Once they’ve exhausted themselves digging and stress-bathing, why do they seem to always scramble over to your spot on the couch as you as you get up? Dog science has two theories—one of which is charming, and another one that’s less encouraging.
The cute explanation: The resting place of their human companion represents safety and security to a dog, who still operates on a pack mentality drilled into it from their ancestors. By plopping themselves into a cushion you recently occupied—which probably has your scent—the dog feels like all is well in the world.
They may also want to “protect” your area from invaders, like houseguests. It’s a potent demonstration of the bond pets can have with their caregivers and a strong sign of affection.
In more anxious dogs, it might also be a form of separation anxiety. Your dog enjoys hanging out with you, and when you’re gone, it feels secure in a space you just occupied.
The less aww-inspiring notion: Some dogs may like to sit in your spot to assert dominance. This is especially true if other dogs are in the house. That sofa spot is a canine throne, and they’ve anointed themselves to the top of the hierarchy.
How can you tell the difference? Dogs that just want to feel close to their owners will probably scoot back over when you return. Territorial dogs might defend their couch position, growling or biting if you attempt to wrest control of your seat.
Though the behavior can happen with any dog, it may be more prevalent in dogs that are new to the household or that have a history of being abused or neglected.
If the behavior is to express alpha status, you don’t want to let it go on for too long. What starts out as something cute could become a recurring problem. Professional dog trainers can assist, and so can training using a reward system of treats. Call your dog off the chair and, if they obey, pass them a snack. If your dog is a seat hog, assess their motivation and, if needed, assert your authority. Eventually, they’ll stop defending their seat and go back to licking glass.