Updated: Dec 11, 2018
You bring home a new dog – one you have been waiting to get for a long time – and she comes into the house and as you sit down on the couch, she jumps on the couch with you!
Your first thought is she wants to be close to you and so you pet her which causes her to move closer to you – you’re in love!
But then you wonder, should be my dog be on the furniture? Do I want her up here all the time? Only some of the time? Not at all?
Determine Furniture Rules in Advance
Before you bring your new dog home sit down as a family and decide what the house rules and boundaries are going to be. It is important that everyone agree and be supportive of one another so talking about this in advance is very helpful.
Teaching What You Want
We all get dogs for a variety of reasons. Some get a dog to do specific tasks such as a service dog, therapy dog or other professional working dog, some get a dog to compete and have fun in various sports, and some want a companion and/or family dog to take on walks, run with, play ball or go hiking with them.
Regardless of the reason, we all love our dogs and let’s face it, snuggling on the couch with our dogs is the best medicine for a long day!
But what about those times we don’t want our dogs on the furniture? Or what if we don’t want them on the furniture at all? How do we teach that?
For dogs that have been getting up on the furniture for a long time, it can be more challenging, but it can still happen. For dogs that haven’t had much “practice” getting on furniture, it’s a bit easier. Basically, we teach the dog an alternative behavior!
There are several alternative behaviors we can teach our dogs to replace getting on the furniture, whether it is the couch, comfy chair or the bed. Giving dogs other behaviors to do not only gives them another choice but also provides another opportunity to add more obedience and desired problem-solving skills for them to rely upon when needing to make good choices.
Encouraging our dogs to practice behaviors we do want, as opposed to correcting behaviors we don’t want, makes training so much easier. . .and more fun!
Sitting Near Furniture
Teaching your dog to sit near furniture is an easy alternative behavior to work on. Using some yummy reward, you can usually teach your dog to sit in a few short sessions. I recommend that my clients teach the sit cue in a more open area of a room, then move around the room, go to other rooms, near objects (furniture), in front of the person, on the side of the person, etc. This way, you are proofing the behavior – the dog isn’t just learning to sit in a specific area and only when facing you. You would be surprised how many dogs can sit while facing their handler but then when asked to sit while on the handler’s side, they have trouble. It’s out of context for them.
The next thing is BE CONSISTENT! If you only reinforce your dog sitting near the couch sometimes and at other times you allow them to jump on the couch when they choose, it will be very difficult for them to learn to always sit near the couch. Inconsistent messages are confusing for dogs.
Lying Down Near Furniture
Another alternative behavior is to teach your dog to lie down on the floor next to the couch. Just as with the sit cue, teach your dog the down cue separately first, then consistently practice the behavior with your dog on a regular basis.
The more your dog “practices” the behavior you want and is rewarded for that behavior (verbal, food or patting), the more the behavior will occur.
Teaching the down cue is another behavior that can be taught in a few sessions. Getting duration takes a little longer though so be patient.
Here is a video that teaches the first couple of steps of the down behavior. This method allows the dog to problem solve and figure out how to get the reward without you saying anything! They will learn it faster and retain it better! As with most things we teach dogs, get the behavior first and then add the word!
Give That Dog a . . .. Bed
I know, you thought I was going to say, “bone” but in this case, giving your dog a bed or a nice mat to lie down on, whether near the furniture or in another area of the room, is a great alternative behavior to jumping up on the couch or bed. And, yes, giving them a bone or a toy to chew on is also helpful in keeping them busy while on their bed or mat.
Teaching your dog to go to a bed or mat takes a little time but is a fun game to play and teach your dog! The pre-requisite is teaching them to down. You can either teach this first or while you are teaching the first couple of steps of Go to Bed/Mat.
Stay tuned for next month’s article when I will talk about how to teach Go to Bed/Mat.
What do I do when I am not home?
Obviously, we can not stay home all day every day (as much as our dogs would love that). So, what do you do when you must leave the house? There are a few things you can do to keep your dog off the furniture.
The easiest way is to crate train your dog. Crate training not only protects things in your house from being subject to dog drool and chewing but also keeps your dog safe from things they may get into that are harmful. Plus, crate training can be invaluable during times when company comes over that are not dog people, when you are potty training a new puppy or adopted dog and/or when you may need to keep your dog quiet due to an illness or surgery.
If having your dog in a crate isn’t an option, using gates or X-pens to either keep your dog out of a specific area of your home, or to keep your dog in a specific area are also ways to help keep your dog off the furniture when you are away.
Some people will put things on top of the couch or bed to “deter” the dog from getting on the furniture, but many dogs will either pull the items off (which can be dangerous), or just crawl on top of them.
For me, the best solution that keeps both the dog and the household safe, is crate training. For fun crate games, see my blog post called “Fun With Crate Training”.
What if I Want my Dog on The Furniture? Is That Okay?
Many people are not only okay if their dog is on the furniture, they want their dog cuddling next to them when they are home. So, do you just let your dog jump up either on the couch or your lap as they wish?
Well, I wouldn’t recommend that. Although you may not mind that, Grandma or a friend who comes over may not appreciate it. So, what is the answer?
Teach your dog to ask permission and to be invited up. And by this, I mean invited up to sit next to you, not jump into your lap – that’s rude – not to mention can hurt.
Every time your dog approaches the couch when you are sitting on it, tell your dog to sit just as he is approaching. You can use a wait cue or just tell them to sit until they are released (release, free, done or break are the most common release words). Once you release them, pat the couch cushion next to you and tell them “up”. Once they jump up onto the couch, tell them “down or settle” and encourage them to settle down next to you. If they begin to climb in your lap, just get up and start again. They will learn that settling down next to you is how they get attention but if they jump into your lap, the attention ends, and you get up. It won’t take long before they figure this one out.
It’s up to you whether you prefer your dog on the furniture at all or just when invited. The key is to be consistent in your message and your training!