How to Train Dogs to Stop Jumping on People
I 'm just trying to say hello!
Why do Dogs Jump? The Making of a Jumping Dog
This is probably my third hub on dog jumping but the topic never gets boring. This is one of the most common problems clients desperately ask help about and it is one of the most difficult to eradicate because it requires the collaboration of everybody. But why do dogs jump in the first place? What triggers those jumping bouts dog owners complain so much about?
Several years ago, dogs were accused of misbehaving because they were "dominant beings, attempting to rule our homes". If the dog pulled on the leash, by default he was dominant, if the dog stole a sandwich on the counter, he was the "alpha dog", if the dog jumped, he was "attempting to gain high status". Thankfully, a better understanding of dogs nowadays, has reduced this tendency to label dogs as such all the time. In reality, dogs are simply opportunists that will engage in unwanted behaviors simply because they are reinforcing. The dog, therefore, pulls because he can, the dog steals the sandwich because it is rewarding and the dog jumps on people because very likely he gets attention this way.
Jumping on people is often part of a dog's greeting ritual. Such enthusiastic greetings are often displayed towards the owners, friends and even complete strangers met on the street. Because people are taller than dogs, dog feel compelled to jump up. This is a natural behavior, indeed when dogs meet they often sniff each other faces and even lick as part of their friendly greeting ritual. The behavior of jumping typically starts in early puppy hood, when the puppy engaged in jumping up to say hello and get closer to the people he liked. Most likely, the puppy was rewarded for this behavior by being talked to in a happy, enthusiastic tone of voice or by being pat behind the ears.
As days, weeks, months pass by, the behavior of jumping puts roots because it was practiced over and over, so the puppy learns that jumping is the 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 there is a problem. At this point, the owner decides it is time to correct the behavior. The poor dog has no clue why he is being corrected now, and it is ultimately not his fault if he only got bigger and heavier!
There are better ways than this!
Watch for behaviors that encourage jumping!
What not To Do to Stop Dog Jumping
There are many ways dog owners unknowingly encourage jumping or try to knowingly discourage the jumping and some of these methods are downright wrong while others may even further encourage jumping behaviors! Let's take a look at some common mistakes dog owners knowingly or unknowingly make when they try to stop their dogs from jumping.
Behaviors that Encourage Jumping
As mentioned, dogs like to jump on their owners as a way of saying hello, especially after not seeing them for some time. Also, we also now also know that dogs are opportunistic beings that engage in behaviors that provide some rewards. So if you are scolding your dog for jumping, why is he still doing that? Let's take a closer look.
- Why Scolding, Pushing and Yelling May Not Work
Chances are high, if Rover ignores your scolding there is a reinforcer at play that you are not aware of. If you have been away from home all day and Rover has been alone, it is normal for him to be super excited once you step in the door. Let's say, however, that you ignore your dog's greeting because you have a zillion of things to do. You need to take a shower, cook a meal and then you dream of laying down on the couch watching your favorite show. While you are walking around, Rover decides to jump on you and bark. "Down!" you scold but within a few seconds there he goes again. What gives?
Truth is, for many dogs, negative attention is better than no attention at all! When you tell your dog "Down" you make eye contact, you talk to your dog or you may even touch him when you push him down. For a dog that has been isolated all day long, with little mental stimulation, being looked at, talked at and being touched are rewarding, even if they are not meant to be that way! In the dog training world, punishment is defined as something that suppresses the animal's behavior. Since the scolding is not working, and the behavior actually intensifies, we are likely not punishing but we are reinforcing! Of course, this does not apply to all dogs, indeed, for a shy, soft dog, scolding may suppress the behavior in the long run, but there are better ways to train a dog not to jump and we will see them in the next paragraphs.
- Allowing Jumping in Some Circumstances
This is a big mistake. There are some dog owners that assume it is acceptable for the dog to jump on neighbors who enjoy greeting the dog in this manner while they discourage the jumping on people the dog does not know well or who show a disinterest in the dog. Or in a similar fashion, some dog owners discourage jumping when they come home, but then reward jumping when they are on the phone and distractedly start petting the dog while it stands up. Dogs need black and white rules while shades of grey confuse them.
A dog cannot be taught to discriminate who can be jumped on from who cannot, and allowing inconsistent rules sets dogs up for failure because it puts the behavior on a variable schedule. A variable schedule takes place when you reward your dog at certain times while you ignore in others. This is a great way to maintain a behavior and prevent it from extinguishing. It is similar to the addiction of playing the lottery, where you feel more like playing if you win random rewards. In the same way, women get stuck in abusive relationships; one day they are treated well, while the next they are not, but the days they are treated well keeps them motivated to continue the relationship.
- Moving Away
It is often an innate behavior to move away when a dog jumps but often this triggers a subsequent jump because dogs are attracted by movement. The same applies with petting a dog that tries to playfully nip the hand; the quick withdrawal of the hand will attract the dog more than simply going limp and becoming boring. Therefore, suddenly moving away backwards from a jumping dog will often trigger more jumping. If you carefully observe dogs playing, indeed you will likely notice that the dog that suddenly moves away is often more likely to be chased, because it is seen as an invitation for action. When teaching recall exercises, indeed, often it helps to walk away backwards to attract the dog to follow! This also explains why kids are often jumped on as well; their fast withdrawal movements attract dogs to action. Will we see next what to do exactly when a dog jumps to block this behavior and become boring rather than calling to action.
Behaviors that are Downright Wrong
There are then many behaviors that dog owners carry out in their desperate efforts to stop a dog from jumping. Some of these are downright wrong and may hurt the dog physically and potentially ruin that delicate level of trust that is required to help the dog/owner relationship to bloom. Following are some behaviors I still hear about that are encouraged to stop dogs from jumping that make me cringe when I read them!
- Kick your dog every time he jumps.
- Step on his hind feet while he is jumping..
- Squeeze his front paw until he yelps.
- Pinch the dog every time he is jumping.
- Knee him in the chest.
- Spray your dog in the face with a water and vinegar or water and lemon juice concoction.
- Blow an air horn in his ears
- Swat him in the nose with a rolled up newspaper
- Hang him by his collar
- Flip him over backwards
The above corrections are downright wrong and many step into the abuse boundary line! What will your puppy or dog learn from the above behaviors? To fear you and not come close to you! Remember that the behavior of jumping up is well-meant and simply a way to say hello and be friendly. If your dog is happy to see you and has a history of being reinforced for jumping up for a long time, correcting him using the above methods is the same as punching a person in the face because he simply wants to shake hands with you!
Sitting Can be Rewarding!
What to Do to Stop Dog Jumping
So we know now that jumping dogs are just trying to say hello, they are opportunistic beings and they they may prefer to scolded than given no attention at all. We also know that hitting, kicking, pinching are the best way to make your dog fearful of you and are downright wrong. So what should be done then? There seems to not be much left to do! Actually, there is a lot you can do if you follow these rules to a T.
Behaviors that Reduce Jumping
So if Rover was alone and bored all day, it is normal for him to enjoy a bit of negative attention (scolding, pushing) and of course, we all know he enjoys positive attention (petting, making eye contact, talking to him), so there appears to be little space for improving the situation. If you cannot get mad and you cannot touch, look, or talk to your dog, there is not much left to do, so what do you do? Simple, NOTHING!
- Ignore the Behavior
Your first step, therefore, is to completely ignore your dog when he is all excited and jumping. You come home and act aloof as best as you can. He jumps on you? No big deal, you turn your back away and then go on with your errands. This is called in dog training lingo, negative punishment. Punishment in dog training terms has nothing to do with aversion-based corrections; it simply refers to unwanted behaviors reducing and possibly extinguishing over time. In this case, we are removing something the dog likes (attention) for the purpose of suppressing the unwanted behavior. This means to no looking at the dog, no talking at the dog, no touching the dog.
The only thing you can do is turn your back to your dog the moment he jumps on you. This way you are removing yourself and giving your dog the most boring part of yourself. If you dog still jumps on your back, it may be even worth it to briefly leave the room until the dog calms down.
- Persistence is the Key!
Remember how it was mentioned earlier how Rover decided to jump after the owner ignored him coming home? This is a behavior you must expect and in dog training lingo it is called an "extinction burst". In other words, if Rover was used to jumping on you and getting attention (either positive or negative) he may feel more compelled to jump even more on you because his jumping behavior is not working! For example, imagine you get into your office each day effortlessly by opening the door. Then, this one day the door does not open, what do you do? Very likely you will push, force it, and try harder to make it open. The same thing applies to your dog. He is most likely thinking "hey owner, what is going on? Usually, I jump on you and you pet me or you get mad at me! I will try harder and jump some more!
Stay as firm as you can on the training program and you will see results. The jumping behavior should start fading. However, if you combine ignoring the jumping dog with giving your dog an alternate behavior you will maximize your results, here is how!
- Give an Alternate Behavior
So, if your dog learns that jumping yields no results, wouldn't it also be also great to teach an alternate behavior that yields results? The power of positive reinforcement will be your best friend. It is scientifically proven that behaviors that are rewarded are likely to be repeated over time. Edward Thorndike's Law of Effect claims "“responses that produce a satisfying effect in a particular situation become more likely to occur again". So if jumping is ignored, then why not reward the dog for a default behavior such as sitting? This offers a win-win situation for all! Just be careful though not to fall into the dog behavior chain trap!
- Invest in a Negative Marker
Negative markers are simply a way of telling a dog "you did wrong, try again". Many dog owners find them helpful and are a good alternative to the overused, ubiquitous "no". A common negative marker is "ah,ah!" or "try again". In order to work, dogs must know that a negative marker is telling the dog that no reward is coming and to try an another behavior to earn it. It can be a successful way to remind your dog "jumping is undesirable, but sit instead and you will get a reward!
- Involve Everybody
Your behavior modification program cannot be effective if you do not involve the participation of all people. Have guests turn their backs to your jumping dog and ask for a sit instead. Once, sitting nicely, they can then go ahead and pet the dog. This helps discourage jumping and also rewards the dog for demonstrating good manners and self control. This part if often the most difficult, because you really must put some effort in involving everybody.
It is helpful to organize sessions with other people or join a training center that focuses on teaching good manners. Set up sessions with friends, family and other dog owners, where they approach your dog and turn around if the dog jumps and reward your dog with a treat by sitting nicely. Because dogs do not generalize well, it helps to have as many people do so and in different scenarios and places. The more you work on this, the more your puppy or dog will learn the rules of good manners.
When pets sit they are more likely to behave!
Play the Chill Out Game
Ian Dunbar offer the Jazz Up and Settle Down program, whereas respected trainer Dee Ganley, offers her version called the " Chill Out Game". This is a great game I encourage owners of hyper dogs to train because it reinforces the sit command and rewards self control. It provides dog owners with an on and off switch for arousal levels, You can read about this fun game to play here:
Benefits of Training Your Dog not to Jump
There are many benefits derived from training your dog not to jump. Following are some to keep in mind:
- When your dog stops jumping you can take him along with you in more and more places without worrying about his behavior.
- When your dog stops jumping you are less likely to get into a lawsuit for Rover ruining somebody's suit, scratching or hurting a child.
- When your dog stops jumping people are less likely to be scared of your dog and your dog becomes a good and polite member of society.
- When your dog stops jumping he is under better control and you set him up for success.
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