One of the most important things about raising dogs (and children) is consistency. A consistent diet and exercise regimen, combined with consistently acting as their trustworthy, benevolent leader will do wonders for guiding and assuring your pup through life. So if you make the couch off-limits to your pooch, it should always stay that way. Or if you decide it’s a fur-friendly zone from the start, you shouldn’t reverse the decision. This is the best way to ensure that your dog knows what’s expected of them and feels safe and secure with the rules of the house.
I wish I could say that my husband and I have been 100-percent consistent with our 4-year-old Vizsla, Finley, but that’s far from the truth. Sure, we give her the same kibble and treats every day, along with long walks, runs and visit to the dog park. But in the four years we’ve had her, we’ve lived in four different homes and have had more than that many sets of house rules. In fact, we’ve probably confused the heck out of our dog.
We started out keeping everything off-limits while initially training our pup. “We can invite her onto the couch, but she’s not allowed to just jump up whenever she likes,” we told ourselves. Her crate was right next to our bed and we could put our fingers through the bars if she needed comfort, so there was no reason for us to disrupt our sleep sanctuary. We were consistent with enforcing these rules for about six weeks.
Then Finley broke her leg (a freak accident under the care of our dog walker), and it broke our hearts.
That’s when we began having “sleepovers” on the floor with Finley. Soon, she was right in between me and my husband in our bed. We’d cuddle up on either side of her, giving her kisses and shoulder massages until we all fell asleep. The floodgates opened and the couch became fair game too. “Come here, Finners!” we were suddenly coaxing all four paws onto the sofa every evening after work.
The rules further dissolved when we moved to Texas. By that point, we had nearly given up on crate training Finley. She was exhibiting many signs of severe separation anxiety (which she had from the very first day we took her home), and we couldn’t bring ourselves to putting her in there and leaving her alone when she was in such a distressed state. We moved back to New York a year later and lived with my parents, where dogs aren’t allowed on furniture, but they are allowed to cuddle in bed. So, once again, we flipped the script on Finley.
Now, another year later, we’re in our permanent home and aren’t going anywhere soon. Of course, there are still big changes afoot. We had a baby almost two years ago, and plan to have more children in the near future. So Finley has had to accommodate more shifts in our (read: her) routine, the biggest of which was gating the upstairs of our home. We did this initially so our daughter wouldn’t fall down and hurt herself. But the semi-permanent barricade also meant we could control Finley’s whereabouts in our house.
And as my daughter was becoming more mobile and interested in her furry housemate, this was increasingly important. At the same time, I was craving a little space from Finley. Much as I love my dog like a child, I had been spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week with her as a stay-at-home-while-writing-from-home mom. I suspected some manageable distance might give her some independence and ease her separation anxiety, while giving me a much-needed break.
As we installed the gate at the top of the stairs, my heart trembled in my chest. We were doing the right thing for our daughter, but what were we doing to our dog? I worried Finley would come scampering up the stairs, see the white metal barrier and unleash incessant barking. Maybe even jump the gate. In a small way, it felt like we were locking Finley out of a part of our lives.
When I had first heard about an acquaintance who didn’t allow her dog upstairs, I thought she was crazy. How could you not let a family member access an entire portion of your house? And here I was, I was doing just that. Finley would no longer be privy to our early morning and late evening routines, she wouldn’t be able to curl up on the bathroom mat waiting for us to emerge from a hot shower, and she’d no longer be snuggling up with us to sleep. How would our Velcro dog deal with all of this?
To my surprise, the gate didn’t bother Finley all that much. She seemed to accept the fact that our bedrooms were no longer hers to roam whenever she pleased. And we didn’t spend much time upstairs anyway. If I brought the baby upstairs to change her diaper or nurse, Finley would follow us to see what was going on, but she’d quickly retreat back down the steps as soon as I closed the bedroom door behind me. We’d come downstairs later to find her relaxing in her bed or looking out the window at passersby.
Night was more of a challenge, but nothing compared to how I thought it would be. Finley whined at the gate for a few minutes the first week or so. We gently but consistently told her, “Shhh. Go to bed” at the first protest and then ignored any further whining. There was no barking, no shrieking, no panicked pacing or panting like I had feared.
What’s more, I started sleeping really well – something that had eluded me since Finley started snoozing with us, and became even worse when we had a newborn. Now, my husband and I sleep like logs, and when we go down to greet Finley in the morning, it’s a happy, well-rested reunion. Call me crazy, but I think Finley is sleeping better too. She’s no longer waking every hour or two to come out from under the covers for some fresh air.
It’s been almost six months since we made half of our home totally off limits to our dog, and all I can say is I wish I had done it sooner. I no longer worry about Finley getting too rambunctious in the nursery or running down the stairs when I’m carrying the baby.
Sometimes I miss being so close to her every waking (and sleeping) moment, but I still get to walk and bike with her and kick a ball for her to chase in our backyard. I still curl up with her every evening on the living room floor, taking in the scent of her soft body made warmer by her constant running around all day. “I love you, Finley,” I tell her before kissing her goodnight, turning off the lights and walking upstairs. Most nights, she sweetly sighs in agreement.
Are your dog not allowed in certain parts of the house? Let’s hear about it in the comments.