ForPaws Blog

The Prevalence of Dominance – Part 2, Sitting on the Sofa

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In my last blog, I outlined why the reasoning behind the dominance theory was flawed and I gave a list of common acts by dogs that are often labelled as sofa-dog_300dogs being dominant.  So now, I need to prove to you that these acts are not plays for a dominant position in your family hierarchy, but something much more simple than that!

We’ll start with an easy one, sitting on the sofa.  There are many reasons you may not want your dog on the sofa, these include:

  • Not wanting dog hair, dirt or slobber on the sofa – fabric sofas in particular tend to be a magnet for this!
  • Not wanting your dog to jump on you or friends or family when you are sat on the sofa – having a No Dog on the Sofa rule tends to bypass this problem.
  • You often eat on the sofa, you don’t want your dog to bother you for food – again not allowing your dog on the sofa helps to bypass this.
  • Dog(s) taking up too much space on the sofa, no room for humans!

Now let’s look at the reasons for why your dog might want to sit on the sofa:

  • It’s comfortable – like any animals, dogs seek comfort.
  • It’s near you – dogs are sociable animals and they like to sit close to their companions.  You may also be more inclined to interact with your dog if it is close to you, so it learns to sit on the sofa for cuddles.
  • They can often see more from a slightly elevated position – so sitting on the sofa gives them a good view. 

As you can no doubt see, your wants are at odds with your dogs - the sofa is an attractive place to your dog, why wouldn’t he want to go on there?  So if you don’t want your dog on the sofa, use what he wants form your solution…

  1. Buy or build a nice comfortable dog bed for your dog.  Think Dog!  Make the bed attractive for your dog, if it likes blankets and rags, put them in.  If it likes big cushions, make a bed out of them. 
  2. Make sure that the bed is close to where you will be sat on the sofa.  This way you can still cuddle, touch and interact with your dog when you are sat on the sofa.
  3. Also make sure you position the bed with a good view of the room, away from draughts, and not somewhere it will be bumped, stepped over, or in the way, these are not attractive places for your dog to lie (although having said that, some dogs LIKE being in the way!).

Once you have a suitable sofa alternative, you just need to train your dog to use it.  This is very simple, but does require patience, especially if your dog has been going on the sofa for a long time.  Lure your dog to his bed with a high value treat (liver, cheese, hotdog) and drop the treat into the bed and your dog should get into his bed to eat it.  If your dog doesn’t get in to eat it, try again with another treat, until you find one that he will get into the bed for.  Once you know he will get into bed, start adding the command.  Say ‘Bed’, drop the treat into the bed, repeat.  A lot.  Start to throw treats into the dogs bed from different areas so your dog learns to go to bed regardless of whether you are standing there or not.  Once you have going to bed on command, look to find ways to make your dog stay there, give him more treats for staying in bed, praise him, give him cuddles and belly rubs in his bed.  Give him a chew toy or a bone in his bed.  Make his bed a lovely place to be, where he is rewarded and gets nice stuff. 

Now, if your dog still wants to go on the sofa, make sure you don’t inadvertently reward this with extra cuddles or attention.  Simply send him to bed and reward him when he does.  He cannot be on the sofa and in bed at the same time.  Importantly, do not only send him to bed and reward him for this when he gets on the sofa, else he will learn this pattern and repeat it to get his reward!  Keep rewarding and praising him for being in bed.  Once you have this down to a T, you can use Bed for all manner of things!  Dog rushes to greet all visitors at the door?  Send him to bed until they get in and have the opportunity to greet him without being bowled over!  Dog always underfoot in the kitchen when you are cooking?  Go to bed!  Don’t use it as a punishment, bed is a rewarding nice place for your dog, not a time out type ‘naughty step’ place.  Using bed as a punishment will make your dog not want to go there.

Some people reading this may say that I’ve missed a reason for the dog wanting to be on the sofa - that dogs who are dominant will always try to sit on the highest place, above those whom it is trying to subjugate.  This is because the leader of the wolf pack always goes to the highest place to show his dominance.  Of course, to recap my last blog, wolf packs are not groups of wolves fighting for status, but peaceable family groups.  It has also been seen in further studies on wolves, that multiple adult wolves (of different statuses in the pack) select higher ground to lie on as it’s the best position to detect intruders from, not as part of a bid for dominance. 

Often when discussing this, I am then met with the argument ‘ well I never let my dog on the sofa and look how well behaved she is, she knows I’m the pack leader!  But my friend always lets her dog on the sofa and the dog is a nightmare’.  In my opinion, the fact that the ‘good dog’ doesn’t go on the sofa and the ‘bad dog’ does, is more a result of the fact that the ‘good dog’ has been quite consistently and conscientiously trained in a whole manner of things, the sofa being just one of those and that the ‘bad dog’ hasn’t (or is still young and in training).  Training the ‘bad dog’ to not get on the sofa will not automatically make it not pull on the lead, not grumble if you take it’s bone away, or not jump up at people.  Further training is needed for all of those things.

So what do we do?  Lexie is allowed on our sofa.  We tend to ignore her when we are having dinner on the sofa and she never gets fed from our plates so she never begs.  When we have guests over, we ask them not to give her attention if she’s jumping on them (work in progress I’ll admit!) and often give her something else to do, like a stuffed kong or bone so our guests aren’t overwhelmed by an excited pup who just wants to say hi.  We have a nice leather sofa that cleans up fairly well and I like cuddling up with her on it.  If at any time she is causing a problem by being on the sofa, we ask her to get ‘Off’ (we have trained this) and we redirect her to somewhere else, like her bed.  I don’t feel that in letting her do this she is dominating me, I love my sofa time bonding with my pup.  What do you do?

If you’d like to talk about any of the things discussed in this blog, or about any of your dog’s training issues, then please have a look at the training ForPaws offer, then either email me or call him on 07500 119232.

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