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The Great Furniture Debate
Where is your dog allowed to go?

People who say that money is the biggest source of conflict in most marriages are clearly unfamiliar with the clashes over whether or not to let the dogs up on the furniture. These epic battles regularly find their way into my private consultations, where I am repeatedly asked who is right—the person who says dogs should stay on the floor or the one who wants them up on the couch and on the bed. I always handle these mediations with the same four basic steps.

1) I take a deep breath to calm myself for the coming storm. 2) I wish for the umpteenth time that I had a business partner specializing in marital counseling. 3) I explain the factors to consider when making this important decision. 4) I open a discussion with my clients about how these factors relate to their particular situation. So, you might ask, what are those factors?

The main one is personal preference. That is, the answer to the dogs-on-the-furniture question is not absolute and cannot be answered definitively by someone outside of the household. Some people are appalled by the idea of fur and potentially muddy paws making contact with their furniture, and others don’t care at all. Just like with politics, religion and money, there are no right answers that apply to everyone, but life is a little easier and a lot less conflicted if the members of a family agree.

The dog’s needs are also a factor. Dogs who are old, get cold easily, or who have really short coats are often less comfortable on a hard floor, so they may be more persistent about being on the furniture, and it may provide a real benefit to them. Of course, a cozy dog bed, soft blankets or even some towels on the floor may accomplish the same thing. I do feel that it is a great kindness to provide dogs, especially dogs like the ones described above, with a soft, cozy place to relax, and that may or may not involve the furniture. Dogs who are fearful may also be helped by being up on the furniture because that lets them be in close physical contact with you when you are lounging on the couch or drifting off to sleep. It’s true that many people who want their dogs up on the furniture are doing it for themselves at least as much as for the dogs, but dogs’ needs are worthy of consideration.

The dog’s behavior is the piece of this puzzle that allows me the best opportunity to make a meaningful contribution. I don’t buy into the old-fashioned arguments about dogs needing to be on the floor because otherwise they will try to dominate their guardians, causing all sort of horrendous social patterns to ensue. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense. However, that does not mean that dogs’ behavior and manners are irrelevant to the questions of whether or not they should be up on the furniture. Dogs who are pushy can benefit from being required to earn the right to be on the furniture. Those who lack impulse control can learn better self-control by following rules such as staying on the floor despite the temptation of the furniture. Resource-guarding dogs who will defend the bed as they do food, bones or toys are not good candidates for furniture privileges. For dogs with no training who will not move over on the bed when asked to do so or won’t get down off the sofa upon request, it may not be worth the hassle of allowing them on the furniture.

Another avenue I like to pursue with any of my clients who are in the middle of a Great Furniture Negotiation is the possibility of a compromise. Sometimes families decide to let dogs onto only some of the furniture—perhaps just one old couch or chair, or maybe a beanbag. Another option is to cover the furniture so the dogs can enjoy it without ruining it. One common compromise is to allow the dogs up on the furniture only if they are invited, and to require them to get off if you tell them to. This can be combined effectively with the use of covers—invite dogs up whenever the covers are on but not when they have been removed.

When there is conflict, one solution is that the dogs are allowed up on the furniture, but the person who wants them up there is responsible for cleaning the furniture often. Some families have decided to let the dogs up on all the furniture except for the favorite chair of the person opposed. That way, there is always a clean place available for the person who objects to having the dogs up on the furniture. There are families who allow some dogs up on the bed or couch, but not others. Usually the dog with access is older, has better manners or sheds less. Some people are uncomfortable having different rules for different dogs and feel that it is unfair, but the couples who have saved their marriage with this strategy feel that it is worth it. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing when it comes to dogs’ access to the furniture, and sometimes a little negotiating leads to a compromise that makes both members of a couple happy.

There is no right answer and though many people ask me what is “normal” when it comes to dogs being up on the furniture, there is no clear answer to that question. What’s considered normal in this regard is a moving target. Years ago, it was far more common to forbid dogs from being on the couch or the bed than it is now. Then again, it wasn’t so very long ago that it was common to prevent dogs from coming inside the house at all. It was a big change when having indoor dogs became normal. Maybe we are on that same path when it comes to our furniture.

What are your rules (if any) about having dogs on the furniture?

 

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.

photo by dailyinvention/Flickr

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