The Evolution of Dog Rules

The beginning of dog rules

Once upon a time there were two little girls who begged and begged their mother for a dog.

“Okay,” Mother eventually said, having been worn down by constant whining, chore completion, and an impressive book report all about Boston Terriers (Mother’s favorite breed). “But here are the dog rules: the dog can’t go in the living room and can’t be on the furniture. No begging at the table. He’ll sleep in the kitchen, not in your room or ever on the bed.”

The two little girls, who were dog-mad and would have agreed to anything, solemnly promised. 

Having reached contractual agreement, six-week-old Spunky the Boston Terrier joined the family. He was the best friend two little girls could ever have. And he was a good boy and never went in the living room (without an invitation), never jumped up on the furniture (without an invitation), and never slept in the girls’ beds. He obeyed the dog rules as diligently as he had to.  

Black and white photo of a Boston Terrer, Spunky, who started the dog rules

It was never admitted out loud, but there may have been occasions (thunderstorms) that Spunky was allowed in Mother’s room. It’s unclear who needed the company. There are suspicions it may have been Mother.

Different dog, different rules

In time, as all good dogs, Spunky crossed the Rainbow Bridge to wait for Mother. The girls, now almost-grown but not quite, did more research and, with Mother’s agreement, Brussels Griffon Dragon joined the family. He was not allowed in the living room, not allowed on the furniture, but did sleep in the girls’ room. In his own bed, until Mother closed the door and said “good night.” After that, no one who knows is saying.

Dragon was also a good boy and kept the family safe from all intruders. He sat on the window sill at the back of the breakfast nook and “barked his fool head off,” according to Mother. One day an old towel appeared on the window sill. Mother said it was because of condensation. The girls did not believe her.

As children do, the girls grew up. One day one of the girls opened the door and yelled “Are you decent? I have someone I want you to meet!”

Mother may have hoped it was a suitor. She hollered back “No, come on in!”

Her possible hopes were in vain – it was a Boston Terrier puppy. They named him Daemon.

More broken rules

Daemon decided that the most comfortable place to watch television in the evening was with his elbow across Mother’s leg. He had claimed the territory of both Mother and the couch. Mother may have had a particular soft spot for Boston Terriers. She did not put up much of a fight.

Dragon and Daemon were both very good boys. Who obeyed all the dog rules of the house, of which there were very few. They cuddled on the furniture (as long as they weren’t in the living room), minded their manners when the family ate, and only sometimes burrowed underneath the covers in the girls’ beds. 

In Part II – The Dog Rules Stretch Even More

Be like dogs – live the best life

Dogs don’t worry about the future. They don’t lose sleep over what may happen. And they accept what’s happening now as the best day ever. Dogs are models on how to live the best life. Be like dogs!

Why worry?

Some challenges in the last few months make us admire dogs’ resilience and adaptability. 

Booker has developed an issue with incontinence. Neither we nor the veterinarian has been able to figure out what’s going on with him (so far). We know it’s not a training issue, he seems to have no idea that he’s dripping his way around. Since we don’t know what’s causing it, we’re reluctant to use medication to control it. Instead, Booker now wears “pants” (a belly band) in the house. And he doesn’t mind. At all.

Be like dogs enjoy every day like this Boston Terrier play-bowing

Actually, he seems more comfortable wearing his pants. When he comes inside the house he waits by the door until we replace his pants. It could be because of the treat he gets. Or it could be because dogs love routine. When we first discussed using the belly band, we were worried that he’d be uncomfortable, or unhappy, wearing them. He doesn’t care.

Simon doesn’t care, either

A few weeks ago we talked about getting a muzzle for Simon to stop his persistent determination to eat every morsel of rabbit poop in the yard. We have to admit that the first couple of days weren’t happy. Now? Simon sits and waits for his “mask” to go on, knowing he gets to go outside. He no longer paws at it, and doesn’t try to avoid putting it on. Again, it could be because of the treats he gets. Or the routine. But he doesn’t mind. 

Booker and Simon demonstrate how to let go of the things you can’t change. They’re probably not crazy about their new garments. But they don’t resent them, either. These boys are living their best life.

What is the “best life” for a dog?

Dogs don’t have a lot of requirements for happiness. “Best life” depends on the individual dog and owner. Our dogs were accustomed to “going places” and “doing things” at least a couple days a week. With all dog sport classes cancelled over the past year, that changed. We miss going to class, socializing with our friends, and spending time focusing only on playing with our dogs. The dogs seem just as happy with our little basement training sessions

There’s a dog we follow on social media, a pied French Bulldog named Bubba. The person writing Bubba’s posts completely understands. He talks about Bubba’s adventures of the day, from Bubba’s point of view. And almost every single day is “the best day ever!” Which for dogs, it is. It’s always the best day.

The dogs don’t know what could be happening. They only know what is, and enjoy what’s going on now. They adapt to the situation. Dogs aren’t concerned about what could or should be. They enjoy now. Be like dogs.

Caring for an old dog

Is there any difference when caring for an old dog? We haven’t been lucky enough to have a senior dog in the house for a long time. With luck, we’re about to embark on that journey.

Tango is officially our old dog

This month Tango, Fran’s Brussels Griffon boy, will turn 12 years old. We’re not going to say he’ll “celebrate” it. That’s not because Tango doesn’t enjoy a good party. It’s because on the day of his birthday, we’ll probably have forgotten about it. 

We’re just not good at remembering actual dates. So April is going to be Tango month! If we do something special for him every day, we’ll be sure to catch the actual date at some point.

What’s different for an old dog?

Aging changes dogs in similar ways to people. They’re a little slower, may need more sleep, joints can be a little achy, metabolism can slow. And, just like with people, there are things we can do to keep them in the best possible physical condition.

One of the most important ways we can help our dogs is to keep up with their oral health. If you notice your dog eats less eagerly, or if he/she has bad breath, it may be an indicator of a tooth or gum problem. Like many small and toy dogs, Tango never had all that many teeth. But regular brushing has let him keep the ones he does have in good shape. He also makes a practice of playing “bitey face” with Simon, so we have to make sure his defensive lineup is working! 

Since an older dog should get more regular checkups at the veterinarian, be sure your vet checks your dog’s mouth and teeth. And, if you haven’t already, start routine dental care. All you need to do is rub with a soft cloth and gentle dog toothpaste.

Keep them moving!

Tango is an extremely flexible dog. The way he flops, you could swear the dog has no bones. It also means he has an adorable loose-legged gait (and his ears flop adorably when he runs). But we discovered that his flexibility didn’t mean he was toned or in good shape. His limb and core strength was deteriorating. 

Part of caring for an old dog is to make sure he’s in as good condition as possible. To build back his muscle tone, we started a series of balance exercises on an inflatable disc. Because we’re hard-core dog-sport nerds, it was something we already had on hand. You don’t need one. A couch cushion large enough for your dog to stand on will work just fine. 

At first, just stand up/sit down was all Tango could handle. Just a few repetitions, each move rewarded with a treat, was enough to tire him out. Now he’s added turning in a circle one way then the other, going in a circle with just his back legs on the cushion and fronts on the floor, and the opposite with front legs on the cushion and back legs on the floor.

It’s made a tremendous difference in his leg and core strength. And it takes less than five minutes a day. And, probably because of the treats, Tango loves it. If you are worried about your older dog gaining weight, you can use his/her food as the rewards and have your dog exercise for breakfast!

Mind/body connection

In addition to the physical, it’s just as important to keep an older dog’s mind engaged and bright. It’s a complete falsehood that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Older dogs love learning new things, and may even be better at it than their younger counterparts. Their bond with you is more developed and their trust in you complete. 

If you haven’t signed up for our training site newsletter, you’ve missed Tango learning to “bowl” over the last couple of months. The dog training game sessions are only two minutes long, so it’s always fast and fun. And involves more treats! Tango so adores these games that he’s completely ignoring Fran’s command to “stay” or “wait” – he can’t help himself. His Rally Obedience Excellent title means nothing – he’s so eager to play!

Still those unavoidable signals

As much as we try, we know we can’t keep time at bay. It’s harder to wake Tango up, he’s sleeping deeper. He doesn’t see particularly well anymore – bright sunshine is particularly difficult. It breaks your heart a little when your dog can’t seem to find you in his own backyard. He’s also gaining weight more easily – we can completely identify with that part of getting older.

The best thing we can all do when caring for an old dog is pay attention. Notice what’s changing. The one thing that never changes is how much unconditional love our dogs give.

How to clean dog toys

Dogs’ favorite toys are usually the most disgusting ones in the house. The clean toys are never as good, in the dogs’ opinion, as the one that got dragged out into the yard and through the mud. So how do you clean dog toys?

Of course it depends what the toy is made of, and how disreputable it is. All played-with dog toys reach a point where they can’t be salvaged and the best thing to do is replace them. Until that juncture, we can keep the gross factor to a minimum.

Depends on the dog, too

Some dogs, we’ve heard tell, are very gentle with their toys and cherish their puppy toys throughout their lives. We’ve never had a dog like that. Toys are enjoyed thoroughly and discarded when they get to the irreparable/uncleanable stage. 

Bin of clean dog toys

Most dogs we know have more toys than they need, or know what to do with. When a new toy comes into the house, it’s played with and then, when the dog moves on, it’s left to sit in the corner, ignored and neglected. 

A good way of keeping the toy collection fresh is to have a rotation of dog toys. Decide on a number of toys that will be available to your dog. Include a couple current favorites and a few overlooked “oldies.” Remove all the others. If you are active in playing training games with your dog, you may want to reserve a special “reward” toy.

Now’s your chance to clean

If your dog’s been watching you “stealing his stuff,” just put them in a box or bag and remove them from sight until he/she forgets about them. That will probably happen the next day. To speed the process, play with one of the available toys, so your dog knows he/she still has great stuff.

Latex/rubber/plastic toys:

These toys can be cleaned with gentle soap and water, and left to air-dry. It’s impossible to get all the nooks, crannies, and tooth marks dry, so don’t even try to dry with a cloth. We highly recommend a food-safe, natural dish soap.

We’re actually too lazy to wash the dog toys by hand, so we put them in the top rack of the dishwasher and run them in a cycle by themselves. We use a “green” dishwasher detergent and rinse aid, and certainly recommend it. 

We know using the dishwasher shortens the life of the toys because of the high heat, but it’s a trade-off we’re willing to make.

Soft toy cleaning

We admit that our laziness extends to machine use here, too. First we mend any toys that have burst seams and/or holes. Our dogs don’t seem to care if their toys are funny-looking, which is a good thing. We’re terrible tailors.

All the soft toys go in their own load, on gentle cycle, in the washing machine. Depending on the toys, we may put some in a loosely-knotted pillow case or lingerie bag to protect them. This is saved for the truly special, favorite toys our dogs love and we want to preserve.

We’ve found a low-heat dryer cycle works fine for dog toys. If they’re still not dry, especially the stuffed toys, just run them through again.

Everything old is new again

The best part of cleaning dog toys is your dog’s joy at the “new” toys that show up on a regular basis. 

Whenever we give the dogs a clean toy, we pick up one of the “floor toys,” and put it aside for the next toy cleaning day. The dogs get a regular rotation of toys, and never seem to care if it’s a “recycled” toy, or a really new one we just couldn’t resist getting.