How to Set Boundaries With Your Dog

Boundaries are not only important with the human members of our families that we love, but with the four-legged ones, too! Dogs need to be taught what they are allowed to do and what is off limits. Heather Loenser, DVM, an Emergency Veterinarian at Crown Veterinary Specialists in Lebanon, N.J., says that the most important key to maintaining boundaries is to be consistent.

When to Train
Starting out is always the hardest part. The best time to set boundaries for your dog is when he is introduced to a new environment, like when you bring home your new puppy.

Here is some other advice on making your home ready for your new puppy

Of course even if you’ve already set up some boundaries with your pup, any changes in your environment may confuse your dog, and you may need to set some new ones. Dr. Loenser recommends being consistent with correcting your dog as soon as he enters an area where he’s not meant to be, and being firm but not too frightening. Choose specific words, sounds or a tone of your voice that you only use to convey to your dog that you are serious about a command. Always praise the dog when he leaves the forbidden area.

Pick the right method
If you have a specific room in your home that you would prefer your dog not enter, baby gates are a good option. “Just like toddlers, dogs can be kept safe and confined behind baby gates to segment the house into dog-free zones,” said Dr. Loenser. Keep in mind that, also like smart toddlers, these barriers can be overcome by determined and athletic canines who are willing to climb or jump over them to get out. Be sure to securely attach gates, especially near stairs, as your dog’s safety is very important.

Another option to help teach your dog boundaries is an electronic barrier. This method uses a collar that sends slight electric signals to your dog if he attempts to enter an off-limits area of your home or yard. “If they venture too close, they are consistently given a warning ‘beep’ and then a static correction,” said Dr. Loenser. “Similarly, if they cross a boundary, like a predetermined spot in the yard, they will be corrected as well. In both scenarios, the dogs are trained to move away from the boundary and toward the owner to receive a reward.”

There’s no need to worry about harming your dog with an electric collar either, says Dr. Loenser. “With reputable products, the correction feels similar to the tingle you receive when you are exposed to static electricity, so it is a surprise to a dog, but it doesn’t cause any sort of serious harm,” she said. “Speak with your veterinarian to determine which type of product they would recommend specifically for your dog.”

Another simple way to discourage your dog from jumping up onto your furniture is to use an empty soup can, coins and duct tape. Fill the can with the coins and tape it closed. “When your dog jumps on your bed, throw the can near -- but not on -- him so that he is scared or shocked by the loud noise,” says Dr. Loenser. “The key to these measures is to be consistent so he feels like whenever he jumps on the couch, the couch always makes this scary noise. You want him to associate this sound with the couch, not you, so he does not begin to fear you.”

Repetition of the sound every time your dog attempts to get onto your couch or bed will teach him that it is off limits.

An alternative technique is to line the edge of your bed or couch with sticky tape. Your dog will not like the feeling of stickiness on his paws or fur, and will avoid the areas with the sticky surfaces.

At the end of the day, using these measures isn’t cruel, and they’re an easy way to ensure all members of your household -- both human and canine -- stay safe and happy.

Lessons Learned From Presidential Dogs

In the White House, they play howl to the chief.

They are presidential dogs -- the most common presidential pets.

Throughout history, U.S. presidents have had faithful companions living with them at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. White House dogs have comforted their owners in times of great national stress, entertained the American public with their antics and done all of the things a normal dog will do -- often in the media spotlight.

“Every president that has a pet seems to be better-liked by the public,” says Claire McLean, founder of the Presidential Pet Museum, which contains a collection of photographs and memorabilia located at Presidents Park in Williamsburg, Va. “The dog-loving public seems to feel that they are much more real and down-to-earth if they have the same type of behavior as the average family.” That includes having to take the dog for a walk.

While most presidential dogs have been deemed a political asset, others have left a legacy of misbehavior. Pet owners nationwide may take comfort in knowing that even first families sometimes have pets with behavior problems, or unknowingly pick the wrong breed for their lifestyle. Some presidential dogs have even been put out to pasture, by being returned to their previous owners or sent to spend the waning days of the administration on the presidential ranch.

Here are some stories about presidential pet misdeeds and what experts advise if you encounter similar behavior:

Grits: The Dog That Snapped at People When Jimmy Carter moved his family from Georgia to Washington, D.C., after his election in 1976, his young daughter Amy was given a mixed breed dog by her former teacher. Amy named the dog Grits, after her father’s campaign slogan, referring to himself and Vice President Walter “Fritz” Mondale as “Grits and Fritz.” “It was a very belligerent dog,” McLean says. “It snapped at people and wasn’t very friendly.” Grits followed a long line of biting dogs in the White House, which included one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s terriers, Meggie, who once bit a senator. Pete, a bull terrier belonging to the other Roosevelt who occupied the White House -- Teddy -- nearly caused an international incident when he ripped off the French ambassador’s slacks during a function. Grits ended up in the doghouse, too, figuratively speaking, and was returned. The Carters then adopted a cat.

What You Can Do Aggressive behavior, such as snapping, biting or snarling, is hard for dog owners to tolerate. There are many reasons why canines exhibit such aggressive behavior -- in response to fear, to protect territory or as a result of a change in the dog’s social status. The Humane Society of the U.S. advises that pet owners get help from an animal behavior specialist to deal with aggression. Socialization is also key. “The best thing to do is start early. A lot of these dogs are received as puppies,” says Trish McMillan, director of animal behavior. “You only have the first four months of a puppy’s life, for the window of socialization, to introduce them to new things. I’m betting that some of these presidents’ dogs were not socialized enough as puppies.”

Lucky: The Dog That Pulled After Ronald Reagan’s first term as president, a March of Dimes poster girl gave his wife, Nancy, a small puppy. The first lady named the dog -- which was a Bouvier des Flanders, or Belgian Cattle dog -- Lucky. “She was just a little bundle of fur when I got her,” Mrs. Reagan wrote in her autobiography, “but she grew to be the size of a pony.” Lucky developed poor leash walking habits. The dog “used to pull them both around the White House,” McLean says. The final straw came after a White House visit by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, when President Reagan was photographed being pulled across the White House lawn -- an undignified image for the leader of the free world. Lucky was sent to live on the Reagan ranch in California, leaving Rex, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, as the only pup in the White House.

What You Can Do Pulling on the leash may be indicative of other problems, such as a dog that is not getting enough exercise. That is especially true of dogs that are bred for herding, farm work, or other activities. The Reagans may have erred in thinking that Lucky could adapt to the more sedate lifestyle in the White House, but clearly found a better environment for the dog on a ranch later in life. If you don’t have a spare ranch, experts advise two options. First, you can train the dog. “The easiest way is to feed the dog meals on the walk,” McMillan says. “Have a bag of kibble in your pocket. Every time they pull on the leash, turn to your left when they’re on your right. But every time they walk nicely, keep the kibble coming.” Another option is to try one of a variety of new training devices, such as harnesses or halter apparatuses that will prevent the dog from pulling.

Buddy: The Dog That Chased Cats After the start of his second term as president, Bill Clinton decided to get a puppy. Buddy, a chocolate Labrador retriever, moved into the White House to join the Clintons’ other pet, a cat named Socks. But Buddy and Socks didn’t see eye to eye. “They never got along,” McLean says. “A lot of times you’d see them sparing on the lawn or running through the White House. The media loved to write about that.” The two pets were eventually kept in separate rooms in the presidential residence, and after the Clintons moved to Chappaqua, N.Y., Buddy went with them, but Socks moved in with Clinton’s secretary, Betty Currie.

What You Can Do The key to getting two or more pets to make nice under the same roof -- even if that roof is that of the White House -- is socialization. McMillan says that critical socialization period is when pups should be introduced not only to people, but to cats, dogs and other animals as well. If you’re introducing more mature pets, “The most important thing is to do a slow introduction,” says McMillan. “Have your dog on a leash, then bring the cat into the room.” Associate good things with the cat, such as treats. If the dog starts to chase, give it a “time out,” restraining it on the leash in a room by itself.

One thing that presidents have learned over the years is that a canine companion can help soften their image. President Herbert Hoover, who presided over the federal government during the Great Depression, had a German shepherd that was noted to be sullen and was often sulking around the White House. McLean says, “When they took a picture of Hoover with the dog, it made Hoover seem like a nice guy, when he actually had a cold demeanor.”

Improve Your Dog's To-do List

It’s hard enough to keep up with your own to-do list, but do you ever stop to think about your dog’s daily schedule? If your best friend doesn’t receive plenty of mental and physical stimulation, your dog’s own to-do list could be a real yawner.  That’s because, just like people, your dog can get stuck in a dull rut. It might seem like bliss to have nothing to do all day long, but it soon grows old for both humans and their furry pals.

It won’t wreak havoc with your own schedule to improve your canine chum’s daily routine. Check out our schedule makeovers that could put the spark back into your dog’s daily life. Here’s a look at the common signs of a bored dog -- and the fixes:

Before
Doggie boredom surfaces in several behaviors. You might recognize your pal in one of these types:

  • The couch potato “Some dogs have a natural tendency to rest and sleep,” says Daphne Robert-Hamilton, a certified pet dog trainer in Morgan Hill, Calif. But if your dog’s routine involves little more than a good morning snooze on its bed or the sofa followed by a midday snack, then an afternoon nap and a sleepy, yawn-filled greeting when you arrive home, it’s probably time for a makeover.
  • The piner This dog spends its morning pining for your return, then waits longingly by the door all afternoon.
  • The digger Left to its own devices, the digger happily starts its day excavating your favorite rosebush, then spends the afternoon tunneling under the back fence.
  • The chewer That sock you dropped while carrying clothes from the dryer? It’s fair game for the chewer, which could spend much of its day gnawing on everything it shouldn’t.

“It’s not that we need to always supply our dogs with activities all the time,” says Robert-Hamilton. “A lot of it has to do with managing their environment, giving them plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation.”

After
If you’re ready to make over your dog’s daily routine, it helps to think like a dog, advises Laurie Luck, owner of the Maryland-based Smart Dog University and president of the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Luck continually looks at everyday objects as potential entertainment and mental stimulation for her dogs. “Ask yourself, ‘How can my dog have fun with this?’” says Luck. Of course, she says, you’ll want to make sure that the objects you use are safe and that your dog won’t be able to create more of a mess than you can handle with good humor.

Acknowledging your dog’s basic nature helps, as well, when trying these makeovers:

  • Off the couch If your dog is a couch pup, you needn’t try to put it through Olympian feats each day. Simply add an interesting walk in the morning or evening, varying your route, says Luck. Try playing games with modest obstacles, having your dog jump over a downed tree branch if it’s able to, for example. “Add a walk guided by your dog,” advises Luck. “Go wherever he wants to sniff. I think they get a real kick out of that. It’s encouraging enough for couch potatoes.”
  • Lonesome no more You may be able to satisfy a couch potato with an intriguing evening walk, but how do you help a piner? Dogs with severe separation anxiety may need professional behavioral work, says Robert-Hamilton. If your dog is simply a bit lonely, think about having a friend, neighbor or dog walker come and take it for a stroll during your time away. Doggie daycare might be an alternative. Adopting another dog, if possible, could also help to ease your pet’s loneliness, along with your own.
  •  Entertained For piners, diggers and chewers looking for something to do during the day, both Luck and Robert-Hamilton suggest investing in a KongTime device. It releases Kongs -- little red toys -- stuffed with food or treats. With a timer, you control when the Kongs are dispensed. “Some dogs eat all their meals out of the bowl,” says Luck, who finds the KongTime a simple way to vary your dog’s routine. “With the stuffed Kongs, dogs have to actually work for their food. It gives your dog something to do in that eight-hour stretch when you’re gone, and it’s better than just 30 seconds of your dog inhaling its food.” Other suggestions include the Canine Genius Leo puzzle, which can also be stuffed with a treat, and the Gazillion Fetch a Bubble machine, which -- believe it or not -- blows bacon-scented bubbles.

Other enrichment ideas include hiding a treat in an empty tissue box or placing a stuffed Kong inside a paper lunch sack, then twisting it closed. These provide your dog with a puzzle to investigate and solve during the day. If you roll up balls of newspaper but only place a treat inside one ball, your dog will have to work to find the food reward. One word of caution: These ideas work best in a single-dog household. You don’t want your pups competing for treats.

Once you’re home, take the time to play similar games, say the experts. Have your dog guess which disposable cup hides a treat, or create a tunnel with blankets draped over kitchen chairs and encourage your dog to walk through it by offering a treat at one end. If your dog is a digger, block off a corner of your yard as a legal digging area, suggests Robert-Hamilton. Find an Earthdog event, designed for multiple breeds, such as dachshunds, that were originally bred as underground hunters. During such events, your pal can dig and wander through tunnels, Robert-Hamilton says. The American Kennel Club and other organizations post information online about upcoming Earthdog events.

Luck says, “If you can just change up your dog’s routine occasionally, it works.”

Measure Your Dog's Smarts

Most dogs behave in ways that may seem downright dumb. Drinking water from the toilet bowl. Eating grass. Sniffing the waste of other canines. But there are reasons for these behaviors: Dogs prefer cold water over stagnant water that's been sitting in a dish, grass is natural roughage and may induce vomiting if they have a stomachache, and urine and poop are the newspapers of the dog world, communicating who did what where and when.

Dogs may actually be far more intelligent than we think. Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and a best-selling author of books on dogs, including The Intelligence of Dogs (Free Press), thinks so. He says that dogs display intelligence in a variety of ways -- reading social cues, learning new tasks, understanding language, solving problems and more. He even argues that you can measure your dog's smarts.

Dog Smarts Debate
The theory that canine intelligence can be tested is still controversial. "We can't measure their intelligence," says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, a former president of the American Veterinary Medicine Association and a professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University. "They will do things that are programmed into their genetic makeup because they're canines or because they are a certain breed of canine. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a difference between how one German shepherd reacts compared to another, but is one smarter than another? I don't know that there's any proof."

Other experts agree with Coren that there can be a canine equivalent of the IQ test. "You might be very good verbally and weaker at math and someone else might be good at music but not at logic. Dogs are no different in so far as they share some of our domains," says Jean Donaldson, author of Oh, Behave!: Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker (2008) and director of the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal's Academy for Dog Trainers. "One dog may be good at problem solving and another may be a quick study at learning new tasks."

Establishing Your Dog's IQ
How do you find out your pup's strengths and weaknesses? How can you assess what they need to work on? And where does your pet stand on the overall intelligence spectrum?

Here are some simple tests, suggested by various experts, that you can give your furry friend to find out if its brain is sharper than its bark:

  1. Problem Solving Donaldson suggests that you hide something your dog loves -- a toy or ball or biscuit -- underneath a sofa, and see if it can figure out how to retrieve the object. She says dogs may go through several strategies, including digging with paws or using snouts.

Score Five points for getting the item with its paws in less than 30 seconds; four points if it uses paws and takes more than 30 seconds; three if it uses paws but fails; two if it uses its head but doesn’t try paws, and one point for dogs that try to use their head but then give up. It gets no points if it does nothing.

  1. Learning Rate How many times do you have to repeat a task with your dog before your pal masters it? Donaldson recommends a test involving detour taking. You need a fence that your dog can see through with a gate open at one end. With you on the other side of the fence, call your dog and see whether it can figure out how to get around to the other side.

Score Five points if it goes around the fence in a minute or less; four points if it succeeds right away after you take a few steps in that direction and gesture; three if it succeeds in 30 seconds after the prompts; two if it succeeds between 30-60 seconds after prompts, and one if it succeeds but requires even more prompting and time than that.

  1. Social Cues Coren developed the "smile" test for an Australian TV program to see how smart your dog is at picking up social cues from humans. Start with your pet sitting a few yards away from you. Stare at your pet's face. Once you make eye contact, count to three and then smile very broadly.

Score Five points for coming to you with its tail wagging; four points for coming part way; three points for standing or rising; two points for moving, and one if your doggie dunce pays no attention at all.

  1. Inference Challenge A canine version of the shell game. With your dog on a leash or in the stay position, use treats and two different bowls set a few feet apart, Donaldson says. Smear the treat on both bowls. Then very dramatically put the treat underneath one bowl. Release your pet and see what happens. Repeat this 10 times changing which bowl you put the treat under. Repeat another 10 times without letting your dog see where you're stashing the treat, but DO let the pup see you enthusiastically lift the other bowl up each time.

Score Five points if the dog goes to the correct bowl and gets the treat each time; four points if it masters the first 10 and improves over the course of the second 10; three if the first set is perfect but not the second set; two if the dog improves during the first and second rounds, and one if the dog is initially not very good but improves over the first round and completes the second round by going to the bowl you lifted.

  1. Language Comprehension Coren developed this test to determine how well your dog understands what you are saying. Start with your dog sitting in front of you. Using the tone of voice you use to call your dog's name, call "refrigerator." Try this again, calling "movies."

Score Five points if the dog doesn't respond to those words but comes after you call its name; four points if the dog comes the second time you call its name; three if the dog starts to come; two if the dog comes to "movies" but not "refrigerator,” and one if the dog simply doesn't come to any of the calls.

Your Dog's Score

Gifted and Talented (25-31) Consider your dog brilliant and then…watch out! Smarter dogs are often harder to live with because as soon as you teach them new skills, they try to get around following your orders. You may also inadvertently teach them bad behaviors.

Clever Canine (18-25) On the higher end of the intellectual spectrum, these are good listeners who will likely perform tricks well at parties or in obedience class.

Sharp, But Slow (10-18) You will find them trainable -- even if it takes numerous repetitions to master a skill.

Doggie Dropout (Less than 10) Let's hope that you selected your pet for its beauty as opposed to its brains, but since anyone can have an off day, give your furry pal a good pat on the head, and maybe try the tests again at a later date.

Teach Your Dog to Swim

Dock diving -- jumping off a dock into a body of water -- is something you might think a water-loving dog would do at a lake on a hot summer day, but it’s actually a certified canine sport. Tournaments have even been broadcast on ESPN, with champion dog divers breaking world records for the canine with the longest leap from a dock into a pool or other body of water.

Your dog doesn’t have to be the next swimming superstar to splash in on the fun, however. A quiet afternoon doggie paddle can be just as enjoyable and rewarding. "Water is an excellent means of exercising your dog," says Deborah Lee Miller-Riley, founder and director of Connecticut-based Canine Water Sports, which teaches dogs to swim and hosts water-based competitions, including such feats as retrieving submerged articles and towing a swimmer on a life ring.

Natural Olympians, or Not
A lot of dogs are naturally great swimmers. Some breeds come by that skill due to centuries of training. Retrievers have been bred to retrieve birds from water for hunters. Portuguese water dogs used to carry messages between boats in the days before cellular and satellite communications. But not all dogs instinctually take to the water. Some excellent paddlers, as with humans, have actually had to hone those skills with swimming lessons. Keep the following in mind, therefore, before unleashing your dog into the water.

The Importance of Water Safety
In addition to exercise, teaching your dog to swim is an important safety precaution. Scores of pets drown each year in water-related accidents. If your backyard has a pool, or if you take your dog out on your boat, get your pup to feel comfortable around water. You can teach it to swim -- and to get out of the water. "A dog is not going to know how to exit on its own," says Lisa Peterson, spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club.

Dogs can be trained to swim around the perimeter of a pool to find the exit, says Fred Hassen, CEO of Sit Means Sit, a dog-training business with 64 locations in the U.S. and Canada. "A lot of people teach dogs to come to you," Hassen says. "The problem is if you put the dog in the deep end and you stand there, the dog would keep swimming in the deep end trying to get to you." Hassen's method involves training a dog to swim around the pool looking for stairs or a ladder to get out -- no matter where its owner is.

To teach your dog to climb a ladder -- be it in a pool or off the side of a boat --place your dog’s front paws on the ladder and then help it up with its hind paws. Entice your pet to climb with a treat. "It's important to make it a confidence-building experience so the dog is not stressed or traumatized," he says.

How to Teach Your Dog to Swim
Just like a child who takes swimming lessons, a canine needs to gain confidence before it can swim comfortably on its own, experts say. Here are five steps to getting your dog’s paws wet:

  1. Start with water exposure Get your pup used to water with a spray bottle, a hose or a shallow plastic pool, Hassen says. This ensures that it gets accustomed to the feeling of water.
  1. Start at a pool or lake with a gradual slope Your first lessons should take place in a body of water in which your pet can gradually walk in the water with you, Peterson advises. You can promote a positive attitude by bringing toys, such as a ball, and encouraging your dog to retrieve.
  1. Move into deeper water with your support As you move into deeper water, support your dog's backside or belly to help it learn that it can float as it paddles with its paws. Hassen says it's important that the dog learns to "level out" its torso to actually swim in the water.
  1. Help your pup find the exit Once your dog is in the water, make sure it follows your commands to find the exit -- be it from a swimming pool or into a boat. Hassen suggests leading the dog gently on a leash.
  1. Don't overdo it Dogs that have not swum a lot before don't necessarily have the muscle conditioning for a strenuous swim. "If your dog never swam for more than five minutes before, don't ask it to swim out a mile to a raft where you're going," Peterson says. "The dog may be too tired to swim back in."

Safe Places for Your Pet to Swim
If you're taking your dog out on a boat, fit your pup with a life vest, experts say. You never know when the boat may hit a bump and the dog may end up overboard. Also, keep in mind that swimming is exercise, and on hot days in particular, you need to keep your pet hydrated with fresh water.

Given the right precautions, there is a wide variety of safe places for your pet to do the doggie paddle -- or something more befitting of a canine athlete. For dock diving, organizations such as Dock Dogs and Splash Dogs hold competitions around the United States. A number of canine spas and private trainers will also help introduce your pup to the water and get it accustomed to going for a swim. Dog clubs additionally offer options to help you and your pet learn the joys of taking a dip in the water -- or competing to be top dog.

"It's a nice opportunity for dogs to have a pleasurable event," says Miller-Riley, of Canine Water Sports, "and to exercise without as much damage to their joints as they might get on land.” Since you can enjoy these benefits, too, your dog will likely turn out to be your best exercise and sports buddy this summer.