To keep your dog off the couch you will need to use a combination of rewards, training and prevention. Dogs love cuddling up on the couch as much as we do. It’s warm, cosy and reminds them of you. Punishment won’t keep your dog off the couch when you leave the room, and often just results in a confused and upset dog who doesn’t understand why you are so mad. We all tend to ignore our dogs when they are being good, and react when they are annoying us. Changing this perspective when it comes to managing your dog, finding alternative behaviors that you like and reinforcing them strongly, can be dramatically effective.
Avoid going into battle with your dog. Think of ways to prevent him indulging in his naughty naps, rather than trying to catch him in the act of being bad. Focus on catching him being good. You’ll be happier for it, and so will he!
Today we are going to look at how to keep your dog off the couch and other items of furniture. Some people are very happy for their dog to sleep on the couch. Others would prefer their Labrador to sleep in a basket or dog bed designed for that purpose. If your family prefers not to have their dogs climbing on the sofa, or any other items of furniture, this article is for you. I’ll show you how to teach your Labrador not to climb on your couch or comfy chairs, with a minimum of fuss and conflict.
Should dogs be allowed to sleep on the couch?
The first thing to say is that you shouldn’t feel that you are being mean or unkind if you don’t want your dog to sleep on your chairs or sofa. While your dog is certainly a member of the family, Labs have a fondness for getting muddy and a tendency to leave a nice nest of hair wherever they sleep. It isn’t mean of you to want to be able to sit on your own couch without you or your visitors getting covered in hair. And your dog won’t suffer if you make sure he has a nice cosy bed of his own to lie in.
On the other hand, if you don’t care about a bit of dust or a few hairs, that’s fine too. Provided that your dog is not a resource guarder.
Dogs that won’t share, or that growl if anyone tries to sit on the couch with them, should never be allowed to sleep there. This behavior is a form of resource guarding, and it’s important not to let it escalate. But for all other dogs, whether to keep your dog off the couch is a personal choice. There are no rights and wrongs here.
Why do dogs like to climb on the furniture?
Dogs do the things they do because they find them rewarding. We hardly ever reward our dogs for lying on the floor so why would they want to do that? On the other hand, the sofa or couch is all squishy and comfortable. It’s an easy choice for the dog.
Start as you mean to go on with a ‘no dogs on the furniture’ rule
We’ll look in a moment at how to stop your dog getting on the furniture. But if your dog is still a puppy, one of the best ways to avoid the problem arising is simply never to let it get started. If all family members avoid bringing the puppy onto furniture even when small, he may never ever make an attempt to climb up there when he is bigger.
It can help if you avoid cuddling your puppy on the couch, but rather sit on the floor yourself when you want him on your lap. But what about the dog that has already started to climb onto the furniture?
How to stop your dog climbing on the couch
There are two separate situations that you’ll need to deal with here. The dog that climbs in a chair while you are in the room with him, and the dog that sleeps on the sofa only when you are out. Perhaps your dog gets on the sofa as he hears your car disappear up the road, and is sleeping innocently in his basket when you return?
The only clue is the lovely warm patch on your cushions and give-away sprinkling of Labrador hair. This is a very common problem. We’ll look at this second problem once we’ve looked at how to solve problem one: the dog that gets on the couch while you are watching.
Don’t Punish Your Dog For Getting On The Couch
A word of warning. Many people use some form of punishment to try and stop their dog climbing on the couch. Scolding the dog, or even smacking him when they catch him on the chairs. This just makes the dog sneaky. Causing the second problem to replace the first one. Let’s look at less confrontational ways to prevent the dog from climbing on the couch when you are in the room with him. The trick is to make being on the floor rewarding for the dog.
Teaching your dog that the floor is a good place to be
A lot of people call their dog off the couch and give him a treat, this is a great start, but then, the dog gets straight back on the couch again! This is normal behavior. And you can break this pattern by a process I call treat streaming.
Bring your dog into the room where he has been jumping on the furniture. Have a pot of treats handy on a nearby table. If your dog is kibble fed, you can use part of his dinner for this. As soon as your dog jumps on the couch, attract his attention and give him a nice treat on the floor well away from the couch.
But instead of pausing and giving him opportunity to get back on the couch, give him another treat, and another – at one or two second intervals. Once the dog has lost interest in the sofa, you can start spreading out the intervals between the rewards you give him for simply being on the floor
How to get a reluctant dog off the sofa
Sometimes, especially with older dogs where lying on the sofa has become an ingrained habit, the dog may be reluctant to leave the sofa, even for a treat. Never try to wrestle a Labrador off your furniture and never attempt to lift a growling or grumpy dog from a sofa. Instead, try some better rewards to reinforce him once you have got him down on the floor. Roast chicken will usually do the trick!
Reward the behavior you want
Like all undesirable behaviors, you should always have in mind a better alternative for your dog. And you should reinforce that behavior generously. For my youngest Lab, Rachael, the behavior I have reinforced since she was a puppy is lying in her bed. This can work well to keep a dog away from the supper table, and away from the sofa when you are watching TV. I’ll give you an example.
For many months when Rachael was small, we always brought a pot of treats to the dinner table. Every time she went near her bed we threw her a treat. Eventually she only got a treat when she actually got in her bed. She was soon leaping into her bed each time the family sat down to supper. To start with she got treats thrown at frequent intervals, now she only gets one at the end of our meal.
In this case, the dog who wants to get on the couch, needs to know that he has an approved bed to go to. And to be strongly reinforced for doing so.
Choosing to be good
This is what we call a default behavior. I don’t tell Rachael to get in her bed when we sit down to supper, it is what she chooses to do in this situation because of the reinforcement history of that choice. Behaviors that dogs choose for themselves tend to be powerful and persistent. Sometimes we forget Rachael’s treat at the end of our meal. But the habit is so strong, she never fails to wait patiently in her bed.
Obviously this kind of training takes time. And in the meantime, you need ways to keep your dog from climbing on the couch when you are not actively training him to be on the floor. This requires some management strategies!
How to keep your dog off the furniture while you are not training
Unless you have a completely open plan house, then the best thing you can do is close the door to the room with the forbidden furniture, or babygate the entrance. Another solution is to put some kind of obstacle on the couch, such as an upturned basket. Anything which makes the furniture less attractive to the dog.
How to keep your dog off the couch when you go out
Trying to train a dog not to climb on the couch when you are out of the house entirely will simply make you feel stressed and angry. Teaching a dog to obey a command or ‘rule’ in your absence is an advanced skill and nine times out of ten, it is far better to deny access to the forbidden object (shut your dog in the kitchen whilst you are out, for example), than to attempt to train a dog to obey a rule in your absence.
What about punishing the dog?
There are many downsides to using punishment in dog training. They can have considerable fall out for the dog, and are notoriously difficult to use effectively in the absence of the owner. One punishment that some people have tried with varying degrees of success is a mat that emits an unpleasant noise in response to pressure.
If it is completely impossible for you to prevent your dog accessing the room with your favorite antique chair in, you might be tempted to try putting such a mat on the chair when you have to leave him alone. If he presses on the mat, it will emit a loud noise
Be aware though, that some dogs will be very distressed at hearing a loud alarm going off in the house while they are alone, and some dogs will react to this stress by soiling in the house or chewing things. It is much kinder to simply prevent the dog from accessing the room in the first place.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa’s online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website