Has Your Dog’s Jumping Up Got You Down?

Do people admire your dog from a distance because they don’t want his muddy paw marks all over their clothes? Well not to worry, because teaching your dog greeting etiquette is a snap and your dog will thank you for showing him how to get all those distant admirers to come a little closer.

Of the many canine misbehaviors which have been unintentionally trained in by owners, jumping up is probably the best example. Ever since the dog was a puppy, he was trained to jump up by people patting him on the head and laughing when he did so. So, really the dog’s only crime is that he eats and grows and continues to jump up. And of all the so called crimes dogs commit when living with humans, jumping up is the one which prompts some of the most horrendous abuse. People take hold of the dog’s forepaws, squeeze the paws, squirt lemon juice and bitter apple in his mouth, knee him in the chest, hit him on the head with a rolled up newspaper, step on his hind toes and flip him over backwards. And why? Because the dog jumped up, something he was probably trained to do since puppyhood. And now the rules are reversed and this is something he is punished for-how confusing!

Not only is punishing the dog for this behavior confusing, but ironically it usually exacerbates the problem.

Try to consider the dog’s point of view. What does jumping up mean in doggie language? Well, pawing, jumping up, play bowing, anything that has to do with the bending of the elbow says “Hey, I’m a worm, I’m trying to be friendly. So, this little dog comes up to us and says this and what do we do? We clobber him. What will this do? This will cause the jumping up to increase in frequency. Why? The dog will jump up to apologize to you because you just punished him.

If your dog has a softer temperament, things may get even worse in his effort to communicate to you that he is happy to see you and is submissive to you. One of the behaviors that is most offensive to people is submissive urination. If your dog urinates when people approach it is a problem that should be viewed as a red flag. Your dog is not confident greeting people, in fact he is probably a bit scared. Instead of focusing on punishing the dog for this behavior, why not just avoid it happening at all? Train your dog to greet people properly. How about teaching him to sit to greet people? If you make it rewarding for him to greet people this way, why would he do otherwise?

Think of what your dog finds rewarding, a toy, a ball, maybe a bit of his breakfast or dinner kibble? How about that all important commodity: human attention? By teaching him that greeting properly is what gets him one or more of these things, you will have a dog who puts his rear on the ground when people approach faster than you can say ‘Good doggie!”

There are three simple ways to do this: the Party Method (best for sociable folks), the Armchair Method (good for the more relaxed pet parent) and the Dog Trains Himself Method (great for owners of smart dogs-that means everyone!).

Party Method: Have a ‘Supersitter Party.’ Better yet how about a Superbowl Sunday Supersitter Party? Invite over a bunch of people and give each person five pieces of dry kibble and have a competition to see who can get the dog to sit the most number of times during commercial breaks.

Show each person how to use the lure/reward method, i.e. hold a bit of food in your hand and gently against the dog’s nose. Slowly raise your hand back over the dog’s head. He will follow the lure in your hand and when his head tilts back, where will his hind end go? To the ground! Think of your dog like a see-saw, if one end goes up the other end will go down. After a few repetitions of this behavior your dog will start to get the idea that the only thing that is going to get that tasty morsel out of each persons hand is to sit.

For you nay-sayers out there who are thinking “Well, then I have to use food all the time” or “I want him to do it for me, not for food,” let me respond to these often voiced comments. Firstly, after about ten minutes of getting the dog to sit for food and giving it to him each time-you will move to what is called a variable ratio of reinforcement schedule. This means you will use the treats sort of like a slot machine. Meaning, you’ll keep him guessing as to when he will get a reward. Think of your dog as a gambler in Atlantic City. He ‘plays’ you and sometimes he gets a “good dog,” but sometimes you reward him with something a little more special (like a toss of a tennis ball or a treat) and sometimes you give him a jackpot payoff (like an extra special little treat or a little game of chase). I often tell my dog Oliver what a good guy he is, and sometimes when he does something especially great (like running to me really fast when I call him, as opposed to his usually Gordon Setter lope) I’ll give him a jackpot reward of hugs and kisses and lots and lots of verbal praise.

Another good way to think of this is that you are rewarding your dog in a similar way to how your boss rewards you. Most people do not get paid for each task they accomplish at work. Right? The schedule of reinforcement for most people is about every week or two weeks. Well, that is a fixed schedule ratio of reinforcement. Your dog can do you one better by working for a random schedule ratio of reinforcement.

Armchair: If you want to go for the really relaxing way to train your dog-do it from an armchair. Generally dogs are more inclined to jump up on people who are standing. So, call the dog from your armchair and instruct him to sit. Occasionally, as a big surprise, stand up and invite the dog to jump up for a hug (if you want your dog to be able to jump up on command). Your dog only wants to say hello and so why not explain to him how he can say hello. Your dog will learn that the default setting is sit to greet people and to receive pats and food treats. However, now and then if the owner is so inclined and wearing appropriate clothing, they might be open to a hug.

Dog Trains Itself: One of the best training techniques is to let the dog work out how to do it all by himself. It allows him to really use his brain, and it allows us the opportunity to see how quickly our canine friends can learn. So, let’s let the dog work out how to great people appropriately. Show the dog you have some tasty treats in your pocket and then just stand there and don’t interact with your dog at all. Simply ignore all the dog’s inappropriate antics. The more excited the dog, the more he learns what doesn’t work to get your attention or the treat. The dog will sit eventually and when he does say “good dog” immediately and offer a treat. Then take one step and repeat the procedure. In just half a dozen or so repetitions you will find the dog will sit the second you stand still. The dog will learn that sitting is the best ploy to get people to offer treats and it will start to use this greeting with many people. Try using a stop watch and time how long it takes your dog to get this concept. I bet it won’t take more than five minutes.

Note: In order for your dog to generalize the concept of sitting to greet people (i.e. it is the best thing to do with everyone) the only way to get reliability is through repetition. So, let your dog meet lots of nice people, but be sure to be there to calmly and gently help him to choose the right option (sitting). For a few weeks carry around a little toy and/or a few pieces of your dog’s dry food and use them to reward your dog for sitting. When you meet a nice person on the street ask them to be the one to give your dog the reward (be sure your dog is friendly with people). The more times your dog sits to greet people the more he will sit to greet people!