You can hear it now. "I'm the king of the castle! And you're a dirty rascal!" Yep, that's the song that Fido gloriously sings as he races to the top of the hill, and you huff and puff on a tear after him. It certainly would seem that if there is a spot to climb or a high up vantage point from which to view the world, that's where Fido wants to be. Is there a reason why he likes to be at the "top of the world?" Canine behavior is most often marked by logic and good sense, so it is highly probable that there is a solid reason for this common action we see in our dogs. If our dogs like to seek higher ground, there is some sort of pay off for them. But just what is it? Through pointed observation of our dogs both at play and at rest, we can gain some vital insights into the motivations behind this behavior. Though at times their actions are confusing to us, seeking the high ground makes perfect sense to our dogs.
The Root of the Behavior
If you've spent any time "dog watching," you've likely come to the conclusion that dogs like to see things from the "upper deck." Whether it's climbing on the back of your couch to catch a glimpse of the mailman's hasty retreat or peering over your shoulder from a bar stool while you eat a snack, your dog has figured out that he gets more information when he attempts to view the world from a higher position. But is there more to it than this? There is no doubt that your position makes a difference in life. Whether you are seated or standing, you have a different perspective from which to view your surroundings. This is true for our dogs as well. Life looks a whole lot different when you're not on the floor. By nature, dogs are curious creatures. They want to know what is going on in the world around them, and they want to be a part of it all. Since most dogs are too short to be able to see out windows or doors, they have to take advantage of opportunities to artificially increase their height. They do this by climbing on anything and everything that will provide a better view for them. After all, you miss a lot when the only vantage point you've got to survey your environment is the ground!
Another reason dogs favor "high places" is to avoid situations they would rather not have to deal with. Got a puppy in the house that just won't leave your adult dog alone? Elevated places offer protection for dogs that really would rather be left alone as opposed to losing their tempers with an overeager youngster. This is part of why it is critical to always provide a way of escape for your dog. Whether your dog is trying to avoid an overzealous child, an annoying puppy, or even you, allowing your dog a high place to flee to alleviates any stress he may be feeling. Dogs who have no way out of situations that are difficult for them begin to feel trapped and may react accordingly. Sometimes, dogs choose high places because they are closer to where we are. To our dogs, time spent with us is the most valuable commodity in their lives. If you're up on the couch, that's where Fido wants to be too. Some people mistakenly label this as dominance, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Encouraging the Behavior
While resource guarding an owner can be a problem for some dogs, it is not typical on the whole. Dogs are very intelligent beings. They know and understand that he who holds the resources, controls the game. Fido is acutely aware that you are the keeper of the food, the toys, the treats...of everything that is wonderful in his life. He's not interested in the least in usurping your authority. Everything that is good in Fido's life comes from you, and he knows it. And the most important of all of these things to Fido is your time, attention, and love. With these things in mind, we can easily see that there is no power struggle between you and your dog. Your dog wants to be close to you. If he can be close enough to physically touch you, all the better for him. If your dog is trying to climb on the couch, a chair, or even your bed, it is most likely that he is seeking to be near to the most precious thing in his life, you!
As with most dog behaviors, there may also be an instinctual component at play. Viewpoint was critical for dogs in the wild. Since a large portion of their energies was spent ensuring that they did not become a predator's next meal, it was important to have a location from which they could safely view their surroundings and any potential dangers that may be headed their way. Ideally, that vantage point would be situated on higher ground as it allowed the dog to view far further than he could from level or flat ground. It is highly likely that wild dogs sought elevated positions on which to sit or stand as a vital component of their survival strategy. The behavior itself may be deeply rooted in the dog's need for safety and security. The wild dog who lets down his guard could put the entire pack at risk. No dog was prepared to do that. Even though today's modern dogs have no need to fear predators in their homes or beds, the instinct to seek higher ground to prepare against the subterfuge of an unseen enemy is very much still alive in them.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Dogs will sometimes choose higher positions to gain access to a resource that is valuable to them. If you have a ham sitting precariously on your countertop, that is sufficient motivation for Fido to try to figure out a way to get up there. The ham is the motivator of his innovation! To reduce these types of problems, keep high reward items or things that are tempting to Fido put away or under lock and key. Do not set him up to fail by leaving out his favorite things where he COULD access them if only he could figure out some ingenious plot to get to them! If your dog's penchant for climbing on high things troubles you, there are things that you can do to eliminate the behavior. If Fido is continually scaling your couch to view the goings-on in your neighborhood, moving your couch to a location in your home that affords him a less desirable view may be sufficient to completely deter the behavior. Dogs are opportunists. If a behavior no longer yields the desired response, they will soon cease to offer it any further.
Teaching your dog a solid "off" command is also a wonderful tool that all owners should have in their dog training "toolbox." To teach this behavior, you will need a clicker and delicious, high value treats. When your dog climbs up on something that you would rather he not be on, simply use the treat to lure him to the ground while repeating the command "Off!" When your dog has obeyed your command, reward him richly with a click, lavish praise, and a treat. You will need to repeat this particular exercise multiple times before it becomes an ingrained part of your dog's trick repertoire, but dogs respond well to positive reinforcement, and you will find that your dog soon enthusiastically responds to your command as soon as he is asked to do so.
There is no doubt that our dogs like the "high life." If Fido's favorite elevated position is creating problems in your home, follow the simple tips in this article to help him find a more suitable resting place. By understanding your dog's needs, you can help him channel them in a more appropriate fashion. Work together with your dog to help him fulfil his curious nature, and he will thank you for it!
By a Parson Russel Terrier lover Jason Homan
Published: 03/23/2018, edited: 01/30/2020