Jumping on people – so common, so annoying. And such a normal and natural dog behavior. Let’s break this behavior down and then figure out what to do to stop it.
Dogs jump for various reasons. Here are a few of the most common:
- Solicitation of attention
- To investigate something the human might be holding
Notice that I did not list “dominance” as a reason. Dominance in dogs is a tricky concept, and one that is often misunderstood. Dominance is not a typical or normal cause of jumping. In fact, I’ll discuss in a later blog why dominance in dogs is not even an issue that the typical dog parent need worry about. For now, just put the concept out of your head.
There is one across-the-board cause, no matter what the internal reasoning, that dogs jump: they get something out of it. There is some sort of reinforcement (desirable outcome) that the dog is obtaining by jumping. When you remove the reinforcement, you stop the jumping. The trick is to figure out how to remove the reinforcement, and that isn’t always a simple task.
What is the reinforcement the dog might be receiving? Most often it is some sort of attention from the human that is getting jumped on. The typical advice given to fix this behavior is “turn your back on the dog”. However, many people find this effort on their part doesn’t work. The reason is that for some dogs, they are actually being invited to further engage by a turned back – a person is less invasive or intimidating in the dog’s environment by facing away from the dog. Another reason is that the dog can still be greatly reinforced by the opportunity to touch or sniff the person who is turned away. The dog keeps jumping because even though the person is turned away, they are still receiving some form of reinforcement. This is the main reason why turning your back on a jumping dog is not my first line of defense in addressing this issue.
NOTE – when there is no other option, turning your side to the dog, and offering ZERO attention is better than standing facing the dog and certainly better than offering any kind of attention be it happy greeting or stern NO!
The first thing you must do is remove the reinforcement for jumping – that is, the dog must not receive attention, praise, treats, the opportunity to touch or sniff. To do this, the dog should be leashed, crated or behind a baby gate when you first begin working on this issue. The leash, crate and baby gate are what is called MANAGEMENT. These things don’t teach the dog anything, but they each prevent the dog from performing an undesired behavior.
The next step is to start reinforcing the dog for doing a behavior that is incompatible with jumping. To speed up the process, initially use clicker and treats to teach the dog, but eventually just the opportunity to greet a person, receive nice attention, or investigate an object will be reinforcement enough for performing a behavior other than jumping.
Here are the three behaviors I like teaching dogs as alternatives to jumping:
- Four-on-the-Floor (keeping their paws on the ground, i.e. not jumping up)
- Sit for greeting
- Nose touch an outstretched hand
I’ll walk through the process of teaching each behavior (if you are new to the concept of clicker training, please read my blog HERE about using this method):
Four-on-the-Floor: For a lot of dogs, especially young puppies or dogs who are excitable and may initially have a problem controlling themselves long enough to sit, this is a great starting point to teaching a nicer greeting. With your dog on a leash to prevent him from running up to the person, begin rapid fire click and treating and toss the treat on the floor. As long as the dog has feet on the floor and not jumping up, click and treat. The person the dog is attempting to greet should stay still and quiet, and ignore the dog. As your dog calms and is focused on the floor rather than jumping on the person, let the person touch the dog briefly on the head or back, click and treat that so long as the dog doesn’t jump. Gradually increase the attention such as prolonged petting or talking to the dog. If at any time the dog gets too excited or tries to jump, you or the greeter should turn and walk away. It’s really important that your dog doesn’t make contact with the person through jumping.
Sit For Greeting:(Your dog should know sit and have had reinforcement for sitting for things before you attempt this.) nce your dog has continued success with Four-On-The-Floor (i.e. you have success 8 out of 10 greetings in various locations with NO jumping), begin to ask for a sit before your dog gets a click/treat. Ideally, your dog should sit on his own – in other words, sitting should be the way your dog ASKS to be greeted. With your greeter-helper in the vicinity and your dog on leash, have the greeter move towards your dog, quietly and with no eye contact. Wait to see what your dog does. If at any time he tries to jump, have your greeter move away, back turned and out of reach. Wait about 30 seconds, then have the greeter return. You are going to wait and see if at any time your dog offers a sit. If your dog does sit, click/treat. Practice this many times, with the greeter approaching, and you click and treating your dog for sitting. When the dog is offering an automatic sit at the approach of the person, begin withholding the click/treat until after the person greets your dog. Initially, keep greetings very calm and low key. Example: dog sits, greeter offers hand to sniff, as long as the dog doesn’t jump, click and treat. As in the Four-on-the-Floor exercise, you will gradually increase the intensity of the greeting. NOTE: some dogs are just besides themselves with happiness as the arrival of a new person to say hello to. For such dogs, always keep greetings low key until the dog begins to desensitize to the visit, then the greeter can interact more enthusiastically.
Nose Touch an Outstretched Hand: You can teach your dog to “shake hands” by greeting with a nose touch to an offered hand in addition to keeping all feet on the floor or as an extension of the sit for greeting. The goal is to have your dog wait to interact until the greeter says “hello” by offering a hand. This is a handy behavior to teach dogs that have an especially hard time greeting properly (i.e. not jumping) and are desperate to make some kind of physical contact. Have your greeter approach your dog who is going to either be standing or sitting. The greeter should offer an outstretched hand, palm facing the dog, for a sniff. If the dog sniffs and doesn’t jump, click and treat. This outstretched hand becomes a target for your dog to zero in on when greeting people as opposed to targeting a whole body to jump on. When your dog has come to expect an outstretch hand from a greeter, and eagerly offers the behavior when a hand is outstretched, you can name the behavior. I use “say hello”.
- While you are teaching appropriate greetings, you must 100% of the time prevent the dog from having the opportunity to jump on someone. Every time they are given the opportunity to jump, you are setting your training back.
- Use a leash, a crate, or a baby gate to prevent jumping. If you expect people at the door, use one of these tools to manage your dog and prevent jumping.
- Practice the above 3 exercises regularly, with various people, in various settings.
- A handy way to help your dog learn appropriate greetings especially in the home is to have the dog behind a baby gate. This is an easy way to click/treat feet on the floor or a sit, and a way to remove attention with no chance of contact if the dog attempts to jump. You can practice this with just yourself for instance if your dog jumps all over you when you walk in the front door. With the dog gated away from the door, you can come in and practice greetings with the dog behind the gate.