Down, Boy! Training Your Dog Not to Jump on People


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Let’s face it, no one likes an impolite dog. And when that impolite dog is the size of a small horse and thinks that it’s okay to jump on people, that can be a real problem. Training your dog not to jump on people can be a bit problematic as well, but it can be done, and in the material that follows you’ll learn some great techniques and tips for dealing with your jumper. First, though, a story.

The Bruises Have Healed; Thank You for Asking!

Last Thursday, I was out for my daily constitutional, and this guy I had never met before (and his dog that I had never met before!) ended up sharing the sidewalk with me. Mr. Spock was a brindle Great Dane, and nothing like his namesake. Forget the non-emotional Vulcan thing – THIS Mr. Spock was all cuddles and kisses once I got to know him, but his first course of action was to jump on me and knock me over. Of course, Daddy Spock helped me up and apologized, but I have to say I was pretty shaken. We’re all friends now, but I would have preferred that Mr. Spock had kept his paws on the sidewalk where they belonged.

Why Do Dogs Jump?

The easiest answer to this question is that they’re very sociable, and they want to be up close and personal with you. But if you look a little deeper, there’s more to it. Think of how puppies greet adult dogs – they usually do it by trying to lick the adult’s face. Puppies also love to lick their human’s face. Of course, it’s adorable when they’re little, and your natural reaction is likely to be something along the lines of, “Aw, he wants to give me kisses!” So, what you’ve done is essentially reward the puppy, with praise and cuddles, for jumping up on you.

Training Your Dog Not to Jump

Teaching your dog to stop jumping on people is actually pretty easy. That is, as long as the “Aw, he wants to give me kisses” people don’t sabotage you. You can bet they’re going to say “I don’t mind!” and probably inadvertently undo everything you’ve been trying to do in terms of creating a “four on the floor” rule.

Now, before we go any further, let me tell you that there’s one method a lot of people use in an effort to discourage jumping that is actually very counter-productive. That is lifting your knee against the dog’s chest. Sure, it gets the dog off you, but it’s mean. And the dog is going to try to appease you. Now how do you suppose he is going to do that? That’s right, by trying to give you kisses, thereby jumping up on you again.

Start Early

Now, what you want to do is start early so that you’re not trying to undo a habit that has already become entrenched. The following method assumes that you have already taught your dog to sit.

You will need a leash and the assistance of another person. One of you will hold the leash. Make sure the dog has plenty of room to move around, and once the person who is not at the end of the leash moves away, the one holding the leash tells the dog to sit.

Stand about 12 feet away and have the person holding the leash tell the dog to sit. Then, the other person approaches, and if the dog remains sitting, that’s good! The approaching person gives the dog a treat. Then, he or she turns around and begins to move away. If the dog approaches the retreating person, the one holding the leash reiterates the “sit” command. When the dog sits, the departing person comes back and offers another treat.

Usually, this will take a few tries. Remember, though, dogs are not stupid. Most dogs are going to think “This person came to me and gave me a treat when I was sitting. So, if I want good things to happen, I have to sit.”

Ba da boom, ba da bing, all done!

Well, No…

Actually, you’re not quite done. Your dog might still try to jump when meeting a new person who has come into your house. So here’s what you do. Before you open the door, strew a few treats on the floor. Your dog can’t clean up all those treats and still bounce a visitor, can he? By the time the treats are all gathered up and eaten, the visitor will likely be old news, and you can use the “sit” command again once the excitement has worn off.

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Train Your Dog to Go to His Special Place

This is a useful lesson for many situations, not just to keep him from jumping, and it’s easy to teach. Make sure your dog has a special place that he knows belongs only to him. It could be a crate, a mat, a playpen, or even a special corner of the room. Then teach him to stay there until you tell him it’s okay to leave. This is best accomplished using treats.

First work on teaching your dog to stay, if you haven’t done so already. I won’t bother telling you how to achieve having your dog stay – just Google “teach your dog to stay” and you’ll definitely find a method that suits you and your dog. Once the dog has mastered “Stay,” take a treat, and toss it toward the dog’s special place. Say “Crate,” “Mat,” “Corner,” or whatever word you’ve decided on. The dog will go for the treat. Repeat this until he’ll go to his special place simply upon hearing the word, whether or not a treat is tossed.

Once your dog is in his special place, tell him to stay. Once he’s calm, you can release him to greet your guest.

The key here is consistency. It’s great if you follow the procedure every single time, and don’t allow the dog to greet guests until he’s calmed down, and unlikely to jump, but doomed to failure if others in your household won’t fall in line. If your dog thinks, “Mommy won’t let me jump on people, but Daddy will,” then your dog does not understand that jumping is never okay.

What About Walkies?

Okay, now what about unstructured situations, like what happened with me and Mr. Spock? Going for walks can be a bit problematic, especially if other dog walkers are in the picture. Sometimes, you are simply going to have to get your baby away from distractions quickly and easily. Ideally, you will work on this issue in the early months, and a retractable leash, properly used, can be your best friend.

If you’re a regular reader, you may recall that I came down pretty hard on retractable leashes in my post 3 Good Reasons to Throw Away Your Retractable Leash. I still stand by what I said in that post, but there are always exceptions to every rule. When jumping is the issue, a retractable leash can be a useful tool, but be sure to use one that allows only about 13 feet of lead. Anything longer, and you really don’t have control over your dog.

Now, imagine that you and your dog are out for a walk, and here comes trouble in the form of another dog walker. You know that the person is going to end up being bounced, or the other dog will be greeted with a bit too much enthusiasm but if you need to get your dog back quickly, you can do it with just the press of a button.

General Strategies for Training Your Dog Not to Jump on People

Up until now, we’ve talked about fairly specific strategies that will work when training your dog not to jump on people. I’d like to get a bit more general now and talk about how and why certain strategies can work with dogs that are prone to jump on people.

1. The Counter-Command

Have you ever tried to teach a child proper table manners? If you have, you may have taken a couple of approaches before getting it right. Perhaps the issue was that the child was treating mealtime like a race, cramming forkful after forkful into his or her mouth, wanting to get away from the table as quickly as possible in order to go and do something else. Perhaps you said “Stop eating so fast,” or “Quit putting food in your mouth when there’s ALREADY food in there!”

How did that work out for you? I’m thinking it didn’t. But what if you said “Put your fork down between bites, and pick it up again after you’ve swallowed”? The lesson here is that it’s a lot easier to teach a child – and a dog – how to DO something as opposed to how NOT to do something.

We can go back to teaching your dog to go to his special place. Using that method, your dog isn’t being taught what NOT to do. He’s not learning “Stop jumping and I’ll give you a treat.” He’s learning “Go to your special place and I will give you a treat. Then when you’re calm and not wanting to jump, you can come out and socialize.”

2. Reward

This is simple. When the dog is released from the mat, the corner, or wherever, give him another treat if he doesn’t jump. If he does jump (which is unlikely if you’ve worked on the counter-command), put him back in his special place and try again. Repetition can work wonders.

3. Management and Prevention

This means not giving your dog the opportunity to jump. My mother, who had an aphorism for every possible situation, used to say “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

This is so true when it comes to training your dog not to jump on people. Each time a dog jumps on a person, it becomes more likely that he’ll do it again. Accordingly, the best course of action is to make sure that he never gets to jump in the first place. So, if you’re having guests, and your dog has a predisposition toward jumping, hold him and make sure that he has all four feet on the floor. Tether him if you have to. Don’t allow guests to approach until you’re sure that he won’t be able to jump.

If you’re out walking and people approach, lower the leash and step on it close up to the “business end” of your dog. Then if people want to pet your dog, allow it, and praise the dog.

4. Evasion

This is exactly what it sounds like – evade the jump. It’s not the finest course of action and not a substitute for training, but what it does is remove the reward that your dog gets when he jumps. To evade the jump, turn away quickly so that the jump lands in the air instead of on you.

The reason that this isn’t a substitute for training is that it may not always work. If you’re not fast enough, or if your guest doesn’t know to jump away, then the dog will make contact.

5. Exercise

Tired dogs don’t typically behave badly. I’m not saying that you should exhaust your dog, but it’s a good idea to make sure your dog gets enough exercise. If he’s already been running and jumping chasing a ball or a Frisbee, chances are he’s not going to have a whole lot of interest in jumping on you or your guests.

Now that you know, generally, what to do, let’s talk in general terms about what NOT to do.

What No To Do

There are things that you should avoid doing, because even though you think they’re working to teach your dog not to jump, they’re actually having the opposite effect.

1. Reward

We talked about rewards in the previous section. But you may be inadvertently rewarding your dog for jumping if you pet your dog when he jumps, or allow visitors to pet him when he jumps. Always ignore jumping, and make sure your guests do the same.

2. Don’t Say “Down” or “Off”

This is the dog training equivalent of locking the barn door after the horse has bolted. The dog has ALREADY jumped, and you have pushed him off. So what do the words “down” and “off” do? They give the dog attention. The dog thinks, “I jumped on Mom, and now she’s talking to me!”

3. Don’t Punish

Punishment is never a good course of action for any misbehavior on the part of your dog, and even less so when it comes to jumping. All that you’re going to achieve if you punish your dog for jumping is that his feelings are going to be hurt and he’s going to want to try to appease you. How will he do that? Probably by trying to jump on you and give you kisses. Work on trying to prevent the behavior instead of punishing once it occurs.

Now you know what to do and what not to do. What if nothing has worked?

Pull Back and Regroup

If nothing seems to have worked, you might need to reconsider your plan for training your dog not to jump on people.

If your dog is still hell-bent on jumping even after you’ve done everything you can do when it comes to training, it might be time to consult a professional trainer or animal behaviorist. You might inadvertently be getting something wrong, and a pro can help you identify and correct the problem.

The one thing you can’t do is give up. Correcting jumping can take a lot of time, and a lot of patience, but it can be done.

And Finally…

You want your dog to be a good canine citizen. And he doesn’t know that jumping up on people isn’t exactly good manners. He just figures it’s a way of saying “Hi, I want to be your friend.” So, work toward “four on the floor,” and that way, your dog can greet his human friends without knocking them over.

Mr. Spock’s dad has promised that he’ll be more polite the next time. I sure hope so! And until the next time you visit my blog, live long and prosper!

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