Dogs on Furniture: The Controversy
When people bring home a new dog or puppy, sooner or later they will see that dog clambering onto the sofa. Some people are delighted, and are happy to cuddle up with Fluffy for TV time. Others are horrified and do not want to risk the dog damaging their living room furniture. Some people may even be worried that their dog getting on the couch is a sign of dominance, or the dog trying to be the “alpha”. The real answer is that there is no one rule that suits all dogs when it comes to this area. Different situations require different rules and boundaries for sharing your furniture with a dog.
The group that I say across the board should not be on your couch or bed are dogs who have demonstrated possessiveness of your stuff. As a dog trainer, I get calls from people where the dog isn’t allowing a spouse into bed, and is keeping guests from getting onto the couch. This type of behavior is a sign of deep relationship problems with the dog that extends way beyond just furniture. It needs to be addressed with a trainer, but in the mean time, the dog needs all furniture privileges to be revoked. This behavior is inappropriate and dangerous.
The cause of this type of behavior is often too much freedom in the dog’s life. Dogs thrive when given structure, and some dogs need more than others. Many people want to let their dog have free reign of the house, and this can lead to the dog developing the wrong idea about who is in control of the couch. This is an especially big issue when the dog is new to the household, and is establishing what your household is all about. Dogs are opportunists, and a new dog with a pushier temperament may try to stake claim to the most comfortable spot in the house.
Dogs with possessiveness issues over furniture often show behavioral issues in other areas. They may resource guard other things, such as food, toys, or even their personal space or their owner. This behavior can worsen over time, and lead to the dog becoming more and more aggressive in their responses. Stopping this behavior is not a cookie cutter process, because each dog is an individual, but in all cases it involves establishing a management plan around the house. This plan can include obedience training, more rules and boundaries, off limits areas, controlling how resources are given, consequences for bad behavior, and giving the dog appropriate outlets and “jobs”.
Living Room Parkour
We also see another type of behavior issue surrounding furniture. This one can actually be amusing to those on the outside looking in, but isn’t nearly as funny to those who are living with it. Commonly seen with young, high energy dogs, “living room parkour” is my affectionate term for the behavior of sprinting around the room, leaping onto and over furniture, and basically turning your house into an obstacle course.
This behavior rarely is present all the time, and the dog may be very laid back and sleep on the furniture at times. When the mood strikes though, these dogs start bouncing off the walls, and can do a lot of damage. I’ve seen couches with big gouges in them, upholstery ruined, and people injured when the dog tries to use the couch as a trampoline.
This group of dogs can be managed a little differently. We may institute a protocol where the dog is allowed onto furniture only when invited, and that they are crated when alone, to prevent this behavior. Another possibility is giving the dog a place bed near to the couch and giving them a structured job to do while also allowing them to relax with you. Most of these dogs will be able to have furniture privileges when they have matured some and when rules are in place.
The Good Dogs
Some dogs will never give you issues about your furniture. They will lay there calmly, move over when you want to sit down, and be a pleasant addition to any family night or afternoon siesta. If you are fortunate enough to have one of these dogs, the option is up to you. If you don’t want dog hair in your bed, no worries. Your dog will be just fine not being allowed on furniture, and will adapt very quickly to that rule being in place. If you do want to let your dog sleep with you, go right ahead. Some people are surprised that a dog trainer would allow their dogs onto furniture, but my competition dog sleeps at my feet most nights.
If you do fall into this category, there are a few boundaries that I would still recommend you put into place. You should always be able to ask your dog to leave a piece of furniture, which we teach as the “off” command in our programs. Sometimes you should have your dog sleep somewhere else, whether that be a different room, a crate, or an x-pen. This helps the dog keep a healthy frame of mind when separated from you, and helps prevent co-dependency issues.
Which Category is Your Dog?
Your dog is an individual, and so are you, so the rules surrounding furniture can vary quite a bit. Pay attention to your dog’s mannerisms when sitting on the couch with you, and work with a professional trainer to help you determine if any issues need to be addressed. If you have just brought home a new dog, especially a dog with an unknown background, make a point to not allow the dog onto furniture for the first month or two. Let them earn that privilege once they have consistently demonstrated appropriate behavior in other areas.