Rules, What are They Good For?

IMG_20140315_135815Rules. Dogs need them. Every book I read before we adopted Shiva dictated this. Dogs require clear and consistent boundaries. Dogs need to know what is acceptable behaviour with no deviation. Rigid structure. All four on the floor. No affection without exercise and discipline first. Humans must state the law and never give in. No take-backsies. If we slide a little, dogs will think they own the place and turn into aggressive, drywall-munching monsters. Nom nom. Peaceful co-existence of dogs and humans is not possible unless the human is in control at all times. Rules keep everyone safe. Rules keep dogs from eating our houses. Rules keep dogs out of animal shelters.

These are things we all desire.

Once again, I find myself in a place of deep shame. Back when we lived in a world filled with obedience instructors and training regimens – in other words, the land that time forgot – our lives were bordered with decrees like “no dogs on the furniture” and “no dogs in the bedroom”. There was even everyone’s favourite canine statute: “no begging allowed.”Oh, how black and white Shiva’s realm was then. How absurd she must have thought us, we naive humans who imagined making her enter the house last meant we were in charge. As if the order in which one eats has anything to do with familial bonding. If the semi-parade we formed in each doorway made any significant difference in how she conducted herself, I don’t recall noticing anything.

On the other hand, my dog’s sit-stay continues to soothe my lazy trainer’s soul.

That's right, we win all the medals.

That’s right, we win all the medals.

I should be embarrassed by how many rules we no longer enforce. It connotes a sort of undress, an almost déshabillé quality to the way we run our household. Perhaps if we add a little more uniformity to the way we organize our lives our dreams would be less deluded. Alas, I kind of like our mess.

Certain dog trainers would be stunned by how lax we have become, and yet our dog has not run like a savage through the streets. The former me would be just as surprised by how accepting I am of Shiva’s libertine habits. For example, here are some of the rules we used to demand:

1. No dogs on the furniture.

Simple. Shouldn’t have been hard to uphold. Yet, this slid into, “dogs only on the furniture with express permission”. And then became “dogs on the furniture if they dog a cute trick first.” Which is now, “dogs on all the furniture whenever they please.”

This doesn't look very comfortable...

This doesn’t look very comfortable…

2. Dogs sleep in their crates.

This one took a bit longer to lose it’s significance but it eventually became “dogs sleep on the couch or the bed in the spare room.” And then “dogs can sleep in the bedroom but on their own bed.” And now, “dogs sleep on our bed every single night”

Ugh. I still don’t know how this one happened.

3. Dogs aren’t allowed in the kitchen.

This rule probably hit the garbage can the fastest. Don’t get me wrong, it is still technically in the law books. There is just no precedent for upholding it. The judge lets Shiva off with a warning every single time. In practice, the rule has now become more of a “dogs can be in the kitchen as long as they don’t steal things off the counters or get in the human’s way, but if they do get in the way, it’s okay as long as they look cute.” Or something. We are still working this out.

DSC_0188There are all sorts of other rules that I have forgotten about at this point. Decrees about no cat chasing (now acceptable, as long as one is quiet about it) and posted ordinances about no people food, ever, or how dogs must lay on their mats when people are eating. It is a vague memory, but I also recall something about dogs not being allowed to look out windows or run zoomies around the living room.


No doubt my PH could remember many more than I. There is no disputing the fact that I am the softie of the lot. Though I maintain we are better off this way, Shiva’s wild nature, and our lack of interior decoration, might speak something a little different.

If rules are so important for a dog’s sanity, our laissez-faire attitude could be part of the problem. Maybe I should re-instill some of the order I’d intended five years ago. Remind Shiva who is Alpha. Teach her not to jump on me when I get home from. Let her cry it out and guide her back into her crate every night. In her own room, downstairs. Only pet her when she is lying calmly on the floor. Refuse to share my veggies and turn away from her adorable pleading face. Finally teach this mutt some household manners.

Life would be much more structured. I might even be able to own nice things. Shiva will know what is expected and I will be able to read my book without a tongue lapping at the pages. We will be nice and calm and predictable.

Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? On second thought, I am happy with my speckled canine tyrant. Maybe other people couldn’t live like we do, with everything left on the floor fair game for Shiva’s jaws, but I think of it as our own adventure. We may never achieve greatness, we may always remain le maison de rêveurs égarés, but we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves. We revel in our mess.

Are there any rules you have tossed out after a several years of dog ownership? Or are you better at maintaining these than we are? Should we feel ashamed for letting Shiva get away with everything but murder? Is it possible to let Shiva be a dog while still creating a magazine-worthy home?

17 thoughts on “Rules, What are They Good For?

  1. I’m now thinking that when we will get the dog I will set some rules and boundaries for certain things, but I’m not going to be all “no dogs on the furniture” kind one. There are some things that are allowed even though many trainers wouldn’t allow them 😀 But, I’ve started to hesitate if even my little rules and boundaries would stay, eventually. I’m not very good at consistency myself either xD But I’m still dreaming of well mannered canine (and cat, and micro pig, and rabbits :D) because it’s very important, especially if we are getting Great Dane and/or Husky.



  2. When you live in an RV, it’s hard to enforce many rules about rooms were dogs are allowed. Or furniture for that matter. These guys are mellow, well behaved, loved beyond reason, and happy. Important stuff like outdoor rules are enforced. Sit stay, come, heal. All that jazz.


  3. We’re not big on rules. I do think consistency is important, especially for anxious dogs like Bella, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into ‘rules’ per se. She knows when we leave, we’ll come back. She knows that regardless of where or when she eats, she will be fed. She knows she will not be hit, or neglected, or deliberately frightened. Some will say this lack of rules is why we have a crazy dog. I say a dog’s life is all too short – enjoy it.


  4. Some of those rules we never even had in the first place. They’ve always been allowed underfoot in the kitchen. The “no furniture” went out the window with our first dog, when we found out she had cancer.
    This time our new puppy slept in his crate, and we actually did that for his whole first month here! My hubby was more of the softy when it came to that one, which is unusual, but I was the one that ultimately let him out and onto the bed one night. I really thought we did well to make it a month!


  5. We’ve always had – and still do – the ‘no dogs on furniture without first being invited’ rule. But in our case, the dogs aren’t particularly interested in the furniture, so it’s easy to uphold.
    Other ones like waiting before eating, waiting before coming in from the yard… they’re all such an ingrained routine now that they don’t require forethought.
    And for other things like where to sleep and what rooms of the house to be (or not be) in – well I guess our house is just the wild west, because we’ve never put rules to those kinds of things.

    However, I specifically recall growing up with a ‘no horseplay in the house’ rule, which I love to break under my own roof – roughhousing, playing fetch, hide and seek with the dogs. So what if we can’t own nice things? We’re having fun!


  6. Rules to me are just suggested parameters to follow. Dogs can be on the couch if they take up no more room than I do – no begging at the table is pretty much followed – no sleeping on the bed – again allowed as long as they get no more room than me – as for having nice things – what’s nicer than a dog – the ultimate nice thing


  7. I am on record as saying that rules are important, as long as they’re YOUR rules. Our rules: no leg humping. No barking on the patio. No chewing on blankets that are not expressly yours. No digging in the yard. Don’t poop in the trail. Don’t walk in the common area landscaping. No fixating out the window. Etc. But we do lots and lots of things that are against THE RULES, including things like playing games that involve incidental tooth contact and feeding bites of my dinner while I’m eating it. And while Silas definitely has selective hearing when we’re outdoors, he’s a remarkably well behaved dog inside.


    • Oh, and I did teach Silas to sit until he’s released at the back door, but that’s just because the behaviorist wanted me to. He needed to be able to do it in her office while she was watching, so we’ve gotten into the habit of doing it at home.


  8. I can so relate…I grew up with strict rules about dogs and all I’ve done over the years is relax and let them slide. It is so much more fun that way. I hate thinking in absolutes when it comes to rules, my dogs and I negotiate everything now. Makes it more family like and comfortable. Enjoy it!!


  9. I grew up in a house where the dogs’ only rules were no begging while we ate (meals or anything else) and no accidents in the house past a certain stage in their life. The only acceptable deviance was if the dog was sick and could not help having an accident.

    When we moved from our first house to the bigger one a few blocks away, Mom and Dad purchased a king size bed so there would be enough room on the bed for them and the two dogs. A trainer’s worst nightmare! LOL And the dogs not only ate their meals in the kitchen, but they also ate before we did because it was just more convenient. Plus, with a full stomach they were less likely to beg for ours. Second worst nightmare!

    For a while I bought into all the rules crap, too. It seemed to make sense, despite what I had grown up with. My Mom had the patience of a saint. I do not. And sometimes — okay I admit it, MOST times — I get ticked off at the hubby for feeding the dogs while we’re eating, or while he’s carving whatever meat. It DOES encourage begging and counter surfing, which I hate. Sometimes I swear he does it for that very reason. I guess I need to “lighten up” a bit, but in the 55 years that I’ve lived with dogs, I have never allowed begging so it’s not going to go away now. 🙂 As for the other rules? I say “the dogs live here, you don’t. if you don’t like our lack of rules you’re free to leave whenever.” I won’t let the dogs pester anyone, but if all they’re doing is sitting on the couch, I won’t make them move. We have other places to sit.


  10. I am going to be the odd one out here it seems but I strongly believe that rules AND consistency (whatever the ‘rules’ are) are keys to the best dog and puppy behavior. I have to admit that my best friend was a little Staffordshire Bull Terrier when I was a little boy, and I can wow that he probably tought me more of life’s ‘rules’ and lessons I knew myself at that age.

    But since being an adult and getting my first pets, I enforced certain rules and I feel we have an inseparable bond between us. Something we wouldn’t have had without those ‘rules’. Yes, sometimes little Jock does take his chances but then he’s politely reminded of who is who in the house hold and all returns back to its quiet, relaxed old self.

    Interesting to read other pet owner’s points of view on things though. And for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t recommend trying to enforce ‘rules’ at this stage “after years of pet ownership” as this will conclude to inconsistency, the one thing you do want to keep if rules were let go. 🙂


  11. I can’t stop laughing at this – I was like this with my first three dogs. We’re much stricter with Huffle now but it’s only because every time we bend a rule, we SERIOUSLY regret it.


  12. I think ‘rules’ are a brilliant way of making a dog feel safe, helping them trust me,and building up a bond. However I think a lot of this is to do with the training you do to help learn the ‘rules’. I think letting rules slide is no bad thing, and I have to say that at least you started with those rules, I never had them in the first place!


  13. Ha ha, sounds like our house. The only rule I’m still trying to enforce is ” No pooping or peeing in the house”. They’re actually getting worse as the six of them get older. (Elder issues. Reminds you that dogs are children that never leave home!) Dachshunds are hard core when it comes to the proverbial inch becoming the proverbial mile.

    There is some truth to the whole rules thing…kids need rules too, I seem to recall….but it’s WHICH rules that counts. There is this, tho. Life is easier for everyone if you start out as you mean to go along. Puppies need structure, need to learn to there are parameters living cheek to jowl with people. Flexibility comes with character development, maturity and general agreement that yes, the people are in charge. Jack booted training camp not necessary for that.


  14. Rules? That sounds vaguely familiar, but… While the guys follow a set of “guidelines” (no pulling me over when we’re walking, no jumping on the table/counters, etc.) those are more for good manners and safety, like a kid not being allowed to touch the stove. As far as rules, we tried to uphold many. No dogs on the furniture. Now they sleep in bed. No people food unless it’s in your bowl. I literally just finished giving everyone a Cheez-It off my plate. So many of the rules we had established we thought were for manners and safety, but just flat-out aren’t. So, those ones we’ve let go. The rest, what I call the guidelines, we maintain. Oh, and living in the bayou now, we’re adding a new one: No eating the herps.


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