One of the reasons most often given for surrendering a dog to a shelter is that it jumps on people. Especially, jumps on children and the elderly. Those of us who are “dog people” don’t find jumping on people a problem. We either allow it or not. If not, then we know how to stop the behavior. Unfortunately, not everyone has our experience to solve the problem.
Jumping on people can be aggravating, annoying, frightening, loveable and dangerous. It is no wonder that many dogs end up in shelters because of this behavior. If you are one of those people who feel that jumping up is a way for your dog to express its love for you, I’d advise putting the behavior on command instead of allowing jumping to be spontaneous. First teach the dog not to jump. Then teach it a command that means it’s alright for them to put their paws on you. You might even use the words “dance with me” as the command. We never know what life holds for us. If our dogs ever find themselves in a shelter or in need of a new home, a dog with “four on the floor” will be easier to re-home.
As a pet dog obedience instructor, I often hear my students telling their dogs “OFF.” What exactly does that mean to the dog? To the dog it means get your paws off of me. To the owner it means don’t jump on me. See where the confusion lies. Okay, most dogs learn very quickly to get off. But, the dog has no idea not to jump on you in the first place, only to get off of you. Some people use the word “down” for getting their dog’s paws back on the ground. That word is to confusing if you are also using it for lie down on the ground. There is nothing wrong with using “OFF” if you want their paws off of something – you, furniture, bed, and great-grandma – but it will not stop them from jumping up in the first place. Whatever word you use, make sure it doesn’t have a dual meaning. When I refer to jumping, I am meaning a dog actually putting his feet on you without being invited.
If you are going to stop the dog from jumping on people, what is the dog suppose to do instead? The dog needs to know an alternative behavior. Do you want them to sit when approaching or just to keep all four feet on the ground? Decide which you want and work towards that goal. Starting with “four on the floor” might be the first step. Now, just how are you suppose to accomplish this, especially with a dog that already has an established jumping habit?
Several methods come to mind. Some are instructive and some just aren’t worth the damage they may cause. Many, many years ago, I learned to knee the chest of a jumping dog or to jerk them over backwards – don’t do either anymore. Have heard of grabbing/pinching the dog’s front feet or stepping on their back toes – never tried either. Don’t think I ever would because I question their effectiveness. Such tactics could cause the dog to be hesitant or fearful to approach a person. Besides, I’m just not that coordinated. But, I am coordinated enough to either just stand still or walk into the dog.
One of the most effective ways to stop jumping is simply to reward the behavior you want and ignore the behavior you don’t want. With a puppy this method is a piece of cake. With a confirmed jumper you have to be ready to take some hits. Dress appropriately with a long sleeve shirt or jacket and long pants because you are going to get mauled. When the dog approaches totally ignore it. Of course the dog is going to jump. Depending on its size might seem to be trying to crawl all over you. When you ignore the dog it will sometimes escalate the jumping behavior trying to gain your normal response – some kind of attention. Be ready, because of gravity or sheer exhaustion, at some point the dog will drop all four feet to the floor. That instant, I meant that very instant, praise and have a treat in the dog’s face at his normal head level or slightly below. Praise quietly. Repeat again and again, as often as needed. The dog will quickly get the idea that to get attention he has to have all four feet on the ground. Now you escalate the distraction by moving around a little. Only praise/reward when the dog has his feet off of you. Listen to the dog. If he is not jumping then keep upping the distractions until you can hop, skip, jump all around while praising in a happy voice and the dog is still not putting its feet on you. If the dog starts jumping again you have escalated the distractions too quickly. You do not verbally correct the dog. At this point you are only using your voice to praise the dog when his feet are on the floor. No verbal corrections or commands. Once the dog can handle the ultimate distractions then you can ask him to sit if you like or just accept four feet on the floor.
There are some dogs that think the above method is a hoot. That it’s a really cool game. They don’t seem to get the idea of what you want them to do. One certain Boxer seems to come immediately to mind. For those dogs, I try walking into their space. Be careful not to tip them over or actually step on them — again, dress appropriately during the initial training sessions. Our goal is to reclaim our space not hurt or frighten the dog. When the dog jumps, I will shuffle my feet (or maybe a gentle little stomp – depends on the dog’s reaction), stand up tall, lift my shoulders and advance on them rather quickly only as far as it takes for them to back off. If I’m lucky my shoes will even squeak on the floor. The instant, I mean the instant, the dog has four feet on the ground take a step back (stepping back draws the dog back to you), praise and reward. You have to be careful when doing this because it can frighten a soft dog if you are to bold. If the dog actually spooks then you need to back off on the force of your correction. Take a minute, let the dog relax, play with him and convince him that you are not a two-headed monster. Once the dog is comfortable with you, try again, just make the correction much softer. Adjust the correction to the reaction displayed by the dog. You only want establish your space nothing more. If you find a dog that keeps his feet on you and doesn’t get off you have to continue advancing while making more noise with your feet. You are not using any verbal corrections, just movement and body language followed with verbal praise and reward for taking his feet off your body. There was one very sweet, playful, young adult Boxer in one of my classes that danced around the entire training building with me for what must have been 20 minutes before he finally figured out I wasn’t playing and what I wanted were his feet on the ground. He never took his feet off me the whole time. He just hopped around backwards on his hind legs as I advanced on him. Our second dance only lasted about 10 minutes. Before long he was happily rushing all around me, with his feet on the floor, being told what a smart boy he was. I was exhausted, but he didn’t jump on me any more. Of course as soon as I handed him back over to his owners they were letting him jump all over them. Jumping was one of their major complaints. I could only give them the tools and hope they decided to use them.
If neither of the above methods were successful then I’ll put a leash and collar on the dog and use the standard ‘AAAH’ and a leash correction (a downward snap of the leash). If I have to use a verbal and leash correction, I will still immediately praise when the dogs feet are on the floor. I find with this method works best when the verbal and leash corrections are given in unison or the verbal given a micro-second before the leash correction. Again, measure the corrections with the dog’s response. You use the least amount of correction necessary to achieve the maximum response. The absolute best time to give this type of correction is when the thought of jumping enters the dogs mind. At that point, only the verbal ‘AAAH’ may produce the desired results without having to use the leash correction. Watch your timing. If the “AAAH” works and you also use a leash correction immediately after the verbal then what you are doing is giving a correction for the appropriate response. The outcome can be a very confused dog.
A far as your dog jumping on others, it is your responsibility not to put him in the position to jump on them. If the dog jumps on others then you must supervise his behavior until you have trained him not to jump. Then you must proof your training. If he can play with your child without jumping but will jump on the neighbor children then only allow the dog around the kids when you can supervise and correct the inappropriate behavior. The responsibility is yours; not the kids, the neighbors or strangers.
No matter which method you try (I suggest trying them in the order they are written) your timing must be incredibly swift between stopping the negative (correction) and issuing the positive (praise/reward). Above all, listen to the dog, he will tell you if you are doing things right. By right, I mean that the dog has a clear understanding of what you expect without damaging a quality relationship.
With a puppy, try and prevent a jumping problem from the very beginning. Usually a puppy, just beginning to jump on people, will quickly learn a different approach if you just ignore the unwanted and praise/reward the wanted behavior. Puppies are a clean slate. Their pages are only filled by what you write. Stopping future unwanted behaviors in puppies is always easier than trying to change an established behavior. Give your puppy a long, happy life in a permanent home from the very beginning by molding it into the dog you want it to become.
If you feel you are not experienced enough to handle some of the problems involved with raising a puppy or rehabilitating a dog with issues, PLEASE, seek the advice of a professional. Instructors and trainers can be located at the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors’ web site, through veterinarians, local dog clubs, parks & recreation departments, neighbors, friends, coworkers and total strangers. If you see a dog whose behavior you admire, talk with the owner, perhaps they can direct you to an appropriate source. Don’t give up. Most problems have a solution. If the person you are working with doesn’t feel right then find someone else. Once you take a dog into your life it is your responsibility to find the answers to what ever problems arise. Once a puppy/dog enters the throw away system of neglect and surrender the final outcome is often death. There are times when a dog must be re-homed. If that dog has a good set of manners then the chances of finding another home are improved. Too many puppies and dogs are killed in this country every day because someone wasn’t responsible enough to mold them into the dogs they could have become.
©2012 Linda Tilley