty Ferry, Monifieth, Tayport, Newport, and Longforgan. Depending on the problem, I often go even further afield.


I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.

I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.

In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.

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