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How to Teach Your Dog to Stay Off the Furniture

If you don't want your dog on the couch or bed, Victoria Stilwell offers this positive-reinforcement plan.

Victoria Stilwell  |  Oct 20th 2016


Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our October-November issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

There’s nothing better than cuddling with your dog on the sofa or snuggling in bed with her at the end of the day, but if you don’t relish the thought of sitting or sleeping in dog hair, there are ways to keep your furniture off-limits that won’t compromise the bond between you.

You may have heard that dogs like to put themselves on high places as a way of claiming rank over people. A more likely explanation is that, while high locations are valued, dogs naturally gravitate toward what feels comfortable and safe, and your sofa and bed are the most comfortable places in your home.

Dog on bed by Shutterstock.

Dog on bed by Shutterstock.

To manage behavior around furniture and reclaim your territory, try the following:

  • Keep a comfortable dog bed in any room where there is furniture you don’t want your dog to get on. This will encourage her to go to her bed rather than your sofa.
  • Make sure your dog’s bed is located in a quiet and draft-free area. This will make it a much better place for her to relax.
  • Reinforce your dog for lying on her bed by rewarding her with treats or a toy to chew on when she lies down.
  • Never let your dog on the furniture if she is a resource guarder. If your dog growls or snaps at you when you sit next to her or try to remove her from her coveted spot, prevent access until she’s comfortable with sharing.
  • Don’t use shock collars or scat mats. The stress, fear, and pain they cause can create entirely new anxiety-based behavior problems that can be hard to change.
  • Make furniture inaccessible when you’re not home, and keep your dog in a dogproofed area when you’re not around.
  • Your best bet is to prevent unwanted behavior before it begins. If you’re bringing home a new dog, establish consistent boundaries as soon as you bring her home.

Social sleeping and bonding time is important for every human-canine relationship, and there is nothing wrong with letting your dog on furniture if that is a decision you and your family agree with. Dog hair can easily be controlled with regular brushing and cleaning, and the benefits of social bonding in these locations far outweigh any negatives.

Dog on pet bed by Gina Cioli/Lumina Media.

Dog on pet bed by Gina Cioli/Lumina Media.

Get your dog off the furniture gently

Never grab your dog’s collar to pull her off the sofa or bed. You can remove her more effectively by teaching her to target your hand, which is a great, force-free way to move her safely from place to place. Here’s how to do it:

  • Dogs are naturally curious animals, so start this technique by presenting your hand to your dog. As she goes to investigate and touches your hand with her nose, praise and reward her.
  • Take your hand away, put it behind your back, wait a second or two, then present it again.
  • Repeat this exercise until your dog touches your hand whenever you present it.
  • When your dog is good at this task, start adding the word “touch” as she goes to touch your hand with her nose. After many repetitions you’ll find that she responds as soon as you present your hand and ask her to touch.
  • Try this exercise with both hands so she gets used to touching either one.
  • When she is reliably touching your hand, use this cue around the home. Call your dog to come to you and, as she gets close, extend your hand and ask her to touch.
  • Every touch should be rewarded — some with praise and others with a treat.
  • When your dog responds well, use this exercise to remove her from your furniture safely by putting your hand out a small distance away from the furniture she is lying on and asking her to touch.

About the author: Victoria Stilwell is a world- renowned dog trainer, TV personality, author, and public speaker best known as the star of the international hit TV series It’s Me or the Dog, through which she reaches audiences in more than 100 countries. Appearing frequently in the worldwide media, Stilwell is widely recognized as a leader in the field of animal behavior, is the editor-in-chief of positively.com and the CEO of Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training — the world’s premier global network of positive reinforcement dog trainers. Connect with her on Facebook at /Victoria Stilwell and on Twitter at @VictoriaS.