Most dog training advice comes with some variation on the theme of leadership. Many dog trainers will say you need to be the "Alpha Dog" or “Pack Leader” and, with the hugely popular TV series "Dog Whisperer", almost everyone has heard the phrase "Rules, Boundaries and Limitations." But, what does all of that really mean? What exactly are the rules, boundaries and limitations? What are the action steps required to having a well-behaved dog that can come in the house and be a member of the family?


From the perspective of providing leadership, it doesn't necessarily matter what the rules are as long as there are some. With that said, I do have a top ten list of rules I think are important when it comes to bringing dogs into the home. Some of them I am sure that everyone will agree on, others may not seem important to everyone, but I find that following these ten rules makes for stellar canine behavior in the house.


  1. Potty – All dogs need to learn where to relieve themselves, preferably outside. In some cases the dog may need to learn to go on potty pads or in a box. I only recommend indoor potty areas when the dog has no outdoor access, such as apartments with no yard, patio or balcony. Otherwise, skip the potty pads because it encourages going potty indoors. Housebreaking Video
  2. Chewing – Dogs have a natural, biological  need to chew on things. It's important for good mental and physical health. They do not, however, need to chew on shoes, furniture, carpet or other human valuables. Unless you are so enlightened that you don't care about your worldly possessions, all dogs need to learn what they can and cannot chew on. Chewing Problems Blog
  3. Furniture – I see a lot of problems around this topic, from separation anxiety to aggression, so don't take furniture privileges lightly. Whether or not you do allow your dog on the furniture, there should always be some rules around it. Maybe the dog is only allowed on certain furniture or only when invited or maybe the furniture is completely off limits. Whatever you choose, make sure the whole family is on board and enforcement is consistent. Dogs Allowed on Furniture Blog
  4. Garbage – Mmmmmm, garbage…yummy, tasty garbage! Garbage is to dogs like donuts are to Homer Simpson. It's a huge temptation for dogs and often at just the perfect level…right under their nose. Food, wrappers, napkins…a smorgasbord of nasty stuff resides in there, but Rover must learn to stay away from all the trash cans in the house. Don't even let him near them. Don't fall for the innocent "What? I was just sniffing" look. No sniffing the garbage allowed. If the garbage in the kitchen is your dog's favorite garbage, see #5.
  5. Kitchen – The kitchen is a problem area, prone to counter surfing, garbage rummaging and physical hazards such as falling knives, boiling water and tripping on a dog that gets under foot. In our house, my wife and I do not allow dogs in the kitchen for the above reasons as well as for providing a basic sense of leadership. I believe there should always be at least one room in the house that is off limits to the dog for safety and/or appropriateness. Setting Boundaries Video
  6. Toilet – We don't allow our dogs to drink from the toilet because it's messy and, well, it's just kind of disgusting. It can also be harmful, especially for all you folks out there who use bleach disks to keep your toilet sparkling.  Lids down, everyone!
  7. Doors – Bolting through doors is a very common and dangerous problem. Dogs can get lost, run into the street, jump on or bark at people, get in a fight, etc. and when dogs bolt through doors it shows a lack of boundaries and impulse control which usually cascades into other behavior problems. Teaching dogs to wait at every door, every time, is a very important rule for the sake of safety as well as establishing some basic leadership. Stop Dogs from Barging Doors Blog
  8. Jumping – Jumping on people is a typical dog behavior problem that ranges from slightly annoying to outright dangerous, especially for children and elderly folks. Some people actually like their dogs to jump on them, for some petting for example, but nobody wants a frenzied dog scratching up their skin or ruining their nice clothes. No matter what, there must be some rules about jumping up on people. I recommend no jumping on people, ever, but, if it’s important to you, it is possible to teach dogs to jump on command. Just be sure it’s ONLY on command. Be ultra consistent about this because grey areas are much more difficult to teach. Stop Jumping on Guests Video
  9. Calmness – Calm dogs are almost never re-homed or returned to shelters. Even the very few people who are disappointed that their dog is too mellow still tend to keep the dog. They just go out and get another dog to jog with and keep the calm one for cuddling. All dogs, regardless of energy levels, should learn to be calm in the house. This is done by taking all rough and excited playtime outdoors (unless it's raining and you need to do structured activities with your dog indoors) and teaching the dog some simple calming exercises in the house such as the "long down", "go to bed" and calming message. Crate training and tethering are helpful in the first few weeks of bringing a dog inside. Young dogs are helped significantly with these exercises by supplying them with long lasting stuffed chew toys, raw bones, etc. It's like teaching children to use their "indoor voices" and providing coloring books. Ooops, I may be dating myself, should I have said iPads?  
  10. Politeness – Many dogs get banished to the outdoors, a crate or a room in the back of the house due to unruly, pushy, demanding behavior. Dogs, just like children, need to learn how to be polite and understand some basic household etiquette. The most basic form of training for politeness is what I call “Playing Hard To Get.” By this, I mean to give a dog attention by invite only. It’s like teaching a child to say “excuse me” and not to interrupt a conversation. The difference is you can’t explain this to a dog verbally, you must teach through action. Simply ignore your dog’s demands for attention. When your dog is in an appropriately calm state of mind and not demanding attention from you, then, and only then, call them to you for some attention. (Remember to be calm, see above.) If you want to get rowdy with your dog, that’s fine at appropriate times but you must always, yes always, be the one to initiate the game. As mentioned before, it’s best to take the excited stuff outside.

That’s it, my personal top ten house rules. You may have a different list and that is fine. The important thing is that there are rules which are in accord with your lifestyle. Once you have made your list, the rules must be taught and enforced clearly, fairly and consistently.


PS: Safety is also a concern for pets in the house. I added my voice to an article for titled Keeping Your Pets Safe and Secure When You’re Not at Home: Expert Tips


Chad Culp – Certified Dog Trainer, Canine Behavior Consultant, Owner of Thriving Canine.

© Thriving Canine 2014


Check out for more free articles and sign up for the newsletter.

Subscribe to Thriving Canine YouTube Channel 

Apply for membership of the THRIVING CANINE UNIVERSITY Facebook group. (please read the rules before joining)