Do you have a dog that jumps on people? Does his unmitigated exuberance at the front door make entry into your home a fearful event for visitors? Let’s talk about how to solve this problem once and for all.
Humans encourage dogs to jump on us by petting them, starting in puppyhood, when they stand on their hind legs to get attention. As the dog gets older and stronger, he may scratch people and knock people down.
When a dog is still a very young puppy, the best way to handle jumping up is never to allow the puppy to even start doing it. Don’t let anyone pet your cute puppy unless all four feet are on the ground. If you teach your puppy that all petting happens when four feet are on the ground, your big dog will not be jumping on people. Instead, the dog will develop sweet ways of greeting people such as laying their head lovingly against your knee.
This training is harder than it sounds because someone is usually rewarding your dog for this behavior. What do you do now? It’s the same principle, as with the puppy, only it will take longer.
Attack this problem on more than one front. Here are the ingredients for training your dog to greet with all feet on the floor:
- Teach your dog to sit, even when excited. When the dog is IN the sit position, give petting, praise, and treats. Do not praise AFTER the dog has gotten up, because that is not the desired behavior. Praise and reward DURING the desired behavior, the sit. This is the crucial training step that most people miss. Teaching the dog not to jump isn’t enough. We have to teach the dog that the petting will come when the dog is doing the right behavior. Put your focus on this moment. You’ll start this training in unexciting situations (i.e. in your house without visitors) and gradually build to more and more exciting situations (i.e. your backyard, then a quiet park) until the dog is totally steady. Then start to incorporate strangers. Teaching a dog to sit in more distracting situations sounds easy, but she has to be able to do it when she is highly excited. So don’t expect it to be all fixed in a week. Sign up for a training class. It’s a great way to increase distractions in a more controlled environment with people who are educated to stop rewarding unwanted behavior.
- Teach your dog that when she comes to you or anyone else her default behavior is to sit and not jump. People should ask her to sit every time she approaches them.
- When you come into the house, come in quietly. Excited greetings when you come in encourage a dog to jump on you.
- When you have guests arrive, keep your dog under leash or other control (i.e. confining her to a separate room) for about 15 minutes until everyone is settled. This is the time of wildest excitement for the dog, and it will be much easier for the dog to muster self-control after this initial period. Eventually, you will want to train this behavior without a leash, too.
- Never let anyone pet or otherwise give your dog attention when she is standing on her hind legs. The best remedy for jumping up is to withhold attention. This is different for every dog. For some dogs you can keep your hands to yourself and turn a hip toward the dog or turn your back on the dog, but for some dogs you may have to actually leave the room (separating yourself from the dog), until your training has progressed to the point of being able to get the dog to “sit” on cue.
- When the dog has been jumping and stops jumping, ask her for a couple of commands before petting to separate the jumping behavior from the reward of petting. Some dogs are so smart they will jump and then sit just to be petted.
- If you are going to do anything to interrupt your dog’s jumping, keep in mind that your goal is a dog that is safe with people. Don’t fall into the trap of trying quick-fix methods, such as whacking her in the chest with your knee. This can cause pain, which could make her fearful of people, or worse, injure her. You want to give her a chance to earn praise for good behavior, not be getting in trouble when all she is trying to do is say hello.
People can be inconsistent about ignoring the undesirable behavior and rewarding good behavior, so you may have to choose with whom your dog interacts. If even one person encourages jumping, she will continue to perform the behavior.
The non-jumping dog’s life will include more petting and love during the holidays and every day because it’s so much easier and more enjoyable to pet a dog that has four feet on the ground.