Finley, a young Great Dane, just checked out of AWDT and she made sure to test the house rules on space while she was here. Great Danes are very affectionate dogs and they like nothing more than to lean on people or to hop on to the couch and plop down on top of you.
While cute and endearing, a clumsy, spatially challenged Great Dane can become a major problem if you have a pregnant wife who doesn't want a 100 pound dog on top of her (like me), or if you have small children that could be crushed by a dog, or if you ever want to have personal time on the couch with a family member, spouse or significant other without a giant dog on top of you.
With a large breed dog like Finley, it's easy to see when a lack of personal space becomes a problem. You feel every little bump, push and accidental foot stomp. With a smaller dog like Georgia Peaches, it's much easier to relax your rules - but with a dog of any size you lose some of your important leadership if you let your dogs call the shots on personal space. Every human should practice creating their own space bubble with dogs.
In my experience, creating dependence by having your dog all over you all the time whenever they feel like it, leads to problems like separation anxiety or other behavioral problems in dogs. We want smart, independent dogs who can exist happily with or without us. If you don't follow these rules, you might be causing your dog (or yourself) more stress.
- Don't let your dog call the shots with attention seeking behavior. Licking or nudging your hands and leaning strongly against you without your permission are all ways that dogs train you to pet them. This behavior is often cute, but it becomes annoying to people very quickly. If you give into a few times, it will make working at home very difficult, because you will be constantly nudged by a wet nose and a dog that is confused because you aren't doing what he trained you to do.
- Make the couches for humans. With as many dogs as we have at my house, life is much easier with separate comfortable areas for the dogs and the humans. For some reason, humans figure that dogs should be on the couches because couches are the best. However, you're much more likely to see unruly behavior and destroyed furniture if you let them jump on and off the couch at their own whim. If you're going to share your couch with the dog, make sure it is by invite only, so the dogs know the couch is not theirs, but something you invite them to share with you.
- Try sleeping alone. Again, when you have as many dogs as we do at my house, it would be absurd if we had me, Tracy, and 4 or 5 dogs in the bed at the same time. Dogs who share the bed are more prone to behavior problems than dogs who do not. Not only that, but your bed will be cleaner and leave more time for romance if you are sleeping without your canine companions in bed. If you're going to invite dogs in the bed, then invite them in the bed. If your dog makes a scene when you have them sleep somewhere else, then you may want to tone back the bed time for a while.
- Provide your dog with entertainment while you provide yourself with entertainment. When you are relaxing on the couch watching the newest episode of Grey's Anatomy, try having your dog enjoy a bone or a new toy while you and your human companions enjoy human entertainment. This starts to foster that sense of independence and teaches your dog how to entertain himself. If you constantly cuddle with your dog while you watch TV or read a book, you are missing an opportunity to teach your dog how to stand on his own 4 legs and looking for trouble when you truly aren't available to meet your dog's entertainment needs.
- Practice leadership on your walk. Walking in a disciplined fashion is the best way to bond with your dog even though cuddling in bed is much easier on the human in the relationship. Walking together is an activity where your relationship of trust and respect will grow and you will both be fulfilled by the primal exercise you get with one another. This time is far more important to your dog than cuddling on a couch with them (though of course being affectionate is an important part of your dog's life as well).