Down Spot! Down Princess! Down Rover! Down Peaches! … Down Comet! Down Cupid! Down Donder and Blitzen! I’ve heard that command many times, from many desperate dog owners, directed at many determined dogs. The jumping dog is a universal problem, but a better understanding of what’s motivating the behavior can go a long way toward addressing it.
The Two Reasons Why Dogs Jump Up On People First, and probably most common, is the jumping dog who greets this way. This can simply be from over-excitement – they “jump for joy.” Dog behaviorists also point out that jumping behavior is partly instinctive. Dogs lick each other’s faces when they want to give a super nice greeting, a likely reflection of lower ranking members of a wolf pack licked the faces of the higher ranking wolves returning from the hunt. In addition, puppies in a den jump over one another for their mother’s attention. More specifically, puppies target their mother’s face, as a she typically regurgitates food for her litter, another reflection of the wolf pack.
Also, this behavior can be positively reinforced during greeting times, when a jumping dog is met by an excited owner who immediately praises, feeds, walks and/or plays with their pet after getting “jumped,” so to speak, jumping becomes part of this routine. Even by LOOKING at the dog, the owner is giving it the attention it seeks. Fido is rewarded and reinforced.
A second reason for jumping, which is less commonly the case, is that they may be trying to establish dominance. Dogs jump up on each other through what’s known as “teeing off.” In particular, they rest their head or paw (or both paws) on the shoulder of a dog they want to dominate and exert a bit of downward pressure. Because we walk on two legs, we’re more difficult to tee off on, but the motivation is the same. The dog may be trying to express dominant status. In these cases, they often jump up once and more or less lean on you.
Identifying Dominant Behavior It’s important to identify this behavior by seeing it in the broader context of your relationship. First, realize that a disobedient dog isn’t necessarily a dumb one. If they don’t listen to you and push and pull you around, they may have decided not to recognize you as their superior in their surrounding hierarchy (while still thinking the world of you as a companion – a dog can love you, yet not respect you!). Whether it’s male or female, a dog that consistently jumps on you may be exhibiting one of many behaviors of the signs of trying to TAKE top dog status.
If you suspect that the jumping is in fact an expression of dominance, then it is likely that your training will need to involve heavier corrections. This just means you might need to do more than simply ignore the dog while jumping and train them to Sit and Settle before getting your attention. For instance, water squirting, sharp “growling,” or even leaving their presence until they are still are all corrections that will short circuit this behavior.
Some dog owners don’t mind when their dog jumps up to greet them – it is a most a dramatic and flattering hello to say the least. And the last thing we want to do is convince our pets that they have no reason to be excited to see us. We don’t want to take the spring out of their step, so to speak.
But when the same dog jumps up on others, such as other family members or friends, it can be awkward and even dangerous. A dog jumping up on strangers is always a bad thing. When I see this, or a dog who is mouthy all I can think of is a toddler or a 100 year old grandmother. If the behavior isn’t appropriate for them, it should never be allowed period. The good news is a well-trained dog can learn to jump up only when “invited” to do so by its owner. This is fine for playtime for instance. But let’s learn the rules before we break them.
Laying Down The Rules During greetings, always try to prevent your dog from jumping up in the first place. Fold your hand (or both hands) onto your chest and hold still. DO NOT look at the dog. A trained dog will be able to respond to this gesture reasonably quickly with repetitions. As with any training technique, do not introduce any verbal commands UNTIL the correct behavior has been demonstrated. Only when your dog gets down on his own accord should you start using the “OFF” command to accompany the behavior. This is how they learn the command, by having the right action to associate it with.
For most, this type of prevention does not work right away, especially for puppies that lack enough formal training. You’ll have to know how to react when your dog starts jumping up. Mostly, this involves knowing what NOT to do. For example, when you have a problem jumper, don’t be over-enthusiastic during your greetings. This obviously reinforces the behavior. It is actually better to totally ignore him. And do not forcefully push the dog away from you. They interpret this as a form of playful engagement. The result: dogs always push back. It’s instinctive. The same principle is the reason for the majority of cases where dogs pull on leashes: they are encouraged by the force exerted on them.
Turn your back and ignore the dog. And calmly ask him to sit. When he has calmed down, and ideally responded to the sit command, then you can turn and greet the dog. If he starts jumping again, repeat the process. Be patient, this is where you get to send a message mainly through your body language, and the dog will surely take several trials to receive it. Often it is recommended that you stick your knee up and put the dog off balance, which is almost a reflex reaction. This becomes a game for the dog. They LIKE it! Turning your back and stonewalling is better if you can manage.
One of the absolute best suggestions I can give is to always greet a calm dog “at its level.” Squat or kneel down, turn sideways from the dog, don’t look at him and just ignore him. He’ll soon enough make his way over to you and you’ll feel a cold nose on your hand. THAT is the time for praise and attention. This is a non-threatening posture that dogs very quickly associate with a greeting and impending praise. We all like when others try to meet us on our level. Dogs are no different in this respect. But make sure they earn it first!
Avoidance is your best bet when introducing new people into your house. When guests arrive, your dog should never be allowed to position himself in front of you when the front door opens. It’s time for you to become the fair yet firm leader, which also means more training for you. It is good practice to give a calm and firm “stay Down” warning in advance just before you open the door for a visitor or let them into the house. Or train the dog to “go to your spot”. Your dog will be responding to your sense of composure and assertiveness, and start to truly believe that there is no real reason to freak out every time the door opens or the doorbell rings.
If you have tried everything to get your dog to stop jumping up on everyone, short of removing its legs, I only have two more words for you…….
PROPER EXERCISE. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, dogs need more exercise than we think they do, and if they have no other outlet for their energy, they will find one, and that may include jumping up and down on people uncontrollably. So keep those legs and lungs pumping.
I am not referring to a walk on leash around the block. That IS NOT exercise for your dog. It may be exercise for us, but it is simply not enough exertion for your dog. All a leash walk is in a dog’s mind is a “sensory excursion” where they can explore their surroundings. Dogs need at least 20 minutes of good solid RUNNING to consider what they are doing as exercise. If they don’t get this, they often become overweight, and develop / display behavior problems. I’d recommend that you could develop a good arm for a game of fetch, or better yet invest in a Chuck It – the hand-held tennis ball launcher.
Scott Cook, a professional K-9 Trainer of 45+ years, has been an avid Canine Enthusiast since childhood and it is worth mentioning that he successfully trained his first dog (a rescue dog with behavioral aggression issues) at the age of 11!
His passion, enthusiasm and love for the dog is evident in his many years of experience as well as his hunger to learn more and it is all this that has made him what he is today! He has had extensive training in the area of canine behavior and training! His studies have included 2 summers in the kennels of the New Skete Monestary, 1 year mentoring with Dr. Ian Dunbar, 1 year mentoring with Ed Frawley, and 2 years association with Michael Ellis!
He is a current Professional Member of the International Association of Canine Professionals and owns and operates his own dog training business with 45+ years of professional Canine Training experience in his kitty! You are in good hands with Scott!
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