In this part of our blog series, Dogs will be Dogs, we will discuss the problem of jumping on people.
Like most problem behaviors, jumping is a very common and acceptable behavior for dogs—it’s a way to greet someone they like, so in a lot of ways, it’s a great compliment. However, it’s not what most people want, and while it may be cute when the dog is smaller or a puppy, larger dogs and older dogs can be seen as a nuisance and, at worst, injure people by jumping on them.
We do not advocate for allowing the dog to jump, and then punish the behavior. At best it may stop the behavior in the moment, but it’s still allowing the dog practice at jumping. Jumping can be very self-reinforcing to the dog so allowing it to continue is still helping the dog learn how to get better at doing it. At worst it will damage your relationship with your dog; they may start to view you as a scary person, or feel the need to fight back. Punishment has the potential for some very devastating fallout, so we opt for other approaches to cut off the behavior and teach the dog what we want, instead. It’s more productive and safer for all involved!
Arranging your antecdent
As discussed in our introduction to this blog series, antecedent arrangement–what happens before a behavior occurs–can make for less stressful, and more efficient and effective training. It is proactive rather than reactive!
If you’re expecting house guests and you know your dog loves to jump on them as soon as they come in, putting your dog in a crate or Xpen, behind a gate, or even in another room or the backyard, can cut off this behavior from happening. You could also put him on his harness and a leash and have him tethered to a sturdy piece of furniture, or to a leash hitch attached to the wall, or if you have others in your home who can hold the other end of the leash, he will be able to be managed while they arrive. Remember to make ample space, whatever management technique you use.
In other environments, having your dog on a harness and leash at all times, and ensuring there is enough space between them and the person to not gain access to jump, is key. A portable crate, Xpen or other tethers can also be used. The goal is to ensure the dog is unable to get to and jump on the human, but we also want to make sure whatever we are using that is safe for the dog, and doesn’t create anxiety. If your dog is not properly crate trained you shouldn’t use a crate but perhaps tether instead. We also do not want to leave a tethered dog unattended as they can get tangled and possibly injured. Whatever management technique you use, make sure it is safe and that you’ve considered all the possibilities.
Teaching an alternate behavior
Now that you’ve addressed how to stop the jumping from occurring, it’s important to have a plan to teach what you want your dog to do instead. For a lot of people, sitting for greetings is a goal. If your dog is managed well, you can reinforce a sit as the dog is able to sit. However, some dogs find it difficult to have the self-control to sit, even if you ask for it. It may be because the visitor is too close and he REALLY loves your aunt because she always bring him a special gift!
It’s always important to consider what the dog is able to do and how to teach him by starting where is able to be successful. For this special aunt, I may be treating him for standing as she comes in, starting the instant he notices her, and I may use a higher-value food reward because she is so exciting and I have to have the right motivation for my dog. By lowering my criteria—rewarding for the standing as soon as he notices her arrival—I am meeting him where he can be successful, and making it very rewarding to be standing rather than jumping in this moment, with a very potent food reward.
Over time, I will be able to get a sit. If I have done a great job of reinforcing him, over time he will be able to offer behavior more consistently, and relax more to offer a sit. That sit may mean aunt comes over more quickly to say hi! Standing/sitting are both alternatives that can mean attention from the aunt. If he is too excited and jumping, the aunt takes steps away, or possibly leaves. Being consistent with the consequences will mean he will learn faster and be overall less frustrated.
A harder part of this equation is instructing guests to COMPLETELY IGNORE the dog and not approach him so that he understands that jumping or trying to get at the guests doesn’t result in getting to greet them. Some people will accept being jumped on by puppies or adult dogs but it can work against your training as it won’t provide consistency for your dog to understand that jumping isn’t the way to interact with humans. Start with coachable humans and plan carefully. The human should know they can approach if the dog is standing or sitting, but should stop or even move away if the dog starts to jump.
Being patient and consistent will mean more success for you both. It’s important to repeat this process with different kinds of people who come to visit so that you can help your dog learn that ALL humans prefer standing or sitting, and do not like jumping.
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Owner, Delightful Doggies