Your Questions: Couch Jumping?

I have no answer as to how to deny those eyes a cosy spot on the couch

Hi Katarina,

We have a three month old Bernese Mountain Dog, Como, and now that she has grown a bit she is starting to try to get up on the couch a lot more, we are pretty good at stopping her but sometimes she beats us to it. When we catch her and stop her she continues to try and get up there, even when we sit down on the ground and try to engage/distract her with her toys she keeps trying. Do you have any suggestions on how we can stop her climbing on the couch? She we keep some fresh meat and to reward her if we can get her to come down? Sometimes when she goes to climb up and I jump down on the ground I can call her down to me. Do we need to reward that with food to try to reinforce?

Daniel and Anna

Hi Daniel and Anna, congratulations on your new puppy. It’s amazing to hear that a three month old puppy could get on the couch, welcome to the world of living with a large breed dog.

Contrary to what TV and movies would tell us, dogs do not come knowing the rules of human home living. They need to be taught the rules unique to each of our homes, often this can include the couch being off limits to the dog.

Before you start training Como to remain on the floor, you could take her for a stimulating walk so that she is tired when you arrive home. Alternatively, choose a day and time that she is likely to be tired, and resolve to do some ‘floor’ training then.

You will need to be ready for training when you sit on the couch. This means that you need to be in the right mind-set, and prepared for Como to jump on the couch. You also need a plan about how you are going to keep her on the floor, and what you are going to when she tries to jump on the couch. Get some treats ready, you can use dried liver treats for in-home training, and set her mat up at your feet.

Before you sit down on the couch, ask Como to ‘sit’ and reward her when she does so. Then you can take your seat on the couch. If Como has remained there (as you have sat down) give her a ‘good girl’ and reinforce her with a treat. Keep reinforcing her as she relaxes, such as, when she lays down, leans on the couch, or gets in to another settling down position. Remember you do not want to reinforce her for looking at you, no one wants a dog staring at them the whole time while trying to relax. Give her some low key attention when she is on the floor and calm.

If, and when, Como try to put a paw up on the couch, signal her ‘off’, and point towards the ground. She should follow your finger and put all feet back on the floor again, then praise her. Try not to give her a treat for this as you do not want her to connect putting her paws up on the couch with ‘off’ and a treat. Treat her when she is relaxed. If you are too late and she has already got up on to the couch (this is a mistake on your part), stand up and leave the room calling her as you go, then set her up again, and pay attention to her while she is on the floor.

With some dogs, training floor time takes effort. Sometimes you will not feel like doing it, and it is during these times that you should use your confinement areas. You will need to be proactive in recognising that you do not feel like training Como, and confine her before she engages in this unwanted behaviour. The less opportunities she has a to practice jumping on the couch, the less likely she is to jump on the couch.

So what are the main points? Your job will be much easier the more tired she is. Also, be prepared to train Como to remain on the floor, and if you are not in the mood to train, confine her. All the best, she is a delight.

Katarina

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2 Responses to Your Questions: Couch Jumping?

  1. Nathan Nettleton says:

    One little thing to add to Katarina’s excellent comments on the couch and floor issue: it will probably take longer to get Como to understand that she should stay off the couch even when you’re not there (if she has access to it then). Dogs often don’t generalise what they learn, so they will often conclude that a behaviour they are learning is specific to that place or time, not all times. What is learned on this couch doesn’t necessarily apply to all couches, and what applies at this time doesn’t necessarily mean anything at other times. A dog can think that the reason she’s not allowed on the couch is because the pack-leader (you) wants the couch at the moment, and your desires take priority over hers. But if that is how she sees it, then she will assume that when you have no need of the couch, there is no reason why she shouldn’t make use of it. She’ll step aside when you return, but it is nothing to do with guilt: it is just deference to your priority right of access to the territory. You can still teach her to stay off when you are not there, but be prepared for it to take longer. In the end it is really about the ingraining of a habit, so it just take time and work.

  2. daniel fink says:

    Thanks Katarina for guiding us on this and many other issues, and to Nathan for his additional comment. Unfortunately we have a very low couch, and at the rate Como is growing, she can almost just step up onto it now :) we are persevering with bringing her down when she escapes us and it is amazing how she will immediately come down when we point to the floor. i think this one will certainly take plenty of time and effort, but then nothing good comes easy…

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