One of the most common behavioural problems that owners contact me for is to stop their dog jumping up on them or on visitors and strangers. Along with leash-pulling, recall response and barking, dogs jumping up at people often tops the charts of annoying dog behaviours – especially when they have mucky muddy paws! 🐾 🐾
I believe the best way to resolve a behavioural problem is to first understand why it is happening. This is a principle I apply to all things in life, but it works especially well when trying to work with a dog to stop or reduce an unwanted behaviour.
Why Dogs Jump Up?
It is important to acknowledge that this particular behaviour is an innate form of greeting within the canine world. Dogs will greet face to face. Those that know each other will go headfirst into a greeting. Unfamiliar dogs will eventually get up close and personal after some initial calming behaviours such as approaching in a curved or arched way.
Jumping or standing up on two legs starts from puppyhood. If you have ever seen puppies greet their mums, you may have noticed that they lift their heads and stretch their necks, pushing their snouts up close to mum. This will sometimes require them to lift their forelegs off the ground to reach her face. As they become more stable on their feet and increasingly demanding for milk or attention, standing up greetings become standard behaviour.
As with most sibling rivalry, each pup is also competing for attention with his or her littermates. A more insistent pup could be rewarded with mum’s attention and so they will repeat the pushy behaviour next time.
Jumping or the lifting of front paws is also typical behaviour seen when dogs are at play. A typical sequence first begins with one pup lifting a paw to nudge their target and initiate play. The playmate might engage immediately but if not, a two paw nudge could be required. If they are snubbed again the pup is likely to move towards a jump to get things started. This is usually when the target relents and a play session begins. The behaviour is rewarded and so it will be repeated in the future.
It is a combination of puppyhood experiences and a dog’s inborn personality that will determine whether they will be a demanding jumper or not. If mum’s attention was not given when her pup was too pushy this would likely turn that pup away from using that jumpy technique again. Similar to the play initiation. If the target cried out and walked away or snapped – this would also have an effect on the pups future behaviour. However, the tendency to at least try more persistent methods and jump for attention is a pretty standard response from a puppy. Much like a human child trying to get attention using more dogged (get it :o)) behaviours. Puppyhood and childhood experiences have a substantial impact on how an individual behaves throughout their lives.
Unknowingly Rewarding Jumping
Our dogs can begin to learn that jumping up is rewarding with mum and littermates but in the fairly early stages of arriving into a new human home, this behaviour can be quickly discouraged. However, the truth in a lot of my cases is that owners have unintentionally encouraged pawing and jumping up.
When bringing a new dog into our homes, whether a puppy or a rescue, we want them to feel safe and loved. In these early days training and teaching good behaviours are not always considered. Potty training or sleeping routines are naturally at the forefront of owners’ minds or are quickly established because of necessity. The consequences of allowing bad manners to form (especially when it is not obvious what types of behaviours develop into bigger problems later) are not always considered.
Puppies are super cute and vulnerable. When the newest member of the family scrambles up our legs, tail wagging, to greet us face to face we often respond by crouching or bending down and providing the much-desired love and attention. This rewarding behaviour means they will repeat the pawing and jumping up. The response also brings our face closer to theirs, reinforcing how to bring about the standard doggy greeting. It is at this point owners confirm to the dog that jumping up is the correct action that will bring about a positive response from them.
When rescue dogs begin to trust in their new owners and are excited to see them it can be such a breakthrough for the adopters. Who is going to ignore their jumps of delight or discourage this behaviour?! Of course, no-one wants to push them down or negatively impact the bond building between owner and dog but it does encourage them to continue repeating it.
Another unwitting reinforcer for jumping behaviour comes from children. Children will often allow excited puppies to jump up and crawl over them. It is usually harder to see who is more excited – the children or the dogs – and what an adorable moment that is to watch. It’s hard to teach children not to respond to their dog when they behave like this. However, it reaffirms the behaviour from another member in the family unit.
These are just a few scenarios where owners reinforce jumping behaviour. The dog is firmly establishing how to bring their faces closer to them and at the same time, they get so much more than a simple face-to-face greeting. Our rewarding responses tend to include encouraging words with upbeat vocals tones, the loving feeling of touch, eye-to-eye contact that releases oxytocin and the enriching acknowledgement that they are an included member of the group. After all, dogs are pack animals and have an innate desire to be included. So why would they stop this behaviour when it has been met with so much rewarding feedback.
Trying to stop jumping up after this stage is harder as the dog does not want to stop getting the positive feelings they got from jumping up. If anything they will become more demanding if the rewarding behaviour is not given as it was before. This is when cute jumping or pawing can turn into more challenging behaviours that include whining, barking, and barging to get the response and attention they crave.
How to Stop Your Dog from Jumping Up!
Firstly, you should discourage jumping up behaviour from the moment you bring a dog into your home. This may sound harsh when your adorable pup can’t even jump properly or your shelter dog is overwhelmed with excitement to see you but it is the very best training tip I can give you. Boundaries that are established early have the longest-lasting effect. If you teach your dog that jumping up does not get rewarded with attention, they will quickly try something different and you can guide them to preferable behaviours that begin with keeping all four feet on the ground.
Here are top tips for preventing jumping:
Always Acknowledge Your Dog
As aforementioned, dogs are pack animals. If they are completely ignored this can lead to feelings of frustration and rejection. If a dog feels neglected they are less likely to learn. You can acknowledge your dog without giving them the desired response they want. Hold back on the cuddles and snuggles, and use facial expressions, hand gestures and vocal cues to indicate they first need to calm down before greeting them. Don’t be over the top; a neutral ‘calm down’, a stop sign hand signal, shake of the head, or a disapproving glance is an indication enough for most.
Reward Four Feet on the Ground
This sounds simple but timing is key when training your dog, especially in the beginning. Establish a marker when training your dog. This could be a clicker sound or a simple but quick “Yes”. A marker is an indicator to your dog that the behaviour they have just performed is the one you wanted. Dogs try a number of different actions in an attempt to get it right. If you are too slow at indicating the right action your dog will end up confused and will continue to perform them all or the wrong one. Once all four feet are on the ground and you have a relatively calm dog, use your marker and reward. No treats are needed as your greeting is a huge reward for them.
Use Negative Reinforcement
Negative reinforcement is not a punishment. I do not use forms of pain, choking, abandonment or fear to train dogs. The more a dog trusts you the better they learn. Learning in a happy environment leads to long-lasting behaviour. When a dog is scared, although it might work, it could easily turn nasty as the dog defends itself. Dogs should not fear their owners, they should feel safe and loved in their homes. By negative reinforcement, I only mean to provide a negative experience such as not greeting them as they want you to or moving side-on and breaking face/eye contact. In some cases, the use of a child gate is necessary to remove the dog from the room but not close them out completely. These negative experiences, performed in a calm and controlled manner, are extremely effective.
Never Leave Them Waiting Too Long
A dog may well learn to control their impulse and hold back that desire to jump up at you or at strangers. however, they will soon unlearn it if you do not acknowledge their good behaviour. At home when it is 1-2-1, it is easy to acknowledge their patience and quickly reward them. In other circumstances, it can be tricky. For example: if you are talking to someone and they are unlikely to greet your dog at all. Think about how that will make your dog feel. They have learnt that calmly waiting brings around the reward. If they are waiting patiently and then nothing happens this is likely to make them behave differently next time in an attempt to elicit a greeting. This is especially true in the early day. If your dog is sitting calmly by your side acknowledge this every now and then with a rewarding cue (‘Good Boy’), a reassuring glance down that they are doing well, a pat on the head or possibly even a reinforcer (reaffirm the wait or sit cue) if they are getting fidgety. When you break from the engagement, you give your dog the attention/treat and walk them off. This way they are still rewarded and likely to continue the learnt behaviour.
HELP! Uncontrollable Jumping Dog
If you already have a dog that has learnt that jumping is the best way to get some attention, you might need to use some slightly different tactics. You will need to be prepared that this could take some time and it could result in one unwanted behaviour being swapped for another. I worked with a dog that started to understand she could not jump anymore but then moved onto barking. This is a natural response from some dogs as they try to demand the attention, confused as to why the jumping up seemed to work perfectly before. Time and consistency is the key to reduce and remove unwanted behaviours, especially a deep-rooted one. The dog in question was 8 years old and had been jumping for attention her whole life and been rewarded for it by her owner and others.
Consult an Expert
With any behavioural problem that seems to be beyond your abilities, I would always recommend consulting an expert. Dog trainers and behaviourists are able to provide clear and concise programmes that have been tried and tested. They can provide timescales and set expectations so you do not inadvertently cause the problem to worsen, give up too quickly, or place too much stress on both your dog and yourself.
Patience, Perseverance & remain Positive
Stick with your training, even when it feels like it is not working. Your dog will want to do the thing they have always been rewarded for in the past. That is completely understandable when you think of it that way. They may be confused, stubborn, resistant and rebellious to the change. If you feel your patience slipping or your dog is really not working with you, take a break and start again later. You want the training to remain positive in order to get a long-lasting result.
Practise, Practise, Practise
Dogs learn through repetition. The more you repeat the wanted behaviour and reward it – the quicker the new behaviour is conditioned. Practising in the home is the best place to start where there are no distractions. Go out of the door and come back in again multiple times a day. If they start going bonkers simply, step out of the dog again until they are responding to your cues to calm down. You can then start to introduce controlled distractions such as visitors coming by. It typically takes 3-6months for a new behaviour to be a conditioned response. Although this varies when counter-conditioning a pre-learnt response. It is good to continue to “train” the new behaviour long after it seems to have started to stick. You can even make a game of it. You can teach to jump up on cue and to stop jumping on cue.
If you have a jumpy puppy or a big bouncer at home and need more advice on how to reduce their pawing, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or do you have a tail to tell on how you managed your dog’s jumping. Use the comments box below to provide any useful tips and advice to other readers and share what worked for you.