Thursday, May 19, 2011

Who Rules the Roost? Sharing Space with Bitchy Roommates

Let's get one thing straight: I love all three of my dogs. Each one of those girls holds a place deep in my heart. But despite their cute faces and pleading eyes, they can sometimes be pretty lousy roommates.

For every belly that's surrendered to a good rubbing, there are countless muddy paws on the couch, spilled water bowls, tumbleweeds of fur, and "death tails" that can clear a coffee table of all beverages in a single wag. While much of this is par for the course with dogs, some other offenses are, well, just plain offensive. Chewing, messing, and excessive barking are behaviors that must be addressed and corrected to the greatest extent possible.

And if you're, say, married, and if, say, two of your three dogs were not "yours" to begin with, and if, say, one of those dogs has a serious behavioral issue, then the situation only serves to highlight that sometimes the dog isn't the problem--the owner is.

Responsible pet ownership does not begin and end with curbing one's dog. Poop bags, vet visits, healthy food and regular exercise are all part of Dogs 101. Behavioral problems, however, require a level of proactiveness and determination that many people aren't willing to give. For example, if you have a dog that continually messes in the house on occasion despite all housebreaking efforts, a phone call to the vet is in order to determine whether the accidents are medical or behavioral in nature. Once medical problems are ruled out, then a strategy for dealing with the messes must be put into place. Such a strategy might mean to crate the dog when it is left alone. For others, it might mean that a case of separation anxiety is the problem, and dogwalkers or doggy daycare might be the solution.

Unless the problem is aggression toward humans, which is a separate topic altogether, there is most likely a solution to be had. Finding one might be a real exercise in trial and error, but it is up to pet owners to realize when they need to step up their efforts to make the situation better for all. And if you're married or otherwise committed, the approach has to be a joint effort. Trust me--the dog will know if it isn't.

And why shouldn't it be a joint effort? Whose house is it anyway? While my husband and I happily share the couch with our pooches and get pushed to the sides of the bed by the dogs each night, it's still our house. We lay down the rules. And as a parent I can speak the truth: As with children, if the dogs aren't follwing the house rules, it's because we're letting them get away with it.

With that, I present you Moira's 13 Rules for Living with Bitches*:

1. Make a decision and stick with it regarding the furniture: They're either allowed on it or not. A dog who is allowed on the couch but not the bed is only going to be confused and set up to fail.

2. Speaking of the couch, invest in one with slipcovers or made from microfabric. This will make for easier cleaning.
3. Product endorsement #1: Swiffers pick up lots of hair. They don't do such a great job with crumbs, but that's what the dogs are for.
4. Product endorsement #2: Scotch Fur Fighters are excellent at removing hair from furniture.
5. Product endorsement #3: Get yourself a Bissell Little Green ProHeat for removing any of the inevitable stains and odors that come with sharing space with dogs.
6. Say No as needed, and say it with conviction.
7. Praise is good! Treats and belly rubs go a long way in rewarding good behavior.
8. Be consistent: Don't let Fluffy get away with begging at the table one night and then reprimand her for it the next. This rule can be tough, but it's also the most important in letting the dog know where she stands.
9. Keep your schedule as regular as possible. Your schedule is the dog's schedule, too. Regular meal and exercise times help a dog feel secure, and that feeling of security means that behavioral issues will be kept to a minimum (for most dogs, anyway).
10. If your dog is a digger, give her a designated digging spot in the yard. That will usually keep her from digging up other parts of your lawn or garden.

11. Remember that your dog is an animal, not a child. There is no reasoning to be had, no matter how smart they are.
12. Also remember that you committed to giving your dog a good life. It's up to you to address any problems to the best of your ability so that both of you can continue to enjoy life together. (The good times usually outnumber the bad anyway, right?)

13. Dress up your dog in humiliating costumes once in a while. It will make you feel better about some of the BS she pulls. Payback can be fun--for you.

*I'm not a vet, and I don't pretend to be. None of my suggestions should be used to diagnose or treat any pet's illness. Please consult a vet for that. And this is by no means a comprehensive list--there are many more suggestions to be had for sharing space with dogs. But I can offer you about 20 years of dog ownership experience, and I can confidently say it almost always comes down to one universal truth: Like some people, dogs will try to get away with something if they think they can.


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