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My dog is always jumping up on us and our guests. How can we stop this?

This article, by Dr Cynthia D. Fisher, B.A. MS, PhD - Chief Instructor at Gold Coast Dog Obedience Club - is reproduced with the kind permission of the author.

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'HELP!  My dog is always jumping up on us and on our guests.  How can we stop this?'

First, realise that this is a natural dog behaviour.  Canine behaviour expert Jean Donaldson says, 'Dogs are compulsive greeters.  They are pack animals, and their instincts cause them to be very excited when reunited with pack members after being alone.  Pups lick the mouths of adult dogs in greeting, and to beg for a meal.  Your mouth is high enough off the ground that any dog would need to jump up to get near it.'

Many owners encouraged jumping up when the dog was a tiny, cute puppy, so the behaviour becomes well learned. You don't need to live with jumping up, but do accept that the dog isn't bad for doing it.

If you wish to get rid of jumping up, you must be consistent and NEVER allow it. The dog will only be confused if sometimes jumping is OK and sometimes it is not OK.  The dog can't  tell whether you are in grubby jeans and wouldn't mind being jumped on, or in your best new white outfit and would object strongly.

The remedy most owners try first is saying NO! and pushing the dog off.  This seldom works.  It actually provides a mild reward to the dog for jumping: attention, eye contact, voice, touch, and maybe a good wrestle game with their owner.

A basic principle of animal learning is that behaviours that are rewarded will increase in frequency and  intensity. There are several kind and effective approaches to reduce and eventually eliminate jumping up.  These include:

  • Not cuing the behaviour
  • Extinguishing jumping up by not rewarding it in any way
  • Teaching and rewarding a behaviour that is incompatible with jumping up.

Not Cuing

You can try to reduce any behaviour by avoiding situations that cue it.  Coming home and greeting the dog enthusiastically with your hands held high is quite likely to trigger jumping.  Make reunions with the dog low key, more or less ignore it the first few minutes after you return, and then greet it calmly. 

Another way to avoid cuing jumping up is to get down and greet the dog on its own level before it has a chance to jump.

Extinguishing Jumping

Jumping can be extinguished by totally ignoring the behaviour, and that means removing the strongest reward (your attention) the instant the dogs front feet START to leave the ground.  Immediately turn away, avert your eyes, fold your arms, and walk away silently. 

You can stand in a corner or go into another room, but do not speak to, touch, or acknowledge the dog in any way until it has settled.  Even if the dog jumps against your back, ignore it until a minute after it has given up.

Everyone in the family must do the same thing.  Eventually the dog will stop jumping if it always results in the cold shoulder.  Also, be sure to praise the dog when it comes up to greet you and chooses NOT to jump.

Teaching an Alternate Behaviour

A more proactive approach is to teach and reward a behaviour that is incompatible with jumping up, such as sitting in front of you for a greeting. 

Teach the dog the SIT command in several sessions when it is not trying to jump.  Once the command is learned, you can ask the dog to sit as it approaches.  Reward the sit and get down to pat and praise while all four of the dogs feet are on the floor. 

For a dog that doesn't yet know SIT, simply hold a treat at knee level as the dog approaches.  It will probably come in straight to the food rather than up toward your face.  Reward this level approach with the treat.  Gradually phase out using a treat every time, but you can still put your hand by your knee as a target for the dog to come to for greeting.

Jumping on Guests

Jumping up on guests requires some slightly different techniques and a few friends who are willing to help with the training.  You and your collaborator set up a situation that allows the dog to figure out for itself that jumping is fruitless but sitting to greet a guest pays off.  We've used this method on dozens of dogs at the Gold Coast Obedience Training Club, and it works every time. 

The owner holds the end of the leash and stands still, serving as a silent post to which the dog is tethered.  The guest approaches, and the moment the dog's feet leave the ground, the guest spins on his heel silently and walks away few steps, preferably before the dog makes contact. 

In five seconds the guest returns, again leaving instantly if the dog starts to jump.  After a few trials the dog will try something other than jumping when the guest approaches, usually sitting.  This results in the guest popping a liver bit or other highly desirably treat into the dog's mouth while quietly praising and stroking it. 

Repeat this exercise with several different guests over the course of a few weeks.  Practice in several places, like the footpath and the lounge room.  Eventually try it at the front door with a guest who rings the doorbell, enters, and leaves the instant the dog tries to jump but stays and gives a treat for sitting.  The dog should be on leash at all times during training so it never successfully makes contact when attempting to jump on a visitor. 

Note that the owner does not give a command to sit.  You just wait for the dog to figure out how to get what it wants - the approach of the guest and a treat.  While you are working on teaching this, do not let the dog jump on anyone who is not clued in to your training program and equipped with treats.  Put the dog outside or in another room or on a leash BEFORE such a visitor arrives.

Cynthia D. Fisher
 www.gcdotc.org.au