Sofa Surfing: How to Stop a Dog Jumping on the Couch

Sofa Surfing: How to Stop a Dog Jumping on the Couch
26 Dec 2016

Tired of pet hair on your pants?

Then you need to stop the dog jumping on the couch. Of course, it’s best to teach the dog not to get on the furniture in the first place, but life isn’t perfect and somehow the dog ends up thinking the couch is his bed. Which brings me neatly to the first point.

Sofas are comfy. Your dog probably isn’t being dominant, possessive or bossy; he just wants to be comfortable. Make sure the dog has a cozy alternative to snuggle into such as a fleecy dog bed or an appealing den.

Next is to make sure all family members understand the “no dog jumping on the couchrule. Everyone needs to be consistent. If you apply the rules but your partner doesn’t, the dog will take the ‘soft’ option and stay on the couch. (For more principles of training see: Holly & Hugo’s Animal Training and Pet Sitting course.)

Stop a Dog Jumping on the Couch

Now for retraining. The general idea is to reward the dog with a tasty treat or praise, when he gets down from the sofa. It helps if you use clicker training (See: How to Clicker Train Effectively) because you can label the action (jumping down) precisely. The sneaky thing is you click-and-reward him for getting down, he’ll actively look for ways to earn the treat – which means getting off the sofa.

Of course the tricky part is stopping him from getting straight back up. Once again, clicker training is your ally in the battle to stop your dog jumping on the couch.  This time reward him for being on the couch (Stick with me on this!) and give the behavior a label or cue, for example “Sofa”. Now for the clever part, everything that goes up must come down, so you click and reward him getting off, and label it “Floor”.

Stop a Dog Jumping on the Sofa

Now you have two commands, “Sofa”, and “Floor” that your dog knows earn him a treat. The clever thing is once an action has a command, the dog often doesn’t offer that action unless it’s commanded. So all you do is neglect to give the “Sofa” command, but repeatedly use “Floor” and reward, to have him stay with four-paws-on-the-floor.

What’s even more helpful to prevent the dog jumping on the couch is to train him to be busy doing something else that’s not compatible with being on a sofa. For example, you might train him to sit on a special extra-comfy floor cushion in order to get a reward. Since he can’t be in two places at once he’s going to be too busy earning a treat sitting on the cushion to get on the sofa.

Oh, and it pays to be sneaky about getting the dog off the sofa. A great trick to teach him is “targeting”, which involves the dog learning to touch a target with his nose. Trainers tend to either use a stick with a ball on the end, or more simply their fist. You then simply move the target away from the dog reclining on the couch to the floor and have the dog follow.

How to Stop a Dog Jumping on the Sofa

To teach targeting, use your clicker to capture the moment when the dog looks towards your fist. (Hint: You can encourage him to do this by making your hand smell scrummy by rubbing it with a treat.) Each time he looks at the hand, click and treat. Then click when he comes close to the fist, and stop clicking when he only looks. Gradually he will learn that touching the fist is what’s required.

So there we have it. Stop that sofa surfing and keep your dog off the couch by targeting, or teaching a behavior that’s not compatible with being on the furniture. No stress.


Pippa Elliott

Pippa Elliott, BVMS MRCVS, is a veterinarian with 27-years' experience in companion animal practice. Pippa's first job was in a practice by the sea, where she acquired her first (of many) waif-and-stray, a Dockyard Cat Rescue kitten, called Skate. She then worked for the PDSA (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals) which is a national charity that provides veterinary care for the animals of owners with limited finance. Currently Pippa works in a Veterinary Clinic in UK.