Ask Pamela ReidQ: My dog is not allowed on the furniture but the minute I’m not present, she’s up there lounging. How do I stop her if I’m not there to catch her? – Richard, Hull, QC
A: Dear Richard, I’m pleased that you didn’t say: “My dog knows she’s not supposed to be on the furniture but she’s sneaky.” I prefer a less anthropomorphic account-dogs tend to learn exactly what we teach them.
Think about what happens from your dog’s perspective. When you are present, getting up on the furniture spawns few rewards because you shoo her off. But if she tries out the sofa when you aren’t home, she discovers that sans you, she’s able to relax and enjoy herself on your divine divan. In learning theory terms, your presence/absence has become a “contextual cue” indicating to your dog if her behaviour will be rewarded.
In order for your dog to master the lesson you really want her to learn, you have to ensure that she never enjoys the furniture.
One option is to make the furniture inaccessible when you’re not at home. Maybe upend some chairs on the sofa. An alternative tactic is to use a booby trap. A low-tech example is a pyramid of empty soda cans perched precariously on the back of a chair-the dog jumps up and the cans fall down around her. A high-tech version is a commercial product, such as a Sofa SaverTM. This is a pad that contains a shrieking alarm that sounds when it is compressed. You lay it across your couch, your dog jumps up, and the next thing she knows, the couch is screaming.
Before orchestrating something like this, you must be confident that your dog will not be unduly traumatized. And always provide acceptable alternatives, like a soft dog bed. ■
Pamela Reid, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviourist and author of Excel-erated Learning: Explaining (in Plain
English) How Dogs Learn and How Best to Teach Them. She heads the Animal Behavior Center at the ASPCA and lives in New Jersey with Eejit, a Border-Border (Border Collie/Border Terrier cross), Fidget, a shelter mystery, and Grifter, a Border-Border-Border-Jack!