Dog Talk: Curbing the jumping habit

February 14, 2009

bichoningrassChange a bad habit by following a simple formula

Dear Niki ,
How can I stop my dog jumping all over my guests when they come into our home? Some of our guests insist they do not mind, but we find it troublesome.  It makes it hard to enjoy our guests.
Julie in Freeport

Dear Julie,
Let me assure you that this is a problem easily solved and managed if you will invest some time into training your doggie in basic social skills.
Let us first understand why dogs behave this way. Often dogs jump up as a greeting.  They want to get into our faces for some good old “primate” affection. They are saying, “Hey, I am here.” What is our normal reaction when a dog jumps up?  We either cuddle them, give them verbal encouragement or, when their jumping is unwanted, we physically push them away.  Any of these reactions by us achieves your dog’s desired objective, our attention. We have reinforced our dog’s behavior with our verbal or physical attention.  Because we are rewarding jumping, the behavior becomes stronger.

Smaller dogs are often more guilty of this behavior since the consequences of a small dog jumping up at you are not as annoying or dangerous as a large dog.  This is why small dog jumping often goes uncorrected. In addition, we often encourage puppies to jump on us because it is cute and makes them easier to reach. We forget that they may soon grow into a 75-pound linebacker. Then, after Fido has knocked us to the floor leaving his dirty paw prints all over us, the cute behavior that we encouraged quickly becomes an annoying and unwelcome canine habit.

It is not constructive to tell a dog what not to do or punish a dog for behaviors we have previously encouraged and allowed if we have not made it clear to them what the desired behavior should be. To punish your dog for an unwanted behavior, without first teaching them what is wanted, leaves your dog with an infinite choice of other behaviors. The chance of them performing the behavior you desire, at random, is equal to our chances of winning the lottery from one ticket purchase.
After all, we invite dogs to share our human world so we have an obligation to provide them with fair and consistent guidelines and boundaries to ensure our four legged friends have good doggie etiquette.  Training your dog in basic behaviors has numerous benefits.  The most prevalent advantage is that it gives us an effective way to communicate with our dog.
What is the practical application of all of this?  The easiest way to modify an unwanted behavior is to teach an alternate, desirable behavior, such as, in the case of a jumpy social dog, ‘Sit’.
So let’s look at our formula.
1.    First, we need to be consistent and have all members of the family consistently behave toward your dog in the same way.  From this point onwards, no jumping should be reinforced by anyone in anyway.
2.    Now if doggie jumps, you turn your back to them and completely ignore the behavior. That means no eye contact, no verbal communication and no touching.
3.    Your dog will quickly realize that the jumping behavior does not get them the attention they want. They will usually go into a default ‘Sit’ position while they consider their options.
4.    As soon as the dog’s rump hits the ground, you reward them with a “good dog” in a friendly but controlled voice. You then bend down or kneel to greet them, giving them the attention they want with your eye contact and physical touch.
5.     You may need to manage this with visiting guests until your dog has mastered this new greeting protocol.  Place a leash on your dog before visitors arrive. Then have your guests follow the training formula, steps 1 through 4. If your guests inadvertently encourage your dog to jump, restrain Fido with the leash.  Remember its ok to remind your dog of their mistake with a firm “NO,” and begin the greeting ritual again.
By consistently following this simple formula, you have removed the reward gained by jumping and are teaching your dog that if they exhibit an alternative desirable behavior (sitting), they get the attention they want. Remember, be consistent and, over time, the jumping will cease.

Niki Tudge is the owner and founder of The DogSmith Dog Training, Dog Walking and Pet Care Franchise.   Niki achieved her Canine Behaviorist Diploma in England and Dog Obedience Training Diploma in the US.  Niki is a member of the National Association of Dog Obedience Trainers and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.  You can reach Niki via email at NTudge@888dogsmith.com or at www.888dogsmith.com