This is an exciting time, and it’s easy to daydream about all the fun things you’ll do with a dog in your life.
Dogs have their own natural behaviors, not all of which will be acceptable in their new household, and some behaviors could even be dangerous, destructive, or unhealthy. By creating a set of house rules, you’ll be letting your puppy know, right from the beginning, what is and is not acceptable.
This is all new for the puppy: he has to adjust to his new family and new environment. If everyone in the family is consistent with rules, it will help him learn exactly what you expect of him, and what he can expect of you. The best way to do this is by creating house rules for your puppy ahead of time.
All family members should sit down and figure out the house rules together. Just as when you define expectations for your kids, consistency is key, and if the whole family agrees on the rules, it’s more likely they’ll stick to them. Then you’ll need to decide which are the most essential rules. Obviously a 20-page manifesto of what your dog can and cannot do will be confusing for everyone, including the puppy. And it’ll make it much harder to stay consistent. So, what’s important to you?
1. Where will you allow the puppy to go in the house? Some people are comfortable with puppies having free range from the beginning. Others establish certain areas of the house as no-dog zones, such as the kitchen or a baby’s room. You may want the puppy to stay on one floor only. For many families, it’s easiest to keep the puppy to a small area of the house during house-training.
2. Will you let the dog on the furniture? Whatever you decide is OK for a tiny, adorable puppy may not be quite so great for a full-grown dog. It’s important to decide from the beginning what the rule is. You can teach him to stay off furniture completely, or you can train him to stay off the furniture unless you give a specific command. Or, you may decide he’s allowed to get on one specific piece of furniture, but not on others. And for some people, furniture is a perfectly acceptable place for the dog to hang out. Whatever your preference, make this rule before your puppy comes home.
3. Who in the family is responsible for what? It’s easy enough before the puppy comes home for family members to say they’ll always feed the dog or always take him out, but the reality is quite a different matter. Decide now, before he becomes part of the family, what each person’s responsibility is.
4. Decide on a morning routine. It can be hard enough coordinating schedules in the morning, especially in large families. Decide early on when your puppy will go out and be fed.
5. The same goes for an evening routine. Who feeds him and when? Does he get a long, leisurely after-dinner stroll or a quick trip outside to take care of business? Does he have a set bedtime or just go to sleep when he feels like it?
6. Where will the puppy sleep? Will he be crated downstairs, away from the bedrooms? Will he be crated in someone’s room? Will he sleep on a dog bed in the hall? Will he sleep wherever he wants? Even cuddled up next to you in bed? Many owners choose to crate the puppy at night, especially until he’s house-trained.
7. Are you going to allow your dog to get treats from the dinner table and get table scraps? Allowing your puppy to do this even once can set up his expectations, and he may hang around the table begging at every meal. Aside from the fact that human food may not be suitable for dogs, this habit can get annoying quickly. Decide what the family rule is before the puppy comes home.
8. What commands will you use for basic obedience, like sit, stay, and come? Make sure to establish basic commands and/or signals that everyone in the household will use consistently.
9. Should you let your puppy jump on people? As cute as a tiny puppy is when he greets you ecstatically, is this a behavior you want to encourage? In most cases, probably not. There’s nothing cute about almost getting bowled over by a 45-pound Standard Poodle Dog. If you want to teach your dog not to jump, start as soon he comes home.
Once you’ve decided on the rules, post them in a visible place, like on the refrigerator, as a daily reminder to everyone of what their responsibilities are.
House rules for your puppy aren’t the only rules that need to be set. Family members, especially children, must also be clear on safety and acceptable behavior.
Bringing a new puppy into the home is a real game-changer: the depth of your feelings for him and the joy he adds to your life may surprise you. You can facilitate a happy homecoming and an easier adjustment if you create and stick to some basic house rules from the very beginning. Your relationship with your dog will thrive on sensible, consistent guidelines.