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This is a commonly asked question for us and like most things in dog training, there is no, "one-size-fits-all" answer. Black and white is a rarity in the dog training world, so we try not to choose definitive sides on most issues. Really, we like to examine each individual situation and assess the dog's level of respect and understanding for the rules of the house.
Some people suggest you should never allow dogs on the furniture. This dates back to old dominance theories that if dogs are elevated, they may see themselves as pack leaders and try to rule the world! We won't get into the discussion about outdated dominance theories in this post. Let's just say these theories have been debunked as we've continued to grow and learn more about how dogs think and process. In reality, whether you allow your dog up on furniture should depend on their current level of understanding when it comes to the rules of the household and your own personal desires.
No two dogs should have the same rules. Rather, each dog should be assessed individually and rules be applied based on the needs of that relationship. Let's break it down into two broad categories.
Your Average Well-Behaved Dog
If you have a well-mannered dog with no behaviour problems and you're happy with their level of obedience training, there's really no reason not to allow them on your furniture. If you're in this wonderful position, you can base your decision on whether or not you care about drool and other potential mess on the couch or dog hair in the bed. Allowing them access to furniture will not decrease their willingness to continue in life as a well-mannered dog.
The only caveat I might add here is that you should be able, at any time, for any reason, ask your dog to move off of the couch or bed. If you get any reluctance in the form of aggression, privileges should be revoked immediately and you should contact a qualified dog behaviourist to help you work through this issue.
You Can Be Selective!
It's entirely acceptable to allow your dog to access one piece of furniture only. You may decide that it's okay for your dog to be on the couch, but not the bed. You may decide that they are allowed on the couch, but not the love seat. If you've got that wonderful dog who doesn't cause you any trouble, it's all at your call and disgression to decide. Take some time to teach them what your expectations are and to create understanding in your dog. The adjustment period includes supervision and clear, consistent information during the adjustment periodare a must.
A Young Dog in Training
If you have a dog who is not the perfectly obedient family member yet, you probably want to set boundaries that are much clearer than those outlined above. It's not that allowing them on furniture will create behavioural issues, but rather setting a clear boundary for the dog will help them learn to look to you for information and guidance. Controlling resources such as food, toys and access to furniture will help you with daily management.
The dog should have a clear place they are allowed to be when the family is relaxing. Try to allocate a spot for the dog and work hard on reinforcing their good manners there. A dog bed or crate is perfect for this! Random reinforcement and a "go-and-lie-down" command will come in very handy for the dog's understanding.
By Invitation Only
This is one last thing that I would recommend you consider if you wish to allow your dog up on the couch or other furniture. Do you want it to be up to you or up to the dog? I always insist on invitation only in my house. That stemmed from a need to manage a multi-dog household. In order to ensure my dogs don't compete with one-another for positions of status, they are only allowed on the furniture by invite. This rule is also very handy when I have guests over. My guests may or may not be dog people who want a happy youngster in their lap (LOL - though, they usually do). My dogs are clear that they are only allowed to get up on the furniture when they are invited by myself or my guest.
In the end, the decision is yours and I hope that brings you peace of mind that there is not solid right or wrong here. If you want your dog on the couch to snuggle, you can do it in the right circumstances! Hopefully this information helps you make an informed decision based on good information and not outdated notions.
As always, Happy Training!
Hi! I'm Shannon and I joined the McCann team in 1999 while training Quincey, my wonderful and spirited Rottweiler, to have good listening skills. I'm the Director of Online Training and Content for McCann Professional Dog Trainers and I enjoy writing about dogs and dog training for the McCann blog. I currently share my life with 2 Tollers (Reggie & Ned) and I love helping people develop the best possible relationship with their 4-legged family members. Join us for a FREE lesson at MyDogCan.McCannDogs.com.