“Off! OFF! OFF! For God’s sake Fido, OFF!”
Sound familiar? It is embarrassing when our dog jumps on a visitor or on a person walking the trail. When you first brought Fido home, you probably weren’t envisioning explaining muddy paw prints on a neighbour’s jeans or how Gramma got knocked over.
If your dog jumps on people and it doesn’t bother you then that is probably fine by me.
As long as you manage your dog enough that they aren’t knocking down the FedEx person or ripping the nylons of ladies as you pass them, then you can choose the rules for your dog.
I personally don’t mind if some of my dogs jump, some of the time. Jumping might be allowed or encouraged if:
- Your dog is shy of strangers and not likely to knock someone over. When a shy dog who works up the confidence to go over and gently jump up on a stranger – I’m happy to reinforce that.
- Your dog is tiny and cute and is constantly being reinforced by your friends, family, and other people for jumping. The amount of work needed to fix the jumping might exceed the time you or your dog have on this planet, and really, does anyone care if your 5lb malti-shorkie-poo jumps? Probably not.
- Your dog jumps sometimes but when cued not to they respond and don’t jump. This is where I am with most of my dogs.
Reinforcement Drives Behaviour
It’s that simple. Your exuberant pooch isn’t being ‘dominant’. Your dog simply jumps on people or other dogs because they get some sort of reinforcement from it.
Even if no one pets them until they stop jumping, the physical contact itself is likely reinforcing. Add eye contact and verbal engagement in the form of “Off! Get Down!” and your friendly dog is likely getting a lot of reinforcement from jumping.
Some dogs jump due to anxiety or nervousness. If this is the case for your dog, follow the same program as for a confident friendly dog, but take it slow and work with a trainer on building calm confidence, putting extra emphasis on teaching settle and incompatible behaviours detailed below.
We sometimes forget just how smart dogs are. If your dog jumps, then you cue “sit”, then you give a cookie, guess what behaviour chain your dog learns? Jumping on people becomes a way for your dog to cue you to say “sit” then your dog gets a cookie or a “good dog!”. Dogs are very very clever at finding pathways to reinforcement.
Step 1 – Mange Your Dog
Management is step one. Without this piece, much of your training will be for naught. To prevent jumping or to fix a jumping problem, you must use leashes or long lines or baby gates – whatever it takes to stop your dog from jumping, without hurting or scaring your dog.
If your dog jumps on you when you come home, set up a baby gate so you can train from one side of the baby gate. If your dog jumps on strangers, leash your dog when visitors arrive or use a leash on trails where your dog usually jumps on people.
If you make a mistake and allow your dog to jump: without emotion, eye contact or using your voice, gently take your dog by their collar or harness, connect the lead and move them away from the person. If your dog is fearful or resentful of being held by their collar put some time into creating a positive emotional response. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaKIrNXTYqQ
Step 2 – Stop Asking Your Dog to Sit
Asking your dog to hold a sit when they are SOOOO excited (or anxious) might be more than your dog is capable of. Dogs coerced into sitting often end up with explosive greeting behaviours once they are released from the sit. Instead, what CAN your dog do? Break it down to the very simplest of behaviours.
- Can your dog eat?
- Can your dog have 4 on the floor for 1 second? And eat a tidbit?
- Can your dog have 4 on the floor for 2-3 seconds? And eat a tidbit?
- 5 seconds? And eat a tidbit?
Get the picture? Once your dog is good at keeping 4 on the floor, Advance to Step 3.
The rate of reinforcement needs to be very very high if your dog is frantic! Many people glaze over this step and give up. I often use a dog’s daily rations with yummy cheese or other higher value treats mixed in. You will build a stronger end behaviour if you put a lot of value into the very small foundation pieces.
Step 3 – The Three Second Rule
When your dog is starting to settle, you can give him permission to go visit the person/dog, but keep it short. The longer your dog is near/touching their BFF, the more excited they will become. Some dogs might be able to handle a 1 second greeting, others might be able to handle 5 seconds. Watch your dog and call them away before they start jumping, repeating to step 2 before allowing more greeting. If your dog cannot handle a 1 second greeting, they are not ready to go say hi! You can read a bit more about this here: https://positive.dog/leash-greetings/
Step 4 – Incompatible Behaviours
Teaching a dog to settle on cue is one of the most important foundation behaviours for most dogs. Before using this near people or dogs your pup would like to jump on, settling on cue is trained in quiet areas such as your kitchen or back yard. Work up to settling in exciting situations.
#1 Rule – if your dog is worried they are allowed to stand up. This is information telling you your dog needs to work with more distance. It is very important that your dog feels they are allowed to leave the situation.
When they are calm or just interested in the environment, ask your dog to lie down. Place cookies near your dog’s elbow or rib cage so that they flop their hip over and looks more relaxed. Practice this at home, in your driveway (assuming no triggers around), go for an outing at Rona, etc.
Many sport dog people are already familiar with this concept. Some people call it Boundary Games, Crate Games, or Mat Games. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol is another version. The idea is to create a lot of value in being on a bed or other surface. Your dog learns to love being in place and waits to be released from position.
Sit or down
Your pup can’t be jumping if he is sitting on his bum 😉
Yes, I did just tell you not to ask your dog to sit, but once you are proficient at Step 2, you can advance to this skill. It isn’t enough to practice sitting or downing – You need to build value, a lot of value. Just like the settle, put a LOT of value (cookies) in this in all sorts of scenarios before you use it near those your dog wants to jump on. Remember step 2 though? This won’t work if you gloss over that step!
- Chin Rest
- Nose touch with Duration
- Hold a Toy
Have Fair Expectations
If your dog has 6 months or 6 years of reinforcement history for excessive jumping, then you might need a lot of management for the first while. Always watch your dog for clues that you need to take a step back or reassess the situation. If you are having a very hard time with this, take a step back. Work more on those incompatible behaviours! Still stuck? Hire a trainer for some one on one help for your particular scenario.