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How to Teach A Dog Personal Space: 5 Easy Steps

One of the most important things you need to teach your new dog is the concept of “personal space.” It’s common for dogs, especially young puppies, to jump on people, put their paws on legs and arms, or lean their full body weight during greetings and play. However, respecting personal boundaries is an important behavior for dogs to learn.

This article will provide tips and techniques on “How to Teach a Dog Personal Space” so your canine companion understands when their behavior is unwelcome or unwanted. We’ll cover the importance of setting clear limits and boundaries, using positive reinforcement to reward respectful behavior, and exercises you can practice at home to help your dog differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate physical contact.

Understanding Dogs and Personal Space

Before diving into training techniques, let’s first go over why a man’s best friend tends to struggle with the concept of personal space in the first place.

Pack Mentality

Dogs are pack animals that evolved to live in close quarters with limited individual space. This makes them predisposed to crowding humans.

Natural Curiosity

Dogs investigate and interpret the world through smell, taste, and touch. Being in your personal space allows for optimal sensory information gathering.


Dogs, especially under-exercised ones, may invade space out of boredom and a need for interaction. Personal space means little to a dog wanting attention.

Lack of Training

If owners allow dogs in their space when young, dogs don’t learn this is an unwanted behavior that should stop upon maturity.


Stress and anxiety can cause dogs to shadow owners in search of comfort, ignoring polite boundaries.


Some dogs, especially puppies, leap with joy when their owners come home. While adorable, this can lead to jumping up which disregards space preferences.

Now that we know some of what’s going on in our furry friend’s heads, let’s get into practical steps for teaching personal space manners.

Setting Expectations and Rules

Before actively training space boundaries, you’ll need to decide what specific rules and limits you plan to set. This allows everyone in the household to be on the same page. Factors to consider include:

  • Which rooms are off limits completely vs. open access areas
  • Times when invading space is permitted (i.e. playtime) vs. non-negotiable calm times
  • Desired proximity when sitting next to owners on furniture
  • If getting on beds/sofas will be allowed at all
  • What touching behaviors like pawing or jumping up are unacceptable
  • Circumstances when closer contact will be encouraged (i.e. cuddling on the couch)
  • Verbal cues to be used for directing movements in/out of space
  • Which family members will participate in the training
  • Methods of rewarding wanted behaviors
  • Consequences for violations of boundaries

Decide what rules suit your home life, then communicate expectations clearly to every human family member. Next comes the tougher part – teaching the rules to your canine!

How to Teach A Dog Personal Space

Obedience Training Basics

Before tackling personal space training specifically, be sure your dog has mastered basic obedience commands. Dogs that walk nicely on leash, come when called, and follow directions will have an easier time learning to respect boundaries. If your pup needs review, do refresher training on:

  • Sit/Stay – Holding still until released
  • Down – Lying down on command
  • Off/Down – Jumping off objects or not jumping in the first place
  • Place – Going to a designated spot and staying there
  • Heel – Walking without pulling on the leash
  • Come – Coming immediately when called
  • Leave it – Letting go of objects and not picking them up
  • Drop it – Releasing objects already picked up

Once your dog responds reliably to these cues, you can incorporate them into your spatial boundaries curriculum. Time to put those training skills to work!

Setting Up a Positive Learning Environment

For best results, you’ll want to set your dog up for success during the process of mastering personal space concepts. Follow these tips:

Start young – Begin spatial training as early as 8 weeks old. Puppies are most impressionable.

Go at your dog’s pace – Build skills gradually instead of tackling too much at once.

Keep early sessions short – Spans of 5 minutes several times a day work better than marathon sessions.

Remain patient and calm – Your energy impacts your dog’s ability to focus and learn.

Train before walks or meals – Your dog will be more motivated to pay attention when hungry or eager to go outside.

Use highly rewarding treats – Food, toys, and praise need to be worth respecting boundaries.

End on a positive – Quit while your dog is still focused and compliant.

Now let’s get to the nitty gritty of actively instilling polite personal space boundaries in that precious pup of yours!

Teaching Personal Space Commands

Use these techniques to communicate specific spatial instructions to your dog:


Hold an open palm out and say “Back up.” Keep advancing until your dog moves backward to the limit you want him to learn. Reward with treats when he hits the marker.


Hold your palm out and say “off” when your dog jumps on you or furniture. Continue until all paws are on the floor, then treat.

Leave It

Say “leave it” when your dog approaches your space without permission. Reward with treats only once he withdraws.


Direct your dog to go “place” on a designated bed or mat and reward him for staying until released. Use this when you need him to keep out of your space.


Teach your dog to go in his crate or enclosed area on command when you need uninterrupted personal time. Lavishly praise and give treats when he remains calmly inside.

Be patient and consistent with verbal cues and rewards until your dog shows a clear understanding of these personalized space directions.

Discouraging Unwanted Spatial Behaviors

While rewarding wanted behaviors is ideal, you’ll also need to deter your dog from invading personal space through consequences for breaking rules. Some options include:

Removal – Step over a baby gate or shut an exuberant dog in another room temporarily.

Leash – Keep your dog leashed next to you and step on it to prevent jumping or lunging into your space.

Correction sounds – Make a sharp “ehh” noise when your dog attempts to get too close without permission.

Spray bottle – A quick spritz of water when your dog jumps up or puts paws where they don’t belong.

Time Out – Place your dog in a boring area for 30-60 seconds as a consequence of ignoring space boundaries.

Loss of privileges – Revoke furniture access, treats, toys, or attention when space rules are disobeyed.

Verbal warning – Pair a firm “No!” with other deterrents when personal space factors aren’t respected.

Be judicious when discouraging unwanted behaviors – just enough to communicate rules without intimidating your dog.

Reinforcing Personal Space

Once your dog understands basic commands and consequences related to your personal space, put it all together by reinforcing proper behavior constantly:

  • Use your dog’s name and verbal cues to redirect whenever he crowds you.
  • Ask for a sit/stay when he greets too exuberantly. Greet only once he’s calm.
  • Practice having your dog wait at thresholds when entering and exiting rooms.
  • Reward calm behavior near you with treats and praise.
  • Prompt your dog to do place, crate, or back up when he attempts to jump on you or the sofa.
  • Give your dog access to furniture ONLY when invited up.
  • Limit affection/attention when your dog paws at you for it vs. waiting politely.

With constant reinforcement through verbal cues, rewards, and consequences, your dog will learn to give you that bubble of personal space you desire! Now let’s go over some common troubleshooting issues:

Troubleshooting Personal Space Training Issues

If you’re finding space training to be an uphill battle, consider these tips:

For the dog that gets Too good at personal space: Make sure to invite your dog to break the boundary sometimes, like asking him up on the couch to snuggle. He still needs affection too!

For the overeager puppy: Have reasonable expectations for young pups still learning impulse control. Keep training positive and focus on reinforcing good behaviors.

For the obstinate or frightened dog: High-value rewards like chicken, cheese, or hot dogs may provide extra motivation to comply. Always stay patient and calm.

For the busy/distracted dog: Make training sessions short and engaging. Work in an area without commotion or toys at first to keep her attention.

For the dog who struggles with one family member: Ensure all humans use the same space commands, consequences, rewards, and training style to avoid confusion.

For the dog who regresses: Spend time regularly refreshing personal space training using positive techniques. Prevention is key, so don’t slack once he begins understanding the concept.

For the fearful dog: If space training causes anxiety, seek guidance from a certified dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist. Use only positive reinforcement, never punishment.

For the dog with separation anxiety: Their extreme attachment may require gradual desensitization training along with medication. Consult a vet and trainer.

For multi-dog households: Train each dog individually at first, then practice group training to ensure all dogs respect each other’s space too.

For the dog who respects your space but not guests: Teach a solid “place” cue and have treats on hand. Instruct visitors to ignore your dog until he is calmly in place, then reward.

For the dog who learns but still occasionally breaks rules: Expect occasional lapses, especially with high arousal triggers like doorbells or visitors. Manage these scenarios and remind your dog of the rules when they happen. Then redirect and reinforce the good behavior.

Remember that space training is an ongoing process. Stick with positive methods, be consistent, and regularly reinforce boundaries. With time, your dog will learn to give you the personal space you desire.


While dogs aren’t born with an inherent knowledge of personal space etiquette, they can learn how to co-exist with us humans respectfully. Establishing ground rules customized to your home life provides clarity for you, your family members, and your dog.

Combining clear verbal directions, rewards, consequences, and consistency sets your dog up for success. While it does require time and diligence, the payoff is a mutually happy home life where your dog understands his place (besides you at an appropriate distance!) vs. constantly underfoot. If you invest in positive personal space training methods, you’ll be able to relax with your furry companion without losing your bubble.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to train a dog on personal space?

Expect space training to take several weeks to several months depending on your dog’s age, personality, and past experiences. The younger you start, the faster dogs tend to understand.

Why does my dog sit right on top of me?

Likely reasons include boredom, anxiety, seeking warmth/affection, or simply never being taught boundaries. Space training provides clarity on where your dog belongs.

My dog follows me from room to room. How do I get privacy?

Use baby gates, crates, and designated dog spaces to give yourself alone time. “Place” training also communicates when your dog should settle somewhere away from you.

Why does my dog rest his head on me?

Head resting often signals canine affection and bonding. Gently guide your dog into a seat, reward the calm behavior, and then verbally define where you do/don’t want him touching you.

Is it dominance if my dog invades my personal space?

Not necessarily. It’s normal dog behavior without proper training. Establish rules respectfully – not by punishing your dog but by rewarding the behavior you prefer.

How can I keep my dog off my bed?

Use a baby gate, crate, or dog bed cue to redirect your dog anytime she attempts to get on the bed. Be consistent, and reward her for resting on the floor.

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