Jumping is one of the most common dog behavior problems we address in our classes and private lessons. A dog who jumps up on people is rarely welcome at human social functions. Not only is it considered impolite, but jumping can be scary for people who are not comfortable with dogs. There are many reasons why dogs jump up, and it s helpful to know that this is a normal canine behavior. Dogs who are not actively taught not to jump
will put their paws on people, not because they re bad dogs, but simply because they don t understand that there are other ways to greet people they are meeting. For most dogs, jumping begins early in life. Tiny puppies jump up to lick and sniff at adult dogs faces. Jumping up on other dogs is a normal greeting ritual for puppies, and as the puppies mature they no longer need to jump to sniff noses and breath, and thus naturally stop doing this. Puppies who are well-socialized to adult dogs tend to grow out of this behavior quickly, and no longer jump on other dogs except in play by the time they re 4-6 months old. Of course, puppies don t just jump on other dogs. They also jump on people. Unfortunately, most people then proceed to pet, talk to, or play with the puppy, thus reinforcing the jumping. It s always a good rule not to encourage your puppy to do anything you don t wish him to do as an adult.
If your dog jumps on people in a friendly way to greet them, there are three simple things that you can do to address this. The first thing that you can do to address your dog s jumping is to make sure that it doesn t get rewarded. If you greet your dog happily when he jumps on you while you re wearing jeans but get upset when he does the same thing while you re wearing your dry-clean-only work clothes, that s not fair. Behaviors that are rewarded tend to get repeated, so if you don t want your dog to jump up sometimes make sure that you don t ever encourage him to do so. Sometimes we also unintentionally reward jumping. For many dogs, negative attention is still preferable to no attention at all, and these dogs will frequently learn that jumping up is a great way to earn the attention they seek. In this case, the more you yell at your dog and push him down, the more likely he is to jump up on you, because it s earning him the attention he desires. Once you ve made sure that jumping isn t being rewarded, it s important to prevent your dog from practicing. Remember that practice makes perfect, so the more chances your dog gets to jump on people, the better he s going to get at it.
Preventing your dog from jumping can take several forms. A leash can be one easy way to prevent your dog from jumping on visitors. Hang a spare leash right next to the door so that you can easily leash your dog up before opening the door for visitors. Then simply stand on the leash, allowing your dog enough slack to comfortably sit, stand, or lie down, but not to jump. You could also consider using a baby gate to keep your dog away from visitors until he calms down. If your dog jumps on you, it s helpful to prevent this as well. One easy way to do this is to use some of your dog s daily food or some small training treats to give him something better to do than jumping. When you are about to greet your dog after an absence or when he s very excited and likely to jump, arm yourself with the food or treats before you see your dog. This may mean that you need to keep some food or training treats outside your door or in your pocket. As soon as you enter the area where your dog is kept, toss the food or treats on the ground. Timing is important here you want to have the first thing your dog notices be the fact that you re tossing goodies on the ground, so that you catch him before he even begins jumping. As your dog vacuums up the treats, you can pet him and greet him, thereby reinforcing his four-on-the-floor behavior.
Once your dog is no longer getting rewarded for jumping or getting the chance to practice jumping, you can teach him what you d like him to do instead. This is an important step, because dogs do best if we can tell them what to do rather than just what not to do. Many people teach their dogs to sit before greeting others, and this can be one great option. Active dogs may also do well if they re taught to go fetch a toy or to perform some other behavior that allows them to release some of their excited energy. Next week we ll discuss some of the other, less common reasons why dogs jump on people. In the meantime, please share your training stories, successes, and woes in the comments section below. Several years ago, dogs were accused of misbehaving because they were \”dominant beings, attempting to rule our homes. \” If a dog pulled on the leash, he/she was considered dominant. If the dog stole a sandwich from off of the counter, he/she was considered an \”alpha dog. \” If the dog jumped up, he/she was \”attempting to gain rank. \” Thankfully, a better understanding of dog behavior has reduced the tendency to categorize and label dogs with generalizations. In reality, dogs are simply opportunists and will engage in unwanted behaviors because these behaviors are reinforced.
The dog, therefore, pulls because it can, steals the sandwich because it is rewarding, and jumps up on people because it gets attention. Jumping up on people is often part of a dog\’s greeting ritual. When dogs meet, they often sniff muzzles. This behavior is natural. Such enthusiastic greetings are often displayed towards the owners, friends, and even complete strangers. People are also taller than dogs, which is another reason why dogs may be compelled to jump up. The behavior of jumping typically starts early in puppyhood. A puppy that is engaging with people will jump up to say \”hello\” and get closer to the people they like. The puppy is then rewarded with affection or spoken to in a happy tone of voice. As days, weeks, and months passed by, the jumping happens over and over, so the puppy learns that jumping is an appropriate behavior to engage in when meeting people. Only 80 pounds later, when the dog scratches somebody or leaves paw prints all over a stranger\’s suit, does the owner realize that there is a problem. At this point, the owner decides it is suddenly time to correct the behavior and the poor dog has no clue why (it is not their fault for growing! ).