A common problem that many pet parents have with their adolescent dog is jumping. Jumping behavior typically starts around 6-18 months of age and with higher energy dogs and puppies. Dogs jump for different reasons, but the most common reason for jumping is because the dog is excited, wants to greet you, or wants your attention and get closer to your face.
Jumping typically is a behavior that peaks during certain routines in your dog’s day: mealtime, before and/or during walks, when you come home, when meeting and greeting someone, or when visitors come over to the house. It is a natural dog behavior, but not one that we humans deem as acceptable behavior. It can also be dangerous for children and the elderly. So, it is important to teach your dog the behavior you DO want your dog to do instead of jumping.
Prevention and Management
It is important to prevent the jumping behavior from happening in the first place, so your dog does not get the opportunity to continually practice and get “good at it.” This is easier said than done, since jumping can happen very quickly. Proper exercise is one piece of the solution that can help. Jumping is due in part to energy, and if you give your dog adequate exercise each day, this can help minimize the behavior. For adolescent dogs, a walk in the morning and afternoon/evening when energy is at it’s peak is best.
Calmness is another essential piece of the puzzle. Your dog has to know how to be calm. Calmness influences self-control, and jumping behavior has a lot to do with self-control - the ability to keep oneself under control even when excited.
Prevention, and not allowing rehearsal of jumping behavior is another puzzle piece that needs to be followed through with by you. During some routines of the day, using certain management tools can help. Crate, ex-pens, and baby gates are not just for little puppies going through potty training. They are wonderful tools to help support us in our training efforts with adolescent and adult dogs.
Crates, Ex-Pens and Gates
If you still use an ex-pen or crate your dog when you are not home, waiting a little while before letting your dog out, to allow some time for your dog to calm down is helpful. When you let your dog out, instead of doing your “hello, I love you and missed you” routine first, take him out to potty and engage yourself in other tasks until he calms down. When your dog is calmer, he has a better chance of behaving better and following directions.
Putting a gate up to block your dog from having access to problem areas, such as the entry hall, can help to manage certain situations when you can’t take the time to train because either your dog is not ready yet, or you are busy tending to guests. Your dog will be on one side of the gate and you are on the other. Allow the time your dog needs to calm down before going through the gate or letting him out. This also gives you time to prepare and use other management tools, talk to you guests on what you would like them to do, and initiate training an alternate behavior.
In certain circumstances, such as visitors coming over or when out and about, using the leash can help to prevent jumping. Give your dog just enough length on the leash to stand, sit and lie down and step on the rest. When your dog attempts to jump, he will correct himself by reaching the end of the leash the moment he tries to jump. People can say hello and pet him and he can get rewarded for having all four paws on the ground and not for jumping.
If your dog outweighs you or is much bigger and stronger, tethering the leash to a railing, post or heavy furniture is an option. When the dog is calm and sitting or lying down, guests can come and say hello. If the tethered dog jumps, guests can step away and ignore.
When out and about with your dog on leash, if your dog jumps, you can pull up on the leash. I know this is counter-intuitive. Many people automatically pull down on the leash to get the dog down. That’s the goal, right? But, pulling down on the leash may encourage your dog to work harder to pull up. Why? Because when you pull on the leash, you kick in your dog’s opposition reflex. If you pull down, your dog pulls up. So, pull up on the leash and make your dog pull in the opposite direction which is down!
The Human Factor
How you respond to jumping is important. Many times we punish the unwanted behavior, but forget to teach and reward the behavior we do want. So, in order to change your dog’s behavior, you may need to change yours!
Take a Step, Not a Knee
Old school texts and compulsive training techniques may recommend putting your knee to the dog’s chest, pinching the front paws (which can elicit mouthing or make your dog hate having his paws handled and cause problems with grooming and nail clipping) or stepping on the dog’s back paws. These outdated solutions can be damaging to your relationship with your beloved dog. Causing pain when your dog is interacting with people is risky business! Your dog may associate the pain with the person and not the action of jumping, and you can run the risk of bringing out other fear-based responses or negative behavior that could be worse than the jumping. Using “no” and pushing or shoving with your hands is giving your dog attention for the behavior and may be just what your dog wanted, and therefore, is rewarded for the behavior. Raising your arms or other fast movements and your voice can be excitable gestures that keeps the dog jumping instead of helping him to calm down and behave appropriately.
Instead, turning your body to the side (and folding your arms at your chest) may just be enough to prompt your dog to get off. You may also need to gently take a step or more towards your dog. You did not “invite” your dog up, so there is no command to get off. Instead, divert your attention away from your dog, including eye-contact, and move towards your dog. He will have to back peddle which will prompt him to put his front paws down on the ground. This now gives you to opportunity to teach the behavior you do want to reward. Stepping into your dog works for any direction your dog approaches - front, back or side. Some smaller dogs have better balance than larger dogs, so it may take a few steps before your little dog gets off.
If you are sitting on the couch when your dog puts his paws on you, stand up and fold your arms across your chest. You may be getting up and down often in the beginning, but this allows you to get your face out of reach, step into your dog if needed, and prevent yourself from using your hands to push your dog off. With practice you can start to read your dog’s approach and know if jumping is on his mind. You can then be proactive and cue an appropriate behavior, or stand before he gets there to prevent the behavior. This way you will fade in a new behavior and fade out the old one.
Learn Your Dog’s Triggers
Learn and understand what causes your dog to jump and why. Many dogs jump for attention, because they want to play or greet you and get close to your face. Others may jump out of excitement because they see the leash, a ball or food bowl. For situations like these, if you are excited, more than likely your dog will get excited which will facilitate jumping. So, be calm and help your dog to be calm so he can be more successful in doing appropriate behavior. Sometimes, just the sound of your voice can trigger a dog to jump (this not only includes your dog but other’s as well). Remaining quiet can help to prevent a dog from jumping.
A dog may jump for other reasons other than attention and excitement. Thunder, the sight of another dog, people, etc. can cause anxiety or fear and lead to your dog to jump on you for reassurance and guidance. Make sure you understand the reason for the jumping and work with it accordingly. You do not want to punish or ignore a dog in distress - be your dog’s emotional anchor. In this case, you will need to help him out to alleviate the stress. Comforting your dog when he is afraid is absolutely fine. You can not reinforce the emotion of fear and make it worse. You may want to consult with a professional trainer/behaviorist for an appropriate behavior modification and counter conditioning program to help you and your dog in certain situations.
Train and Reward Appropriate Behavior
It is very important to teach your dog what you want him to do instead of jumping. Remember that dogs repeat behaviors that are rewarding for them. Ignoring will not be enough and could even make your dog try harder. So teach your dog alternate behaviors and reward them!
REWARD GOOD CHOICES
It is SO important to reward your dog when he makes the right decisions! An easy one to do but often missed is “four on the floor.” So simple! If your dog is keeping his paws on the floor he is not jumping! Drop treats (yes, multiple ones) on the floor to reward the behavior. And by dropping multiple treats on the floor (Scatter Feeding) you allow yourself time while your dog is eating up the treats, and your dog is now focused on searching, sniffing and eating, all of which are super fun for a dog, self-rewarding, rewarding proper behavior, and at the same time also a bit calming.
Training a dog to go to a boundary is also a wonderful strategy for when people come over to the house. The boundary, when trained correctly, is a safe and calming place to be. And your dog won’t leave the boundary until cued, so you can have your dog there while you greet and take care of your guests and release your dog once he is calm and able to have self-control with saying hello.
Cue Alternate Behavior
Teach your dog in order to be petted and to say hello, to do a different behavior other than jumping. It is important to have strong foundation cues with your dog. Utilizing a sit cue, or stand (four on the floor), or a sit-stay or down-stay are good basic obedience cues to teach your dog to do instead of jumping. If you have a real wiggly dog, even the touch cue will help in teaching your dog greeting manners and allow him to move about in an appropriate way. Some cues will be easier than others depending on your dog’s level of impulse control. Cue this behavior BEFORE your dog jumps, so he practices appropriate behavior. If you are consistent and do this all the time, your dog will learn and understand what you want and begin to offer it on his own. Remember that it is more important to teach and reward appropriate behavior than to punish undesired behavior. It is also essential to set your dog up for success, so you may need to fall back on some management strategies until your dog has the ability to perform the alternate behavior on cue.
Take the time to set up practice exercises with friends or family, especially for when people come to your house. Set up visitors to come to your house whom you have “prepped” ahead of time so they know exactly what to do. You may want to do spot training with your dog and practice a specific routine for when people come over to create consistency for this situation. A dog who knows what he is suppose to do during a certain situation has less anxiety than one that does not.
Opposing Cues: “Paws” and “Off”
Give the jumping behavior a command and teach it on cue. Use any verbal command you choose, and you can add a visual cue as well. The reward for putting his paws on you is your love and affection. Then teach a verbal cue and visual cue for putting all four paws on the floor. Use your dog’s high valued rewards dropped on the floor to help teach and reward the behavior and include petting and verbal praise for keeping all four paws on the floor as well. If your dog jumps without being invited, you can use a No Reward Marker. Reward your dog more for having his paws on the floor rather than on you.
Play Specific Games that Teach Concepts of Self-Control
For many dogs, jumping (especially with greeting people), is a self-control issue in that the dog is excited and con’t think clearly or control his actions and reverts to natural doggie behavior which is jumping. There are a number of games that you can play to help teach your dog to keep himself under better control...
The Crazy Lady Game
You are going to randomly start talking like you are having a conversation with another person. Say, “Hello!” or Good morning!” and carry on a short conversation with an imaginary person (thus crazy lady). I will do this at home, out on walks, and even in the car. It is amazing to see your dog’s reaction when you first start playing, and shows you how predictability plays into a dog’s behavior. I once even pulled over to the side of the road and rolled down my window for the crazy lady conversation, and my dogs where up and looking around trying to find the person I was “talking to.” You will reward your dog for being quiet, calm, and in control.
Once your dog has learned the behaviors you want him to do instead of jumping, it is time to put your plan into action.
- Prevent jumping by using management tools when active training can’t take place and for when your dog is not yet ready for a particular situation.
- Teach an alternate behavior and cue it BEFORE your dog decides to jump.
- Set your dog up for success and begin training with easier exercises first.
- Play games that reinforce concepts of self-control.
- Use appropriate techniques to deal with mistakes when the dog jumps.
It is important to ask for the desired behavior BEFORE your dog jumps. Dogs will repeat behaviors that are rewarding for them, so teach your dog the new “habit” of giving the alternate behavior with plenty of rewards that follow, and prevent your dog from continuing the jumping behavior. By practicing the new behavior over and over again, you will create a new routine for your dog and the jumping will fade out.
If you don’t want your dog to be a jumper, you have to be consistent in not allowing your dog to jump (at least uninvited). If it is okay sometimes, but not others, you are inadvertently putting your dog on an intermittent schedule of reinforcement and can actually make your dog work harder at jumping. This goes for every member of the family and all people, familiar and new. Other people can be tricky! Our friends don’t want to be mean to our dog and want to say hello, and it is a wonderful feeling seeing a dog so happy to see you. You will need to politely ask your friends to support you in your efforts to teach your dog good greeting manners. Don’t give in to the stranger that says, “It’s okay. I just love dogs.” Explain to them that you are working on teaching your dog not to jump.
By teaching an alternate and appropriate behavior, rewarding that alternate behavior, being proactive in asking for the alternate behavior BEFORE your dog jumps, and falling back on management strategies when you can’t be attentive in training your dog, the jumping will fade out. Notice, I say “fade out.” Remember that old habits die hard, so if your dog has been jumping for a while, it will take a lot of time to change the bad habit into a good one.
As your adolescent matures and energy begins to level out, this will also help in settling your dog and help him to be more successful. Some dogs are just natural jumpers, or have more energy and less impulse control, so it will take these dogs longer to stop offering the behavior that is natural and easier for them, which is the jumping. If you are diligent, patient and consistent, you will in time, have a dog that shows wonderful and proper manners.