By Heather Venkat, DVM, MPH, DACVPM
We’ve all seen it.
The boisterous dog greeting friends with a slightly-too-energetic-jump.
That puppy who won’t stop licking your guest’s feet at dinner.
The escape expert who’s just waiting to dash outside as soon as a door is pushed ajar.
While puppies and their antics may seem cute at first, imagine their behavior on a grown adult dog and your results aren’t so funny.
Too many dogs fall prey to poor etiquette and boisterous mannerisms.
They are less than cute and often appear annoying at best.
Fortunately, your puppy doesn’t need to be this way.
There are simple steps you can take today to steer your puppy down the path of charming behaviors.
Here’s how: establish house rules.
Not tomorrow, not next week.
Why are House Rules SO Important?
When you establish clear house rules, you are letting your puppy know what is and is not okay.
It’s a prime opportunity to establish yourself as a pack leader while laying the groundwork for a strong puppy friendship.
Your family will be happier and your puppy will be safer.
And no, house rules are not just for your puppy.
There are house rules for you and your kiddos too.
So go ahead and call a family meeting.
Together, talk about which behaviors are okay in your home.
How do you want your puppy to behave, and how will each of you show respect towards your little pup?
Deciding on house rules together is non-negotiable.
If one person says counter surfing is off-limits while another member encourages it, this will leave your puppy deeply confused.
Plus, it’ll undermine all attempts of successfully training your puppy.
Decide on your rules together, then hold each other accountable.
Always be consistent.
Some days will be harder than others.
Yet if you fudge the rules even once, you can be certain your puppy will keep testing you.
Here is a list of household rules to consider.
You may want them all, or just select a few.
Whatever the case, look through these rules with your family and together decide which rules are for you.
Where Can Your Puppy Be?
1. Where is your puppy allowed?
Is the baby room off-limits? Do you want your puppy on ground level only? What about the kitchen?
A quick note about the kitchen: many people prefer banning the kitchen because of the safety risks it presents. There are sharp knives, boiling water, and garbage. Not to mention, canines love a good counter surf from time to time as well.
The take-away? It may be a good idea to ban your kitchen.
For the spaces your puppy isn’t allowed, you can simply block off those areas with baby gates.
2. Where will your puppy sleep?
Do you want your puppy to sleep in her crate each night?
Or is she allowed to sleep in your bed?
Keep in mind your puppy may wake you often at first by whining, scratching the crate, or needing to go potty during the night.
3. Where is your puppy’s safe space?
If your little pup wants downtime, where can she go?
This could be her crate or a favorite corner away from any action.
So, keep the crate door open if your pup is free-roaming and place a soft crate pad inside.
Or nestle a comfy dog bed in a favorite quiet space.
Whatever the case, make sure your pup has a place where no one will disturb her.
4. Is your puppy allowed on the furniture?
Again, think size.
No doubt it’s fun cuddling a small pup on the sofa.
However, if you’ve brought home a large dog breed, that puppy won’t be staying small forever.
So consider how large your puppy is destined to become.
As an adult, will you still want your grown dog on the sofa?
Shedding is another thing to consider.
Is your puppy prone to lots of shedding?
How do you feel about hair all over your sofa set?
If you don’t want your puppy on every sofa, but you’re okay with a little, then go ahead and show her that only a specific chair is okay.
Eventually, you can teach her to get on or off furniture on command. This way she’ll learn she’s only allowed up when invited.
5. How will your puppy enter doorways?
If you don’t want your puppy dashing outside through doors cracked open, then let her know what you do want.
Teach her to wait until you give permission.
And here’s a bonus tip: it is easier for your puppy to wait if she is in the sit position.
Also keeping your puppy on a leash when about to go outside can help you stay in control.
Hold tight to the leash in case she tries to bolt through the door without you releasing her.
Slipping outside is always a no-no.
It’s dangerous for your pup and worrisome for you.
Show your dog that she’s only allowed to walk through a doorway after permission is granted.
What is Good Puppy Etiquette?
What’s permitted in one house is forbidden in the next.
What matters is that both you and your puppy know what’s expected in your home.
Here are the things you’ll want to consider when deciding what good puppy etiquette looks like in your home:
1. Are table scraps allowed?
If you allow table scraps even once, your puppy will expect it over and over again.
She’ll beg, wait, and stare, deeply hoping you’ll share what’s on your plate.
While this may seem cute to you, it can leave guests feeling uncomfortable.
What’s more, some human food is actually harmful to your puppy.
Chocolate, grapes, and citrus?
They are a straight no for every canine pal.
If you choose to feed table scraps, do you want to feed directly off the kitchen table or always transfer scraps to your little pup’s bowl?
Not feeding table scraps may be a harder rule for children to follow, especially babies or toddlers.
They probably won’t understand and may intentionally drop or spill food on the floor for your pup to snatch up.
Be as consistent as you can within your circumstances.
2. Is your puppy allowed to jump when greeting people?
Keep the adult size in mind here.
A small puppy who jumps with excitement may be winsome.
Transfer that behavior to a large adult dog and it’s suddenly less than charming.
Let your puppy know that it is never okay to jump when greeting friends.
It’s unsafe for the elderly and hazardous for small children.
Draw the line and forbid all jumping.
Instead, show your puppy how to stay calm and remain quiet when greeting guests.
And help your puppy out by telling your guests to only pet or give attention to your puppy when ‘all four feet are on the ground’.
If your puppy jumps, simply turn away and wait three seconds before rewarding them.
3. What does your puppy’s mealtime look like?
Where are your puppy’s dish and water bowl?
What time will you be feeding your puppy each day?
How much does your little pup eat?
Who is responsible for feeding your puppy and keeping the water bowl filled?
Which dog treats will you use, and how many can you give each day?
What Does Puppy Care Look Like?
Who’s responsible for ensuring your puppy is loved and cared for each day?
Here are specific needs to consider:
Who is in charge of seeing your puppy gets adequate exercise each day?
Is there a minimum (or maximum) amount of exercise you need to be aware of?
How does your puppy love using her energy each day?
Are there activities to avoid?
For example, swimming is fun and a great exercise for dogs.
However, puppies need to be introduced to water safely and gradually.
Your family should have a clear plan if you want your pup to eventually swim.
Who is responsible for feeding your new puppy each day?
Which dog food is best for your puppy?
How often should your puppy be fed?
Also, most pups will need to potty soon after their meal. Whose responsibility is it to take your pup potty?
When it comes to grooming, some dog breeds simply need more than others.
Regardless of your breed, decide as a family who will take charge of keeping your puppy looking good and groomed.
Where is the puppy allowed to have her baths? Some dog lovers won’t blink to let her soak in the sink or bathroom tub. Others prefer to have a specific bathing bucket or outside tub instead.
How do you eventually want your pup’s nails trimmed? Will you use a nail clipper or a dremel tool?
Decide ahead of time so your pup gets used to these items and sounds.
You’ll never start training too early.
Who in the family is responsible for training your new puppy?
Sure, you’ll want to each pitch in where you can.
But at the end of the day, where does the buck stop? Who has the time, enthusiasm, and experience to train?
Will you have a designated whiteboard or paper to show the whole family what your pup is learning that week?
Who is going to be cleaning up after your new puppy when accidents happen?
(Because yes, they’ll happen!)
In which trash bin will you throw the scooped up messes?
6. Morning Routine.
What is your puppy’s morning routine?
Is it food first?
Something else entirely?
Give your puppy a morning routine so she knows what to expect first thing in the morning.
This is especially important if you own other pets or have kids. Be consistent so your puppy doesn’t worry that you’ve forgotten her.
Rules for the Family
Rules are not for your puppy only.
There are rules for your family too.
These rules are not to restrict.
Instead, imagine them as tools for better understanding your puppy: how she thinks and what she likes.
1. Allow your puppy time to sleep.
Puppies need so much sleep.
So give them space, don’t disturb, and let them sleep.
2. Keep mealtimes peaceful.
Don’t remove food prematurely.
Instead, let your puppy eat in peace.
3. Remember: the crate is your puppy’s safe space.
As such, don’t place it near loud noises or unpleasant smells.
Keep it safe for your little puppy.
Toss a few pieces of kibble or a small treat inside every time you put her there. This way she knows she’s good and isn’t being disciplined.
4. No yelling, ever.
No matter what, never raise your voice at your puppy.
Yelling, hitting, and aggressive behaviors are absolute no-nos when there’s a new puppy in the home.
The next time you’re tempted to lose it on your little pup, take a few deep breaths and wait for your heart rate to drop before approaching your new fur-ball.
Remember, every single one of these rules is here to help you and your puppy thrive.
They are tools you can start using today to strengthen the bond with your new little pup.
Remember to be clear.
It’s yes or no.
And always, use heaps of positive praise.
Look for even the smallest things to praise in your new puppy.
They’ll love you for it.
Now it’s your turn: which house rule looks easiest for you, and why?
That’s it for today, friend.
I’ll see you tomorrow where you’ll discover how to housetrain (really well!) your new little pal.
Dr. Heather Venkat has been a veterinarian since 2013, working in companion animal medicine with dogs and cats, as well as veterinary public health. Her passion is in prevention, One Health, and strengthening the human-animal bond. A bonafide animal-lover, she competes in dog sports and currently shares her home with a border collie mix named Luna, three cats, and two leopard geckos.