This is the third blog in a series of four that we will be posting each week in January for Train Your Dog Month. In case you missed it, be sure to check out the first blog, Breaking Bad Habits in Dogs, and the second blog on how to curb leash pulling. Read through to see what other behaviors Adopt & Shop trainer and pet safety coordinator, Jessica J., will be covering this month!
Why do dogs jump? In short, a jumping dog is a dog who is looking for attention, and it doesn’t matter whether that attention is positive or negative. Dogs have spent thousands of years evolving alongside humans and over that time they have learned what appeases us when we are angry with them (puppy eyes anyone?), what facial expression and silly antics earn our affection, and what behaviors get them what they want. If your dog wants attention, affection or petting and they have learned that they can get it when they jump, then guess what? They will continue jumping! But what if you don’t lavish your dog with cuddles when they jump? What if you have tried other training methods in the past, such as kneeing your dog in the chest, pushing them off of you or shouting commands like “Off!” “No!” or “Down!” without success?
Well, I hate to break it to you, but each of those methods still fall under my first blog’s rule of “be aware of what behaviors you are rewarding.” When you push your dog off of you, you have touched them, and therefore rewarded the behavior. When you shout commands at your dog that they do not understand or have not learned well, you are speaking to your dog, giving them attention. When you knee your dog in the chest or step on their paw? Even that may be reinforcing your dog’s behavior, because to a dog even negative attention is better than no attention at all. This is why dogs who have been abused in the past may still remain loyal to their owners, because negative attention is better than being ignored.
So what is so wrong with jumping? Well aside from being a very rude, pushy doggie behavior, it can also hurt someone. If my 90-year-old grandma came over, who weighs all of about 100 lbs soaking wet, and my 80 lb Alaskan Malamute were to jump on her and knock her over, I could end up making payments for the next ten years to pay off her hip replacement surgery. I’ve also encountered quite a few individuals who have gotten split lips, bruises and black eyes from being bonked by a dog who jumped up and knocked them in the face. Jumping dogs can also trip people, push over small children, and annoy your friends and strangers on the street. No one appreciates a dog invading their personal space, especially individuals who are afraid of dogs or who have allergies. It’s not just large dogs though who present big problems associated with jumping. Small prancing dogs who don’t ever seem to have more than two paws on the ground, whom I also suspect may be part bunny, can also be problematic. If you can’t walk through your house without your dog frantically jumping around your feet, you run the risk of being tripped or your dog being severely injured from being stepped on. Small dogs are easily susceptible to squish-related injuries such as broken toes/paws/legs and spinal injuries, so do yourself and your dog a favor and train out this nuisance behavior.
In a dog pack, alpha dogs are the only dogs who are able to get away with rude, demanding physical solicitations like jumping or pawing, so a dog who is jumping up may be anxious and confused about what he is supposed to be doing and what is expected of him. He may also have mis-read your squeals of “No! No! Stop! Ahh!” and attempts to push him down as an invitation to play. When you train your dog to stop jumping, you may find that your dog will be calmer and more relaxed because they understand clearly how they need to behave to earn your love and affection.
So how do we stop the jumping? There is a rule at my house called “Four on the Floor.” This means that unless all four paws are on the ground, we pretend that our dogs do not exist. We will not look at them, touch them, talk to them or acknowledge them in any way unless all four paws are on the ground. The only exception to this rule is if we are asking them to give us their paw for the Shake command. When my dog jumps up on me, I cross my arms and look up at the sky. If my dog continues to jump, I continue to ignore. If my dog wraps her paws around me and does not get down, I may slightly turn my body to the side so she slides off, but that is the most I am willing to do. I want my dog to make the decision to get down for herself so that I can praise her for making a good choice. Once my dog is back on the ground, it is as if suddenly she reappears out of thin air! I look at her, praise her and lavish her with all of the attention in the world. But if she jumps back up? Oh no, where did doggie go? All I see are the clouds in the sky as I stand here again with my arms crossed. After repeating this a few times, she got the idea and learned that when all four paws are on the ground, she is the light of my life and she gets all of the love and praise she can handle. When she jumps? Nada, zero, zip, no attention whatsoever.
It may sound like a cruel idea or like we do not care about our dogs, but this is not the case at all. We love our dogs like children and spoil them rotten! I send out Christmas cards every year with my dog on them instead of my family (true story!). But in order to be good pet parents, we have to establish clear rules and effective leadership in order to take away our pet’s stress and anxiety that unclear leadership always brings.
Another method you can try is to ask for a counter-behavior. For example, if you can tell that your dog is about to jump, ask for a sit instead. If your dog is sitting, they can’t be jumping! Reward your dog regularly for sitting and they will learn that sitting is more profitable and gets them what they want more often than jumping does. If your dog jumps only when they are overly excited, then do everything you can to take their excitement down a notch when it reaches the point where jumping is imminent. For example, if your dog jumps all over you when you get home from work because you greet them enthusiastically and lavish them with kisses and attention, try calmly walking through the door and ignoring your dog for a few minutes until they are over their initial peak of excitement and are in a calmer state of mind.
Stay tuned for next week’s article in our Breaking Bad Habits series on Excessive Barking!