There are many common sense rules applied to dogs. Everyone knows they need food, water and shelter, and most people understand that physical exercise, mental stimulation, affection and training are important factors in the development of a healthy, happy dog. There are some other rules for living with dogs, however, that are not as well known. These guidelines, as established from the dog’s point of view, can prove to be very frustrating for unaware owners. In an effort to smooth the human/canine relationship, I offer these observations.

The Foot Rule – I don’t remember who first discovered this, but it explains a great deal when you and your dog are attempting to occupy the same piece of furniture. Division of space is not determined by the overall mass of the occupants, but by the number of feet each has. For example, one of my dogs, Daisy, weighs about 80 pounds. If you compare her weight to my weight of … well, never mind what my weight is, but it’s a lot more than hers. People sense would tell you that the possessor of the greatest bulk should get the larger portion of the couch. However, dog rules are very clear that any space is divided by the total number of feet possessed by the occupants. Using my example above, I have two feet. Daisy has four feet. Ergo, dog rules demand that she receive two thirds of all the space on the couch. If a dog sleeps in bed with my husband and I, the dog’s four feet compared to the four feet jointly possessed by the two of us means that we get half of the bed and the dog gets the other half. It also explains why, when my hubby leaves for work in the morning and more dogs join me on the bed, I generally find myself clinging to the very edge as they exercise their right to take over the majority of my sleeping space.

The Kitchen Rule – Many people don’t know that dogs are born with an innate sense that allows them to know which part of the kitchen the cook must next utilize. In my kitchen, if I plan to make spaghetti, I know that Gemma will lie in front of the cabinet holding the pots and pans. I’ll ask her to move, and she’ll relocate to in front of the sink, where I have to ask her to move so I can fill the pot with water. She’ll transfer herself to the closet door, where she has to move so I can get the noodles, and relocate to the cabinet which contains the spaghetti sauce. When I go to get the slotted spoon, she is in front of the dishwasher, and I end up bumping her with the door to the refrigerator as I extract the meat. Her final sleeping spot is in front of the stove, always at an angle that ensures I can’t reach over her. Every move is accompanied by heartfelt sighs and groans, so I know how unreasonable I’m being in insisting on using the only space in the kitchen she’s currently occupying.

The Bodily Fluids Rule – This is one of those “Murphy’s Law” things. The location of a dog’s expulsion of bodily fluids is inversely proportional to how difficult it will be to clean up. If one of my dogs goes out and eats a piece of grass that doesn’t agree with them, they will hack it up in a corner of the tiled hallway, where I can easily pick it up in a paper towel and toss it away. If they find something really interesting, say maggot-infested, sun-ripened chipmunk, they always hurl it in the middle of the living room carpet, ideally in a location I am sure to step if I walk through the room with my nose buried in a book, as is common for me.

The Phone Rule – I have very well behaved dogs. They are, for the most part, quiet, calm and quick to obey. Unless, of course, I’m on the phone. If I’m on hold, they’re angels. If I’m trying to make a hotel reservation or talk to my doctor, they take turns doing things I can’t ignore. Of course, if a potential training client calls, they bark, howl, growl at one another and generally destroy the house, which explains why I’m often locked in the bathroom when I take such calls.

There are many more dog rules which shape our lives. By explaining a few of these more common ones, I hope to allow you and your fur buddy a greater understanding of one another.


Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcomed to send their questions to: Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.