I often hear the comment, “My dog sleeps on the couch”. Then my client peaks up at me with raised eyebrows, unsure of what I’ll say. I suspect they’ve heard that they shouldn’t let their dog on the couch for one reason or another. So my response often surprises them. I ask them a question, “Does that bother you or is it okay with you?” There are very few reasons that a dog sleeping on a couch could be a problem and most of them are personal preferences.
Perceived Problem: The dog is establishing “dominance”.
Why this is Perceived: Dominance is not a personality trait it is a relationship between two things (think two people, two genes, or two sport teams). Dominance is always in flux. The Boston Red Sox don’t always dominate the New York Yankees and vice versa. Not only that but most likely your dog isn’t trying to control the couch as a resource. Most dogs nap on the couch because it is the most comfortable spot in the house.
Problem: The dog leaves hair on the couch and the guardian doesn’t want hair on the couch or the dog is contributing to wear and tear of the couch via mud, nails, drool, or teeth.
Solution: Give the dog a comfortable bed in an appropriate location and teach him to go to that bed.
Problem: The client wants to sit on the couch but the dog won’t make room.
Solution: Teach the dog an “off” and “on” cue so you can ask him to get off the couch so you can sit and then you can invite him back up for snuggle time.
Problem: The dog guards the couch when people or other dogs come by. (This problem can be a pretty serious safety concern) Guarding is when your dog becomes still, freezes, growls, snaps, lunges, or bites while in possession of something. In this case we are talking about the couch.
Solution: This is one case where I would insist on suspending couch privileges until “Fluffy” has some other skills in place. You should consult a trainer who has experience working with guarding behavior. This behavior is not only dangerous, but there are often other issues that need to be dealt with as well.
If you need help with training, call an experienced trainer. Make sure to ask the trainer if they have experience with the specific behavior and what methods they would use to train your dog. Make sure you are comfortable with the methods described. Also, keep in mind that positive reinforcement methods last longer and have fewer undesired side effects.
So the next time you think to yourself “Should I let Fluffy on the couch?” Also ask yourself if it would bother you or be unsafe if Fluffy was on the couch. If the answer is “yes” think about what you would like Fluffy to do instead. If you really don’t care if “Fluffy” joins you, grab a snuggly blanket and enjoy your “heater”!