Is Your Dog a Jumping Bean?

There are so many doggie ‘misdeeds’ that are unintentionally taught by people. Of these, one of the most commonly complained about is jumping up on people to say hello.

There is a wide variety of dog jumping styles; the least egregious is the little dog who trots over and delicately places his or her front paws on someone to say hello (unless the person is wearing stockings which may be ripped). Then there is the bounder and bouncer. This dog comes bounding up to you and bounces about in between paw jabs. The jumper and grabber is the one that seems to cause the most angst for pet parents. This dog jumps up and uses his or her front paws to grab your leg or waist as if to say “I’ve got you and I’m not letting go until you give me a nice scratch behind the ear.” Friends and visitors are sure to find that these canine greetings are usually followed by a disclaimer from the owner along the lines of “Oh, I’m so sorry, he is just really friendly.” Luckily, in most cases this is true.

Unfortunately for these friendly dogs, the fact that they haven’t been taught how to say hello in a way that is most likely to be warmly received by people, their odds of expanding their circle of human friends becomes quite limited. Even a dog lover like myself doesn’t necessarily want to be greeting by a 60 pound Labrador Retriever pouncing on me as I enter the door. Especially if I have made the effort to get a bit gussied up for a visit to a friend’s house. So, if you want your dog to reap the benefits of making loads of human friends and if you’d like to take your dog for a walk without having to prepare yourself to offer apologies along the way then read on.

Dogs jump up to say hello for the simple fact that it allows them to get closer to our faces, which often offer loads of reinforcement in the way of eye contact, smiles and chatter. They also do this because when a dog is a pup almost every person they meet not only allows them to jump up, but actively encourages it. It is hard to resist a puppy doing just about anything, especially choosing to try to initiate play with you by jumping up. However, it is best to consider putting off that momentary satisfaction and instead consider that this little pup will hopefully be a part of your family for 15 years or more. Will this same behavior of jumping up to say hello be something you, yoru family and friends want to live with for that long? This is most especially true with medium and large sized dogs. A 15 pound Doberman Pinscher puppy will become a dog of 60 pounds or more. While we all must admit to occassionally breaking the rules in our own lives (who hasn’t gone a few miles above the speed limit?), allowing a dog to behave a certain way at one moment and then expect something entirely different the next is unfair to both you and the dog in the long run. In the case of dogs, rules are not made to be broken.

So, if you have set your mind to helping your dog tame this jumping habit then let’s get started:

1. Keep your dog on leash at all times when your dog is likely to come in contact with someone he or she may jump on.You can hold the leash in your hand or step on the end of it to help prevent your dog from jumping. Each time you prevent a jump to greet from being practiced you are helping your dog break the habit.

2. Plan to have a bit of food available for each potential greeting. As you hold or step on the leash, show your dog the food and wait for him or her to offer you a sit. It is best not to say sit or lure for one (i.e. moving your hand up and back over your dog’s head to get them to put their rear on the ground) because what you are really striving for is a dog who learns to sit automatically to greet as opposed to you having to ask him or her to sit. When your dog sits say “Yes!” and give the treat.

3. Until your dog develops a habit of sitting automatically when greeting in a calm environment (with most dogs this takes a few days at most) ask people not to talk to or touch your dog. This way it will be easier for your dog to be successful by not being overstimulated during the foundation learning process. If you are set on people greeting your dog during this time, then step on the leash so he can’t jump up. This is an effective and gentle form of management to prevent the practice of the unwanted behavior.

4. Plan training sessions with one or two friends at a time who can gradually introduce calm touch and verbal interactions with your dog while he or she is seated. If your dog gets up from the sit, simply ask them to stand straight up and ignore your dog until he or she sits again. This way your dog will get a clear picture of what happens when he or she jumps on people. In this case, all the good stuff (attention, food, etc.) goes away.

5. Be a great pet parent and carefully consider what situations your dog can handle depending on their age, temperament and the time you have spent helping them learn how to behave. If you have just begun a training plan, it is probably best not to allow your dog to greet people in a highly stimulating environment such as at a cocktail party or if there is a group on the street. Even if your dog is making wonderful progress, be aware of their body language and their overall reaction to a specific person or environment. Removing your dog from situations they can’t yet handle is an important part of being a responsible pet parent. If you come across an especially exciting person on the street and your dog can’t seem to remember your automatic sit lessons, simply walk away. If you have invited a group over for a party and can’t focus on managing your dog, have him or her rest calmly in another area of the house with a few food stuffed chew toys.

Teaching your dog to sit automatically to greet people is part management and part training. Using both and helping your dog practice in gradually more challenging situations is the way to help him or her become a super polite greeter.