My Dog Rubs Themselves Against the Couch

By Marta SarasĂșa, Psychologist. March 28, 2022
My Dog Rubs Themselves Against the Couch

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Dogs love couches, beds and sofa for the same reason we do. They are comfortable places to rest. If we allow our dog on the furniture, there are few things as cozy as curling up on the couch with a beloved dog. This doesn't explain why some dogs will rub themselves excitedly against the couch, whether on the side or on top of the cushions. Some may do it every once in a while, others will take any opportunity they are given to jump all over the sofa. If we want to stop this behavior, it is essential we understand the cause before any behavioral modification can be carried out.

At AnimalWised, we look at why my dog rubs themselves against the couch. We look at the possible reasons for this behavior and what practical things you can do to help redirect it.

You may also be interested in: How to Keep Cats Off the Back of the Couch

1. To change their scent after bathing

When we see our dog rubbing against the couch, we need to look at the context of this behavior. If you notice they rub themselves after having a bath, it is likely to do with smell. When dogs are washed with shampoos, conditioners and other bathing products, the smell of these products can impregnate their coat.

Dogs have an incredibly acute sense of smell. They use this smell to recognize each other, their guardians and almost any element in their environment. It is important for their security and communication. By using bathing products which change our dog's scent, they can become disorientated and agitated since they feel different.

As a consequence, the dog may seek out certain places to rub themselves against. They do so to both remove the smell of the products and recover their own natural odor. The areas they choose to perform this are not arbitrary. They choose places which either have their own smell, such as the couch or their own bed, or areas with a stronger, more appropriate smell. The latter places include the grass, dirt or against trees.

What to do in this case

This reaction is completely normal in dogs. When you see your dog rubbing against the couch for this reason, it won't do them nay harm. If it is something which bothers you or which negatively affects the furniture, there are some things you can do. Use neutral-odor products which do not create an intense smell after bathing. You can also temporarily block access to the sofa and give them something else with their scent, such as a blanket or dog bed.

Also, if your dog is not too dirty, you may find it helpful to discover ways to clean them without giving a bath.

2. They want to scratch an itch

Dogs scratch themselves using their hind legs or sometimes their teeth. However, there are some areas of their body which are not accessible to either. This can lead to intense feelings of frustration or discomfort. In these cases, they may roll around on the couch to rub the parts of their body which can't otherwise be reached. This is especially the case when you see your dog rub against the side of furniture to alleviate itching on their flanks.

What to do in this case

If your dog rubs against the couch to scratch themselves, all you have to do is take over. When you see them scratching a part of their body, go over to them and give them a scratch in this area. This will not only be pleasurable for your dog, but it will help strengthen your bond as they recognize you are there to help them.

We need to be careful if the dog is rubbing themselves against the couch more than usual. In this case, the problem may not be a regular itch. Look for signs of fleas, ticks or other external parasites which may cause itching. Also, look for dermatitis or signs of skin infections which may be leading to them rubbing against the sofa a lot.

The part of the body a dog rubs on the couch can help us to understand something about their health. Learn more in our article on why dogs rub their butt on the carpet.

3. To release stress and accumulated energy

There is a curious behavior in dogs which known as a frenetic random activity period (FRAP). Essentially, it is a behavioral pattern which consists of the dog running around uncontrollably, adopting a characteristic stooped posture and always following the same pattern of movement.

It is always possible when the dog enters a period of FRAP, they incorporate rubbing themselves against the couch. Similarly, they may include scratching themselves against furniture. This behavior can occur occasionally without problem, especially in younger dogs. It often succeeds a stressful or exciting moment such as after drying them with a hairdryer or introducing them to a new person.

What to do in this case

You may be quite surprised the first time you see your dog enacting a FRAP. You may think they have ‘gone crazy’ and there is something wrong with them. However, in most cases, this behavior is fine and will pass momentarily.

FRAPs can be quite boisterous and the dog may not be as careful with objects in the home. This can be especially destructive or dangerous if they are a large dog. We can move furniture or anything fragile in their path, but it is important not to stop them abruptly. If we were to do so, they could hurt themselves. These bouts of activity usually only last a few seconds, after which the dog will calm down. If your dog does it enough times, it may be an idea to use a throw or some other type of couch cover.

If the dog has prolonged FRAP episodes, their movements are overly intense or they happen with greater regularity, it could be a sign of stress in dogs. If this is the cases, take a look at our video below on how to help a restless dog:

4. They want your attention

One of the main ways dogs learn is through association. This association can be between two events or even a certain behavior and its consequences. For example, if a specific behavior leads to a pleasant and positive result for the animal, the dog is likely to repeat it. On the contrary, if the consequence of a certain behavior is negative, they will likely reduce this behavior.

You may have given your dog special attention when on the couch together. You might have encouraged play, given them affection or simply spent time bonding together. This often happens to those of us who spend on a lot of time on the couch ourselves. For this reason, if a dog gets your attention by rubbing themselves on the couch, they may repeat this behavior when bored or when they want attention.

What to do in this case

It is very common for dog guardians to inadvertently reinforce certain behaviors. If you would like your dog to stop rubbing against the couch and you think they are performing this behavior to get your attention, the best thing you can do is ignore them. If we give them the attention they want when rubbing or jumping on the couch, you are reinforcing this behavior. If we ignore them, little by little the behavior should decrease. We should also redirect their attention to something we find less problematic.

When you start this process of redirecting the dog's behavior, it is important to know it may get worse before it gets better. Since the dog expects to get your attention from this action, they may perform it more if you don't give them the attention they crave. This period of exaggeration should end when they realize it is no longer useful to them. It is important that you have patience and do not reinforce it, no matter how intense it becomes.

When dogs need attention all the time, it usually means something is missing from their care and routine. Take a look at our article on why a dog wants attention all the time to learn more.

My Dog Rubs Themselves Against the Couch - 4. They want your attention

5. For pleasure

Another possible reason why your dog rubs on the couch or rolls over it is simply because they like it. It can give them a pleasant sensation, without the need to feel itchy or uncomfortable in their own body. Dogs often stretch out and romp on a surface that is comfortable for them when they are calm, happy, or resting. Also, by doing this they leave their own scent on the sofa, creating an environment in which they feel safe.

What to do in this case

It is totally understandable that your dog finds it pleasurable to jumo and rub against the sofa if they are given the opportunity. If it is something we do not want them to do, it is best to prevent them from doing so as early as possible. From the time they first enter our home, they need to learn boundaries and what behaviors are unacceptable.

In order to teach our dog to not jump or rub against the couch, we will need to educate them. We do so through teaching basic commands and being consistent with our actions. However, since the dog gets pleasure out of rubbing against the couch, we need to ensure they have other ways in which they can enjoy themselves. This requires toys, exercise, environmental enrichment, providing affection and ensuring, although they can't rub against the couch, they can express their canine selves in other ways.

If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Rubs Themselves Against the Couch, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.

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