Header photo: SheltieBoy/Flickr
Your puppy is growing up, and by now you’ve established the house rules and routines. If all has gone well, you’ve been consistent and patient while teaching your dog what is and is not acceptable behavior. He’s on a feeding schedule, is on his way to being house-trained, is happy in his crate, sleeps through the night, and gets lots of love and attention from the family.
One of the more difficult training tasks is teaching your puppy to stay away from any dog-free zones in the house. This is known as boundary training. Now that he’s comfortable in his new environment, his natural puppy curiosity and exuberance will lead him to want to explore every inch of his new home, and you may be tempted to let him do that.
However, even if your puppy has been a perfect angel from day one, until he is completely house-trained and past the chewing stage, and for that matter, not a puppy anymore, he should not be allowed any unsupervised freedom in your house. He is immature, and, like a human toddler, will make a mistake if he’s given too much freedom. You wouldn’t give the car keys to a 10-year-old, and you should not give a puppy the run of your house either.
Use a physical barrier. If there’s a specific area of the house your puppy’s not allowed to enter and there isn’t a door you can close, the easiest way to keep him out is by using a baby gate. This is especially useful when you can’t keep a constant eye on him, and it ensures he won’t enter a room or area that’s off-limits.
Most of us would rather not live with baby gates forever and would prefer that the puppy learn what’s expected of him. Be patient in using the gates while your puppy goes through the curious, looking-for-trouble stages. When teaching your puppy what’s off-limits, consistency is key. If you let him cross that boundary even once, he may become confused about what’s expected of him. If a gate doesn’t work in your house, you might try using an exercise pen until he’s trustworthy.
Keep the crate for your dog’s entire life. It can be his “room.” You probably have a room (with a door) into which you retreat, and there will be times when your dog needs his own place, too. Make sure it is always a pleasant place for him, regardless of why he is in it.
The room most commonly used to confine puppies and dogs is the kitchen, because it usually has the easiest-to-clean floor in the house. But what else is in there? Food! It is too tempting for most dogs to ignore. Using the kitchen is easier if your dog is small because he can’t reach the counter. He still might be able to figure out a way to get up there or to open low cupboards. Taller dogs will “counter surf” to see what they can find. The only 100 percent effective way to eliminate this behavior is to be sure that he never gets any reward for his efforts. If he finds something even once, he will try again. Put all food away. Don’t forget about things like butter, coffee, food-stained hot pads, and dish towels. To a dog, these are food. You can try putting double-sided tape on the counter edge; this might feel unpleasant enough to deter a dog from jumping up.
Stay off the furniture. If you don’t want your dog on the furniture, be consistent. Don’t have her sit on your lap while you are on the couch. Provide a comfortable bed or rug, so that your dog can be in the room with you. If you catch her getting on the couch, give a quick “eh eh!” and then cheerfully redirect her with a treat to her own bed to help her learn that she has her own spot. Teach “go to place” by standing near her bed and giving her a treat when she steps onto it. Once she gets comfortable doing this, give a name to the behavior and reward her often while she is on that special spot. This will be handy when your dog gets underfoot or is any place where she shouldn’t be.
GoodDog! Helpline Trainer Hilarie Erb contributed to this article.