This funny flier has been knocking around Facebook for a little while now, perhaps you've seen it? Rules for dogs:
1) The dog is not allowed in the house.
2) Ok, the dog is allowed in the house but only in certain rooms.
3) The dog is allowed in all rooms but has to stay off the furniture.
4) The dog can get on the old furniture only.
5) Fine, the dog is allowed on all furniture, but it is not allowed to sleep with humans on the bed.
It ends with the dog being in charge and the rules apply to people only.
When people ask me—and they do—what is the most important rule for pets, I remind them of the "Pets Rule!" Rule: (If you can only have one rule for your pets) Love Them As Thoroughly and Consistently As You Can.
I have never understood pets as substitute children. I have never been a fan of overly sentimentalizing the relationship of pets and humans, because I think the idea of two species sharing a kind of mutual self-interest is enough of a marvelous thing. But what a judgmental bunch of business on my part. I never had to have substitute children: I had three of my own. When it comes to a puppy or the death of an old dog I am as sentimental and melodramatic as there is!
At a party recently, I sat next to Francine, an attorney from San Francisco. She was quick to tell me that Skype gets her in touch with her cats and her husband. She said seeing her cats on her phone, on Skype, or with pictures in her phone gallery are all comforting. She calls them her children, and she has the same feelings about her family as I have about mine, only hers is a husband and cats. She loves her cats—and that is the main rule as long as the husband is included at the top.
Even though I don't like the sentimentalization nor the lack of rules in many spoiled dog and cat homes, I really appreciate genuine affection. I appreciate honoring the role of caretaker for animals which have been bred to be codependent opon us.
Should you let your dog or cat run the house? Should your pet set the agenda, eat first, do what they want when they want, sit on the couch and bed and get you up when they want? I say no, because I am called into those houses to help correct the balance of power. But, more importantly, your pet shouldn't wait in vain for your attention, for its exercise, for regular meals, for scratches and some gentle language, and a few irrelevant treats.
What is the one rule I believe in? Love your pet. The rest follow that one. Then, of course, teach your dog to heal, your cat to stay off the couch, etc. Positive reinforcement is more powerful than forceful enforcement, and love is worth more than anything...in either direction.