From time to time I get asked how families can keep their dog from jumping on their sofa or chair. I have also gotten asked whether or not they should even allow their dog on furniture.
Let’s talk about the second sentence first. Unless you have a situation of location guarding, meaning your dog stiffens or curls his mouth, growls or snaps at you when you approach him lying on your chair, that really is a personal choice. (If you do have a dog that location guards, please seek assistance from a trainer who uses positive strategies to help.) As you can see in my photo, if it is at night time and I get up from a spot I have warmed to get a snack, I have pretty much forfeited my spot to Sam. In our family, we don’t mind. He will come off his resting spot easily when we want him to. We even put a blanket on his favorite couch in the computer room, so he doesn’t dirty it when he lounges during the day.
However, if your choice is to allow your dog on furniture, there should not be a ‘sometimes’ contingency within that sentence. Saying that your dog is allowed on furniture when it is just your family around but not allowed when you have company over, is very confusing to a dog. Additionally, some family members may enjoy having your dog’s company on the couch and others may not. Another problem comes into play when you want to allow your dog on only certain furniture, but not others.
Inconsistent rules are pretty tough to live by for an animal, especially when it does not speak our language. Can you imagine what that’d be like to have a bowl of chocolates out within reach of a child and you told the child he could only take candy ‘sometimes,’ how difficult we would be making it for him to make a aright decision?
Now, let’s say that you do not want your dog on furniture. How do you teach that?
Prevention is key! Remember, more often than not, your sofa or chairs may very well be the softest places in your whole home to rest. They are also great spots to be higher for looking out windows or being closer to their favorite humans. Given an option, can you see why your dog would CHOOSE to jump on sofas and chairs? Your pet is always simply making behavior choices based upon where the value is for him in that moment. Every time that your pet gets onto your furniture, that choice is being reinforced. It is giving him more reasons in the future to make that same choice when given the opportunity. If you are not liking his choices, then it is up to you to teach him new choices.
This is where prevention comes in. If your dog even ‘sometimes’ gets onto furniture and gets reinforced, it is being intermittently reinforced and that schedule of reinforcement builds very strong behaviors. It is the culprit behind most – if not all – of problem behaviors. While you are teaching your dog a better choice (from your standpoint), you will need to find a way to eliminate access to practice. The photo shows one way that a friend of mine is using. You can also gate off that area when you are not around to actively be in teaching mode. You may also want to cover a window if the sofa is a means for looking outside. Brainstorm ways you can cut off access to keep that jumping on furniture behavior from being practiced.
Build value for an incompatible behavior! If you do not want your dog jumping on your soft plushy sofa, get your dog his own soft and plushy area to lay down on (better yet, get your dog MANY plushy beds for choice and have them located in central locations where you spend time) and then spend time teaching him that hanging out on that bed is super awesome. Not only is it soft, but other good things happen when he is on that bed too like getting tasty treats and human attention. Really spend time making sure that you are adding extra value to being in that soft place. Remember, your pet is making behavior choices all the time based upon where the value is for HIM, so just telling him no when he has made a choice you do not agree with is not helping him to know what you would like for him to do instead.
Additionally, proactively teach your dog what you would like for your dog to do while you are on the couch BEFORE your dog decides to jump on board. When you are in training mode, practice spending some time with your dog around furniture but on the floor to build value for the floor. If your dog looks toward the furniture with intent, you can redirect his attention BEFORE he begins the process of actually jumping onto the furniture.
Be prepared for mistakes. The goal here is for there not to be errors, to be the most effective, but in the case that you may forget one day to take your dog out of the room when you leave for a minute and he chooses to take your spot on the couch, be prepared. (And then do not let it happen again.)
What you DO NOT want to do is pull your dog by the collar to get him off or use another form of aversive punishment. Not only is that not fair to a dog who simply saw a comfy place to lay his head, it will teach him that bad things happen to him around you. And will teach him that if he wants to make some choices, he had better do them out of sight of his human. If you do not have a resource guarder, you will be giving him reason to become one in the future.
Another thing to be careful of, is that you not lure him off with food or a toy as you may actually be adding value to that decision of getting on the sofa since, from your dog’s perspective, getting on the sofa got you to produce high value treats or play.
Instead, consider just ignoring him and going to his pillow to have a good time without him or doing something fun in the other room. Eventually he will come off, and then you can work building value for being in his bed. After which, you can remind yourself that better management must in practice if you are really going to make a solid behavior change in your dog.
My challenge to you is this: When your pet is doing something you do not like, think about what you would like for your dog to do instead. Be the giver of good things for good choices. Your dog will thank you for it!