Most dogs jump when they become very excited, and it’s a normal response when a dog meets a new person or sees someone they enjoy—especially since human attention can be very motivating and reinforcing for a dog. Unfortunately, jumping is not an appropriate response. Depending on the dog’s size and the age and size of the person, jumping can be a nuisance and can even cause serious injuries. Most dogs continue to jump past puppyhood because it is encouraged through attention, turning this natural behavior into a learned problem behavior.
Jumping is attention-seeking behavior. Even though most of us find the experience to be unpleasant, we have a habit of petting the dog while they are jumping—thus rewarding their behavior by giving them the attention that they are seeking. Petting your dog is a form of positive reinforcement, and reinforcement drives behavior—which means the more you pet your dog and interact with them when they jump, the more likely you are to see this behavior happen repeatedly. The same holds true for negative attention, such as pushing a dog off or yelling. This is still attention to a dog, and whether it’s a good or bad interaction, it’s still positive reinforcement. Essentially your dog jumps because you reinforce it, one way or another.
With young dogs, you can prevent the issue before it starts. However, your dog may have already learned that jumping gets attention. Most dogs can recover from behavior issues like jumping, but it takes time, training, and consistency.
Preventative training and modifying an existing jumping issue essentially look the same for most dogs. You need to teach the dog that there is no reward for jumping. When a dog jumps on you, turn your back on the behavior and do not interact with them. When they stop and have all four paws on the floor, you can shower them with affection and food rewards. It is important to do both parts: ignore the bad behavior and reward the good behavior. You can’t just signal to the dog what they are doing wrong; you have to let them know when they are right, as well. Be consistent in every situation, so your dog learns that remaining on the ground is a more effective way to get attention. The standard must remain the same, whether you’re playing with your dog or greeting them at the door: Jumping has no value.
It is important to do both parts: ignore the bad behavior and reward the good behavior. You can’t just signal to the dog what they are doing wrong; you must let them know when they are right, as well.
Don’t forget to instruct other people who interact with your dog. If someone wants to say “Hi” to your dog, explain that you are trying to prevent jumping, and for your dog to receive affection, it has to remain with all four paws on the ground. You must maintain this standard; don’t allow your dog to receive affection for jumping. Once you allow the dog to jump, all of the hard work you’ve done will come undone. Consistency in every situation and environment and with other people will help cement your dog’s understanding that jumping offers no reward. By following this approach, you can prevent jumping from ever becoming an issue in young pups and undo the existing behavior in older dogs.
Teaching an alternative behavior can also be extremely beneficial. In dog training, we call it polite greetings. As the name suggests, this is when a dog sits politely to get attention and affection when they greet a human. The way to achieve this is very similar to the method above. However, after you have taught your dog that jumping comes with no reward, you cue them to sit. As soon as their butt is flat on the ground, you mark that moment and shower them with affection and food reward. Practice having the dog sit before every greeting, and they will be conditioned to sit when greeting you. Not only are they learning that jumping has no benefit, but that sitting comes with great perks. Once your dog is reliably sitting for attention from you, you can practice the same behavior with family, friends, and strangers in controlled scenarios. Providing this alternate behavior is nice because it takes the awkwardness out of greeting new people. Even though most people do not like dogs jumping, humans are still very excited to meet new dogs and tend to let it slide at the moment. Instead of worrying about somebody encouraging behavior that you are trying to extinguish, you can be confident that your dog will sit for attention.
Consistency in every situation and environment and with other people will help cement your dog’s understanding that jumping offers no reward.
Behavioral modification can be a long journey and requires time, patience, consistency, and management—which means that you have control over the situations you put your dog in, giving them the best opportunities for success. Some situations are harder to work through than others, especially when they are happening in real time instead of orchestrated training moments. Instead of getting frustrated or giving up because a situation is not going well, you can practice management, which becomes more valuable than training at this moment because dogs cannot learn if they are not focused. Management techniques can help prevent backsliding of behaviors. For example, if you have a guest over and you know that your dog is probably going to jump, here are ways that you could manage this training moment:
- Utilize baby gates or dividers in the house to help create distance.
- Keep the dog in its crate.
- Use a leash to work with the behavior while keeping control of your dog.
Unfortunately, there are no overnight solutions to any behavioral issues. It takes time to build new behaviors and even more time to undo undesirable behaviors. The time and effort are worth it, to help your dog become an acceptable canine citizen, polite and careful around their human counterparts.