Jumping on People
Jumping on People
Authored by: Meredith Stepita, DVM, DACVB
How many dogs have been relegated to back-yard living because they jump all over family and guests whenever anyone walks through the door? Then when someone goes out to visit the lonesome dog, the jumping is worse because the dog is even more excited to see someone. Only now the dog is dirty, too. Not good! Let’s talk about how to solve this problem once and for all.
We humans encourage dogs to jump on us by petting them, starting in puppyhood, when they stand on their hind legs to get closer to our loving face and hands. This normal unruly behavior is most likely attention-seeking in nature when it’s not accompanied by aggression. They don't mean anything bad by jumping up, but very few people like being jumped on by a dog. As the dog gets older and stronger, he may scratch people and knock people down. It’s not only children and elderly people, but bigger, stronger dogs can potentially knock adults down as well. The behavior becomes a way to get your attention, even you start pushing them off and telling them “No.” The person may see this as a punishment, but your dog may not see it as aversive at all.
When a dog is still a very young puppy, the best way to handle jumping up is never to allow the puppy to even start doing it. Don’t let anyone pet your cute little tootsie of a puppy unless all four feet are on the ground. If you teach your puppy that all petting happens when four feet are on the ground, your big dog will not be jumping on people. Instead, the dog will develop sweet ways of greeting people such as laying a head lovingly against your knee.
This training is harder than it sounds because dogs are usually rewarded by someone for this behavior, and chances are you have an adolescent or adult dog who is jumping on people. What do you do now? It’s the same principle as with the puppy, only it will take longer.
Attack this problem on more than one front. Here are the ingredients for training your dog to greet with four on the floor:
- Teach your dog to sit, even when excited. When the dog is IN the sit position, give petting, praise, and treats. Do not praise AFTER the dog has gotten up, because that is not the desired behavior. Praise and reward DURING the desired behavior, the sit. This is the crucial training step that most people miss. Teaching the dog not to jump isn’t enough. We have to teach the dog that the petting will come when the dog is doing the right behavior. Put your focus on this moment. You’ll start this training in unexciting situations (i.e. in your house without visitors) and gradually build to more and more exciting situations (i.e. your backyard, then a quiet park) until the dog is totally steady. It takes time and practice. Then start to incorporate strangers. Teaching a dog to sit in more distracting situations sounds easy, but she not only has to be able to sit, she has to be able to do it when she is highly excited, and that is not an easy feat! So don't expect it to be all fixed in a week. Signing up for a positive reinforcement training class may be a good way to start increasing distractions and the participants will be more likely to follow your instructions of asking your dog to sit when she approaches them and ignoring jumping behavior.
- Teach your dog that when she comes to you or anyone else her default behavior is to sit and not jump. People should ask her to sit every time she approaches them. Alternatively, teach her a come cuddle command (see below).
- When you come into the house, come in quietly. Excited greetings when you come in encourage a dog to jump on you.
- When you have guests arrive, keep your dog under leash or other control (i.e. confining her to a separate room) for about 15 minutes until everyone is settled. This is the time of wildest excitement for the dog, and it will be much easier for the dog to muster self-control after this initial period. Eventually you will want to train this behavior without a leash, too.
- Never let anyone pet or otherwise give your dog attention when she is standing on her hind legs. The best remedy for jumping up is to withhold attention. This is different for every dog. For some dogs you can keep your hands to yourself and turn a hip toward the dog or turn your back on the dog, but for some dogs you may have to actually leave the room (separating yourself from the dog), until your training has progressed to the point of being able to get the dog to “sit” on cue. When the dog has been jumping and stops jumping, ask her for a couple of commands before petting to separate the jumping behavior from the reward of petting.
This request is recommended because some dogs are so smart they will jump and then sit just to be petted.
- If you are going to do anything to interrupt your dog’s jumping, keep in mind that your goal is a dog that is safe with people. Don't fall into the trap of trying quick-fix methods for jumping up, such as stepping on the dog's toes or whacking her in the chest with your knee. These methods cause pain, which could make her fearful of people, or worse, injure her. Any training method that punishes your dog when, in her mind, she is being friendly to your guests, could damage your dog's good attitude toward guests, so be careful about that too. You want to give her a chance to earn praise for good behavior, not be getting in trouble when all she is trying to do is say hello.
- Finally, a head collar may help as it gives you more control as you increase distractions.
People can be inconsistent about ignoring undesirable behavior and rewarding good behavior, so you may have to choose who your dog interacts with. If even one person encourages jumping, she will continue to perform the behavior.
One good way to teach your dog to greet without jumping is a simple cue to go to the person’s knees. Start by putting your open hands, palms facing outward, on the front of your knees. You’ll be bending forward to get your hands here. Tell your dog “come cuddle,” and your dog will likely be drawn to your inviting hands. Pet your dog.
Do the “come cuddle” practice over a few sessions until the dog responds quickly. Then find someone else to help you, have them take the position, point to them, and tell your dog to “go cuddle.” Have them encourage the dog verbally to come to them, and give petting when the dog arrives. Then you call the dog to “come cuddle” to your hands at your knees.
Do a few repetitions back and forth, stopping before the dog gets bored. Repeat this, and soon you’ll find when you say “go cuddle,” your dog will aim for a person’s knees even if their hands are not there. Prompt the person to lean down and pet the dog at knee level—be firm with people that they must not ruin your training by inviting your dog to jump up on them!
A Note about Little Dogs
You may not mind your small dog jumping up on you, but give this some thought. You’re not going to want the dog to spoil someone’s clothing by clawing at their legs. Also, a little dog jumping and expecting to be caught can be injured if the person misses.
Many of us see no reason to teach our dogs not to jump up. We don’t mind, and if a friend or relative needs the dog not to jump, we simply put the dog on leash.
We get older, though, and our dogs age even faster than we do. Besides age, many physical problems can arise that make jumping up downright dangerous. At some point in your dog’s life, jumping will become a hazard to her. Your dog will live with less risk of pain if taught early on not to jump.
The non-jumping dog’s life will include more petting and love, because it’s so much easier and more enjoyable to pet a dog who has four feet on the ground.
This article is part of the Canine Behavior Series. Please click on the "CANINE BEHAVIOR" link below to access the complete library.