If you have a dog, you have probably had a furniture issue at some point. Maybe you’ve had trouble keeping your dog off the furniture when you’re using it, keeping him off it when you’re not at home to supervise, teaching him to use only a particular piece of furniture, trying to get him out from under the furniture, or keeping the furniture free of hair, not to mention free of teeth. We like our dogs, we like our furniture, and sometimes these two things together create problems.
In terms of teaching your dog rules about getting on the furniture, you have many choices. I provide a few options below, plus their effects on your furniture. Whichever way you decide to go, your dog will be neither deprived nor ruined. Just be consistent. Regular readers will recognize the recurring theme of preventing dog behavior you don’t want and rewarding behavior you do want:
Allowing your dog access to any piece of furniture, anytime
Training difficulty: Pretty easy to teach once they figure out how comfy it is up there. And no, allowing your dog on the furniture will not make him dominant, homicidal, or spoiled. But if you have a new dog or puppy, I do not recommend starting with this. That’s simply because you don’t know each other yet and you haven’t had the chance to establish any boundaries and rules. To help your dog develop into a polite family member, it is best to make sure your dog listens well, understands boundaries, and has the training and self-control skills that are important to you. Once that’s established, you’ll be able to make more places and activities available. I also recommend teaching a simple cue to get your dog off the furniture in case your Aunt Betty would like to have a seat. To teach that, say your cue word like “off,” then pat your leg to encourage your dog down. If he’s reluctant, say the cue then bowl a dog biscuit away from the couch. He’ll soon respond to the cue and hand motion that went with bowling the treat.
Keep in mind: If your dog growls or otherwise threatens people when he’s on the couch or bed, he is not a good candidate for this option. He is likely guarding the bed or anticipating being touched. Get professional help with any underlying pain or anxiety.
Furniture consequences: Hair, drool, claw marks, hair, odor, hair. Use a throw blanket that you can launder and easily remove when you have guests.
Keeping your dog off your furniture, all the time
Training difficulty: This is the second easiest option to teach, because it is one of the least confusing (“never” is pretty straight-forward!). If you have a dog with back pain or who is recovering from surgery, your veterinarian may tell you furniture is off-limits to your dog.
The idea here is to a) prevent furniture climbing and b) reward lying elsewhere (like the floor or a dog bed). It is incredibly useful to have an exercise pen handy for this. I find it speeds the transition for a new puppy or dog tremendously. Even if you don’t have an x-pen (as they are called for short), make sure your pooch has a chewy down on the floor before he is tempted to get on the couch. If he likes to lie down on a very soft surface, provide him a cushy dog bed so the couch won’t tempt him as much. Initially you can tether him to a heavy piece of furniture within range of the dog bed (provided you’ll be present). If you do this whenever you are seated on the sofa, at the computer, or at the table, you will condition him to occupy himself quietly at those times. If you are consistent, it will become a habit for him.
To prevent him from leaping onto the sofa when you first enter the room, have him drag a lightweight line or light leash for a week or so. Be ready to step on the line to prevent him bolting for the couch, and then direct him to his bed or place near the couch he can work on his chew toy.
If you are already seated and he enters the living room, be ready; don’t wait to see what he’s going to do next. Call him to you with a treat held down near the floor. You can also teach him to nose touch—-ask him to do that before he has a chance to consider the couch. Try having your dog do a couple of sits and downs to help him get the ants out of his pants before encouraging him onto his dog bed and tethering with a chewy. You can also imagine you are a soccer goalie, and physically block the couch with your body. Slide or move left and right if your dog tries to get by you (no need to say anything, it will just distract him). Many dogs get the message after a few attempts and decide it’s less trouble just to lie beside the couch.
During the training process, which depending on the dog might be a couple of weeks or less, prevent access to the furniture when you can’t supervise. Crate your dog, close the living room door, or use baby gates to prevent access.
Furniture consequences: Your guests will hardly know you have a dog.
Allowing your dog one piece of furniture
Training difficulty: This is the trickiest option to teach. Follow the guidelines for never being allowed on the furniture, but with the following exception: Teach your dog to ask for permission to get up on the allowed piece of furniture. Have him sit, and release with “Ok!” as you pat the sofa. Just to keep things clear (which always smoothes the training process) make sure he never gets on the designated couch or chair without permission at first. Self-control and manners first, then furniture time.
Furniture consequences: Most of your furniture will be hairless, except of course for the chair he’s allowed up on. Consider using metal cookie trays spread out on the off-limits pieces in your absence (store them under the cushions) until he’s in the habit of using only the chair you’ve selected.
I don’t recommend booby-trapping furniture. I know of dogs who have become wary of the entire living room as a result, or fearful of whomever was standing nearby when they were spooked, which are much bigger problems than a little dog hair. Just use a throw blanket and call it a day.