A jumping dog. It’s so annoying. I expect to be greeted with a few jumps when I am called to a training job, but when I go to a friend’s house all dressed up for our evening out, I really am not happy to be mauled by an exuberant pup. I don’t want to go into work mode and pull out my training persona; I just want to enjoy my evening off. Nothing like walking out of the house with a few holes and slobber marks on my shirt and a few scratches on my arm before we leave for the movies.
I am sure I am not alone in feeling this way. After all, if even the dog trainer gets annoyed by this unwanted behavior, we have a problem. I believe the term in Texas is, “Houston, we have a problem!”
Why do dogs jump? Following are a few of the many reasons:
In the dog world, jumping is polite. Believe it or not, this is a normal dog behavior even though it’s an annoying one for humans. Nonetheless, even though it’s normal, it’s not desirable to most humans.
It’s out of excitement. If you spend a day with my kids, Titus and Anthony, you will see when they get excited about something, they jump up and down. Yes, even sometimes on me. Just as children get excited and jump, so do dogs. They are, quite simply, happy to see and be with you!
This state of excitement can cross over into lack of impulse control. A dog can sometimes get so elevated that he can’t bring himself back down to a state of relaxation. This elevated state is what trainers refer to as “arousal.” At this point, he’s not able to think through his excitability, and this is when the untrained owner continues to cue, “sit sit sit,” but the dog is more like “jump jump jump.”
It works. Dogs, just like humans, are opportunists. This means if you leave a pizza on the counter when you are gone, he may very well help himself to it. (My kids would too). If he jumps on you and gets any reaction, he got what he wanted–attention. If your mother-in-law is screaming, “Ah! He’s jumping on me!” your dog is having a blast because he has hit the jackpot with her and got a huge dose of attention—and likely unwanted attention at that.
How you and your guest react makes a difference.
I recently trained for a co-worker. She was having a lot of difficulties with her dog named Bentley jumping on guests. I asked her to video before clip so we could show a clip after I worked with him. She said if you can change my dog she would be impressed. I sarcastically thanked her for the confidence she had in me. I walked in to her house and Bentley hardly jumped on me. She said, “He never does this.” I knew that would happen because I understand dogs and how they communicate.
I once heard someone say that dog’s view our hands as paws. I don’t know for a matter of fact if this is true, but it sure seems to be somewhat true in that if we use our hands to push a dog down, it has the opposite effect. The result is he jumps more and now perceives this as a fun, new game.
Instead of using my hands, I will cross my arms and use my elbows and my whole body to back a dog up from jumping on me.
The high pitch voice that we ladies tend to give when we see something cute like a puppy or baby is not helpful in promoting a calm response from any dog; it only creates excitement. I promise you. When you are walking into the home, you should either not communicate at all with the dog, or, if you do, you should do so in a low-toned voice.
To discourage jumping, stand straight up with your head slightly to the side of where the dog is located. Do not give him eye contact. When I first started training, I would give a dog my back, but not as much anymore. I have realized that simply not making eye contact is enough to discourage unwanted behavior. I don’t acknowledge him until he settles and shows me a behavior that I like such as sitting. Then I give him attention.
Manage. What strategies should you use?
If you are a parent, you know that you must toddler-proof your house. Baby gates, outlet covers, latches on cabinets that contain dangerous materials are all a very important part of keeping your child safe. However, it seems that this common sense doesn’t cross over to our pets. What?? We can manage?? What? Make my life a little easier? Yes, honey, we can make your life easier.
When guests come over, leash your dog. Step on the leash so there is only enough length for him to either stand or sit. Reward the “sit” behavior that you like with treats or praise.
X-pen or kennel.
Being around the guests should happen in small increments of time for dogs that have little impulse control. If your dog is one that settles after the guests initially enter, then leashing as a way of management will work just fine. If your dog tends to stay worked up, short visits to an x-pen or kennel throughout the guest’s visit will be helpful. Please be sure to work on kennel skills before your guests arrive. You want him to be relaxed. I often give my dogs a bully stick or a frozen stuffed Kong when they are spending time in kennel.
Training Exercise: Seems simple, but this will help.
“Sit” is your friend. We tell our dog “no,” “get down,” and “stop,” but do we teach him EXACTLY what we want him to do? It’s about time we do. Let’s be fair and let’s be clear. It’s important for a solid two weeks that you really reinforce the behavior of sit. Think of treats as money going into the bank account of behavior right now.
Formal sessions: Take a handful of treats. Stand and wait for a sit, and as soon as your dog sits, treat (throw treat to floor). I want the dog looking at the floor for treats, not your hands.
I am not cueing my dog to “sit” during these training sessions. In other words, I am not telling him anything. I don’t want to constantly have to tell my dog to put his bottom on the floor with my words. I want to establish this as a common behavior for him to offer when he sees people. Dogs’ train of thought (as if we could know, but go along with the dog trainer’s analogy here), ”Oh look! Human! I need to sit.” I think sometimes we over-cue our dogs by constantly telling them what to do when sometimes they are able to have the expectation of what to do without being told. This should be the case with not jumping.
Everyday life: Reinforce your dog for a sit (or down) with praise or food as you are going about everyday life. Bottom line, when you turn around and see your dog in a sit or down, smile and acknowledge, “Wow! I really like it when you sit.” Remember use your lower-toned “good voice.”
Dogs Don’t Generalize Easily.
What’s this mean? It means, work in the location that is most problematic because what you teach is location specific. For the first two weeks of training, I would suggest working in the doorway where guests enter your home, and after the initial two weeks, start training in different places in the home. In addition to locations, be sure to work on this skill from different positions, like with you standing, sitting in chair, or sitting on floor.
Beware: You do not want to create a pattern of bad behavior. For example, if he jumps up and then sits, ignore him for 30 seconds and then restart training. We do not want to create and reward a pattern of jump/sit.
Work 5 minutes a day doing these simple training exercises, and you will start seeing a difference in your dog’s greeting manners. Soon, at least your guests will enter and leave your home with fewer holes in their clothing, less slobber on them, and fewer scratches on their arms. Happy Training!
Blog written by Michelle Huntting.