Unbelievably, there are people in dog training circles who think positive-only training is wrong. But as Victoria Stilwell explains, positive does not equal permissive.
Cesar Millan is big on saying that dogs need rules, boundaries, and limitations, more than they need affection. Whether or not that’s true, I abandoned that notion around the time I learned that most of Millan’s methods are not backed by science or research.
I’ll be honest. I let my dogs do whatever they want, and I shower them with affection.
Know what else?
I can’t name a single rule that my dogs follow.
Sure, they’re house trained and they walk on leashes. Do those count as rules?
I can think of two rules that would be useful:
- No chewing doors.
- No surfing counters.
Left to their own devices, Mia won’t follow the first, and Leo won’t follow the second. Best I can do to enforce those rules is to block their access. Put an X-pen across the doors Mia likes to eat, and never leave food on the counter.
We were told to implement some strict rules when we first sought help for Isis’s leash reactivity. As far as I’m concerned, the world’s stupidest rule is that dogs shouldn’t be allowed on the bed.
I mean, sure, if your dog bites you in bed, or growls at your wife, probably keep him off the bed. But what did Isis sleeping on my pillow have to do with her lashing out at other dogs on leash?
At the time, I was willing to do anything to improve Isis’s behavior, but I couldn’t see Rob going along with the bed rule. Our initial plan when we first got her was to keep her off the furniture, but after about a week, Rob scooped our two-month-old dog into his arms and lay down with her, singing, “Whee! Isis is on the bed!”
I tried to enforce the new rules recommended by our trainers, but sure enough, I came home one night to find Rob watching a Seinfeld rerun in bed, with Isis sitting at his feet.
“Isis! Off the bed,” I ordered.
“She’s not allowed to be on the bed at all?” Rob asked. “I like visiting with her.”
Why did he have to be such a softie? He weakened my resolve. I sat down on the bed and when Isis jumped up again, I let her.
“Those rules are for bad dogs,” I told her. “We have a good dog.”
Now, here were are, five years later with no rules.
I want to be a responsible dog owner, really I do. I was grateful when Fern Camacho’s podcast The Great Dog Adventure covered the topic: What Rules Should Your Dog Have?
I was further relieved that he validated my feeling that when you have older, basically well-behaved dogs, you can ease up on the rules. We did have rules for Leo when he was a puppy. Now that he doesn’t chew furniture anymore, he has more freedom.
We don’t make our dogs sit for 15 minutes before feeding them, and Fern says they don’t have to, as long as they don’t ambush us. Listening to the podcast, I laughed when Fern said sometimes it’s enough for a dog to make eye contact and check in before being given a treat. Reminded me of a time when I was trying to be strict, and I saw Rob’s mom give Isis some treats.
“You have to make her do something before you give her a treat,” I said.
“She did do something,” Alice said. “She looked at me.”
What do you guys think? Do good dogs even need rules? What rules do you have for your dogs?
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