Few topics are as contentious in a household as the dogs-on-the-furniture question. Should you let him sleep with you? Will bed or sofa access make your dog dominant? Can he sometimes be allowed on the bed, and sometimes not?
The answer is not a clear-cut “yes” or “no.” The rules depend on the individuals, both two- and four-legged, in your home. Let’s look at your options.
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Option 1: Always let your dog on the furniture
There’s nothing wrong with the dog on the furniture, provided that all the humans in the household support it, and the dog is responsible enough to earn this privilege. “Responsible” means no resource guarding of the furniture or the people on it. If your dog growls or snaps at anyone while on the sofa or bed, his furniture license should be immediately revoked until you can get assistance from a qualified trainer. “Responsible” also means that your dog can control himself while on the furniture: no shoving you into the corner, no stealing food from your hand or the side table, etc.
If your dog is given free access to the couch or bed, you will have to be comfortable with some of the consequences. Your pillow will likely be covered in dog hair (or slobber); rawhides may disappear into couch cushions; and if you leave your laptop on the couch, your dog might email gibberish to everyone in your address book.
Option 2: Sometimes let your dog on the furniture
This method gives your dog access to the furniture, but only with your permission. This is my preferred method, but you have to train your dog that he can only hang with you if certain conditions are met. Similar to the above scenario, furniture privileges should be earned, so resource guarders or bed hogs will have to stay on the floor. Here is how to teach your dog to ask “please” to be invited on the furniture with you:
If you don’t want your dog on the furniture unattended, block the area by shutting the door or placing a hard object (such as a flattened cardboard box) on top of the furniture. You can’t train when you’re not there.
Option 3: Never let your dog on the furniture
Dogs lived happily for tens of thousands of years without sofas, so don’t feel badly having a no-dogs-on-the-furniture rule. If you plan to ban the dog from the furniture, make sure everyone in the family follows the same rules. Should your dog try to join you on the furniture, gently block him with your forearm and then engage him with something appropriate on the floor level, like a chewy or a toy. Teaching him “place” to his dog bed will also convince him that the floor is where it’s at. Finally, make sure your dog has a desirable floor option. Different dogs like different sleeping surfaces: a crate with a mat, a bed with elevated sides to rest his head, a burrow bed to hide in, a mat near a window, or even a cool tile floor.
Remember that when you’re not home, you can’t enforce the rules. If you don’t want your dog making himself comfy on your couch, block his access to the couch or to the room entirely, and give him a suitable bed to sleep on instead.
Regardless of the option you choose, consistency is key. If all members of your family enforce the same rules, your dog will quickly learn where to sleep.
Kate is a certified dog behavior consultant and certified dog trainer in Brooklyn, NY with Doggie Academy and in Southbury, CT.