Jumping up on people, whether it’s other family members, guests, or total strangers, is among the top issues my clients express frustration with.  I must admit, even my own dog, Millie, gets her jumps in every now and again.  Let me tell you why.

Reinforced behavior gets repeated. 

Wait, what?  I don’t reinforce my dog’s jumping!  When I walk in the door after work, she’s excited to see me.  She jumps up!  She can hardly contain herself, she was sure I would never come back! 

The dog owner in me does the following: I ask her to stop jumping up; sometimes I even put my hands on her and guide her front legs back to the floor.  I even say in a loud, frustrated voice “no jumping!”  Why in the world would Millie keep jumping up if I’ve so clearly communicated that I don’t want her to jump on me??? 

Then my trainer brain kicks in and I realize that, in fact, all of the actions described above actually reinforce the jumping behavior and communicate exactly the opposite of what I intended.  WHY? 

  1. Jumping is a normal, natural greeting behavior among dogs.  They learn in their litters to solicit attention from their mom by jumping up and licking her lips. Millie solicits attention from me in the same way.  Perfectly normal for her… totally annoying for me, especially when I’ve just walked through the door with an armful of groceries.
  2. Verbal attention is reinforcing. Talking to her, even if I’m telling her to “get the bleep off of me” is reinforcement.  In fact, saying anything to her gives her the attention that she’s seeking.
  3. Touching her, even if I’m pushing her down, is reinforcing.  It’s physical contact and let me tell you, the only thing Millie loves more than close physical contact with me is string cheese, so pushing her down is simply giving her more of what she wants.  Why wouldn’t she repeat the behavior?

So what do I do about it???  There are a lot of ways to approach this problem depending on the final behavior you want from your dog. If you want your dog to stay off of people all the time, no exceptions, then you formulate a training plan based on that.  If you think it’s sweet that your dog occasionally jumps up to greet you (as I do), then maybe your goal is to train your dog only to jump up when solicited or cued.  It’s really up to you, so think about the final behavior and then formulate a plan to get there. 

While your working on training the new behavior,  it’s important to first manage and prevent the current behavior of jumping up from happening again.  This means getting everyone in the family, and their friends…and their friends, on board. Here are some ideas: 

  • Ask kids only to interact with the dog when he’s calm, reinforce them with rewards for doing so.
  • Tell your spouse they simply cannot pet the pup when he has less than 4 paws on the floor.
  • Gate the dog off from the entryway so you can get in, put your groceries down and then greet the dog (when calm of course).
  • Put a sign on your front door with instructions for guests. Something cute like this one I found on Pinterest:
Photo credit: Pinterest

Train, reinforce and reward an incompatible behavior. Once Fido is calm and can listen to directions, ask him for a behavior that is incompatible with jumping up.  The most common, of course, is sitting, but if you’ve taken classes at Mod.Dogs, here are some more creative alternatives:

  • Touch Target:  Use those touch-targets to focus your dog on something besides jumping.  When I ask my dogs for touches they immediately start to calm because they’re being direct to perform a specific task that helps center and focus them.
  • Go to your Place:  Use that mat training!  Start with set-ups among family members, friends or neighbors.  Work on rewarding calm mat behavior while someone rings or knocks, you open the door, etc.
  • Go get a toy!  Send your dog to their toy box to select a toy and bring it back to you.  While you’re ushering your guests in, he’ll be busy getting his toy.  When he comes back with it, reward him with a toss, a tug, or a treat!
  • Train “Up” and “Off” cues.  If you’re like me and really don’t mind the occasional jump-up from your pup, then train your dog only to do it on cue.  The “up” cue is typically a tap on your chest, soliciting the dog that it’s ok to jump up.  That contact is reward enough for the dog, no need to break out the treats.  However, “Off” is different.  When you ask for an “off” you must immediately follow the action (4 paws hitting the floor) with YUMMY rewards, and a lot of them.  The dog eventually learns that being “off” is the more lucrative of the 2 actions, if consistently reinforced and rewarded (yes, with food!).

As with anything in life, practice makes perfect. Don’t expect your dog’s greeting behavior to be dramatically improved if you don’t take the time to work on it.  The more you help your dog practice the behavior you want, the better he’ll get at performing it.   Remember, reprimands and punishment only scare your dog and can cause physical pain and mistrust.  Reinforcement and reward will result in a happy, trusting companion dog.