Stop Dog Jumping
How to teach your four-legged pal not to pounce on you every time you come through the door.
You’re home! And that fluffy, four-pawed bundle of joy knows it! With eyes mischief-bright and tail wagging itself into a frenzy, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve been gone 5 minutes or 5 hours, a dog’s greeting will still be the same. With gale-force enthusiasm, he or she will jubilantly pounce off the ground and straight at you with the complete expectation of being picked up, cuddled, kissed on the snout, and rewarded with a cookie for being so cute. Who, after all, can resist the unconditional love of a happy puppy?
What are you going to do, though, when your canine companion inevitably starts growing into a major dog? Suddenly, when you’re all dressed up or juggling two sacks of groceries, 70+ pounds of furry beast colliding with your kneecaps is not as endearing as it used to be. The problem, of course, starts in childhood, or rather "puppyhood". Dogs learn their behavior patterns through the repetition of reward and punishment. Is it any wonder that we as humans only succeed in confusing them when we start to scold for habits that always used to merit a treat? While the following tips are most effective when your baby is still—well, a baby, it’s not too late to start a re-training program for your dog…and for yourself.
WHAT NOT TO DO
Many people make the mistake of thinking that a quick knee to the chest, a sharp whack on the nose, or stepping on the animal’s hind feet will curb the tendency to jump. Not only is there a high potential of causing physical injury with these methods, but aggressive behavior on your part is going to reinforce aggressive behavior on the part of your pet. “Are we playing a game?” he thinks. The only thing that matters to the dog is that he's getting attention from the person he has missed all day. Eventually, if he keeps it up long enough, he will either get hurt (generating an instant apology and concern from his human) or be given a treat or a walk to supposedly distract him. In either instance, what the dog is learning is that jumping up will—in due time—get him what he wants. There is also the factor of inconsistency; if every human he jumps up on reacts in a different manner, how is he to learn what’s acceptable?
The key is to emphasize Reward rather than Punishment. It’s also essential that everyone in the household participate in the training program to avoid the confusion of “mixed messages.”
What a dog wants when he jumps on you is for you to pet him and/or pick him up. This is not easy to do, of course, if you turn your back on him and pretend he isn't there. From the corner of your eye, however, you DO know he’s there. You’ll also know when he gets confused, stops jumping and sits down to try to figure out what on earth his human is doing. The moment he sits down, reward him with a treat and an enthusiastic “Yes!” This method of training requires a great deal of patience for two reasons. The first is that he may be inclined to start jumping on you all over again the moment you are facing him, and the second is that dogs learn things by sequence. Unless you offer random rewards for other times that he happens to sit down, it would be easy for him to associate that jumping is part of the preliminary sequence to get food or attention.
Are there standard commands that your dog has already learned? (i.e. Sit, Stay, Lay Down) If this is the case, you can effectively incorporate them into the training process by saying them at the first moment Spot comes bounding toward you. If you do this consistently and praise him for obeying, it will not take very long for him to anticipate your command before you actually say it out loud and, accordingly, get distracted from the original objective of knocking you over. This also seems a good point to interject that pet owners will often dismiss the idea of enrolling a dog (and themselves!) in obedience classes on the excuse that “it takes too much time.” Little do they realize the amount of time it takes to “un-train” bad habits that have been left to become ingrained.
This method requires a tether secured to some immovable object…and a great deal of practice! The principle of this lesson is that the dog can only traverse a limited distance to reach you. You begin the instruction by walking away from him, then turning around and starting to walk back. If he starts to run toward you, he will not only run out of tether but also mysteriously cause YOU, his beloved owner, to stop walking toward him, or, even more mystifying, to actually take a step back. Each time he remains still or, better yet, sits down to wait, you will reward him by coming another step or two closer. Thus, he will eventually associate that you being the one to come to him first is better than the other way around.
Whichever method you choose, it needs to be reiterated that everyone in your immediate circle who has contact with your resident canine be apprised of what you’re trying to teach. Otherwise, your four legged best friend will be genuinely perplexed as to which humans are okay to jump on and which are not! If nothing else, keep in mind the sobering perspective that the majority of boisterous, ‘unmanageable’ animals who meet their sad fate at the city pound were the product of neglectful owners who didn’t take the time or exercise the loving patience to teach their pets the rudiments of good behavior.