There are some things that our dogs do that make our hearts melt.
There are also some things that make us admire their intelligence, determination and athleticism.
Then there are some things that make us tear our hair out, bang our head against the wall with frustration and think “Why do you keep doing this!?!?!”.
Chief amongst these things are attention getting behaviours. Chief amongst attention getting behaviours is the dreaded….JUMPING UP!
Before I delve into all things jumpy and tell you how to finally tackle it, I should point out an important distinction. Many books call them ‘attention seeking behaviours’, whereas I sometimes like to call them ‘attention getting behaviours’. This is because a dog can seek attention all they want and not get any, whereas behaviours like jumping up are often perpetuated precisely because they GET your attention.
It isn’t what the dog is doing often that is what encourages the behaviour, it is what the people in it’s life do in response. That’s you!
Semantics aside, I understand that this can be a incredibly frustrating behaviour, and in cases of big strong dogs, and small frail people, it can actually be downright dangerous. So read on to hear why dogs jump up, what causes it, what keeps it going, and how to finally stop it.
Dogs aren’t born jumping up at people – but it is likely something that puppies do pretty soon after they meet their first human. Who could resist, tiny little fluffy balls of cuteness gently pawing at your legs, well to be honest – not many can! This is how it starts.
Dogs are often rewarded for this behaviour early in life – and by rewarded I mean they get what they are looking for, cooing, stroking, kissy noises and in general attention from people for being so cute.
Jumping up is also a natural habit for dogs as some believe that the very ritual of greeting is connected to face to face contact. The problem is for most dogs our faces are always 4 feet above their heads! So frustrating, eh? So they likely jump to kiss and lick faces, especially when people enter the house, visitors arrive, or mum or dad come home from work – they are trying to get closer to say hello in the way that they know best.
So maybe the question should be, why don’t more dogs jump up!? If they learn from a very early age that this behaviour gets attention and affection, and it also gets them closer to the place they want to sniff and lick in greeting then it’s a no brainer. If I were I dog, I would jump up!
But, what’s that I hear….”I don’t give my dog attention now, I just tell them they are being naughty, push them down, or give them ‘the look’. So they aren’t getting the attention they want!”.
Maybe not the attention they most want, but pretty much the next best thing. Telling off, pushing down, looking at them, consistently engaging in the ‘give me attention’ game is exactly what your dog enjoys. Maybe not as much as kisses and strokes, but it is your attention after all, even if you are annoyed (they likely don’t understand the concept of you being annoyed, they just understand that you are talking to them looking at them and touching them).
So I think its pretty clear why dogs jump up:
– It gets them what they want (your attention and contact)
– They have learned (and practiced) it from an early age
– Even when you try and stop it, you’re still giving them what they want!
How to stop it?
So this may sound like a pretty tough thing to address but with a few simple steps you can get well on the way to banishing jumping up forever.
Every dog is different, so depending on your dogs personality and size you may want to use some or all of the below tips. Some dogs respond really well to ‘proper’ ignoring, some find it easier to generalise all good things coming when they are on four feet, and some learn much quicker if practicing behind a baby gate at first. Take what works and run with it (but don’t jump!)
What we want to do with each of our dogs that jump up is to reverse their view of this behaviour. It now will become something that stops what they want, and anything other than jumping now gets all of the good things. However we don’t necessarily want to let your dog jump up at you for 10 minutes until they get the message – this is 10 minutes of practice that then makes them more likely to jump again. We also want to add in some management that then means they have less opportunity to jump up, and when we do give them the opportunity we will be training them not to – so it’s all good!
Ignore (like a robot!)
The best analogy I have found to ignore unwanted behaviours effectively is to act like the dog jumping up literally turns off your power – like a robot being unplugged. You stop still, don’t look at them, don’t push them down, don’t move. Power drained – you even stop mid sentence and stand up clamly and wait. Try doing this with your dog, literally becoming the most boring thing in the world. Then, as soon as they stop jumping this turns the power back on and you begin praising, rewarding, and even stroking them for being such a good dog.
If they jump up again, power off. Four feet on the floor, power on.
It is hard to do sometimes, especially when you are busy, or with new guests – that’s why it is important to practice this when you have time and patience to do so. In a few repetitions of this, your dog will learn what exactly stops the fun – jumping – and that this is no longer a fun thing to do. The contrast between power off, and power on should be clear enough for them that it is an easy choice as to what they want to do long term when they approach people.
Baby-gates are your friend
For dogs that aren’t quite ready to meet guests calmly yet, or for big dogs that you are worried may be too jumpy with certain guests, an awesome solution can be a baby gate. Put it up on a door near to the entrance to the house, kitchen or living room maybe, and then start a new routine for when visitors come.
When the doorbell rings, lure or ask your dog into the room the baby gate shuts off and give them a treat. Then close the gate behind you and answer the door. Visitors can then greet your dog over the baby gate and only give them attention and treats when four feet are on the floor. This will start the dogs association with calmness and polite greetings and treats and attention.
This will also let you deal with visitors calmly without worrying about the dog, and will also move the dog away from the often over exciting area of the hall and doorway. The dog can then be let into the room when they are calmer to greet visitors again. If the dog will be in the baby-gated room for a few minutes, try giving them a Kong or a chewy treat that will keep them engaged for a little while so they learn visitors entering the house is a good thing too.
The baby gate can then be gradually removed as calm door greetings are practiced – why not have a tub of treats by your door so that guests entering can give your dog a reward for being calm and not jumping up. Try this with known guests first and then build up to ‘normal’ greetings – only if the dog seems calm at baby gate greetings, slowly transfer this into greetings near the front door.
Everything good for four on the floor
This can be training you can do when visitors aren’t arriving, and basically revolves around rewarding your dog for being on four feet. At times they might be excited, wait for their feet to hit the floor then give them a click and treat, or a good boy/girl and a treat. The more we can reinforce that four feet on the floor, or even a sit is a better behaviour than jumping up then we are onto a winner.
If a dog learns everything good happens without jumping up, this is a great habit for them to have and will no doubt transfer into their behaviour in all areas of life.
Get down to their level
For dogs that you or guests aren’t worried about crouching near, this can help your dog be calmer and less likely to jump up as they are more face to face with you and thus eliminates some of the natural urge to greet at head height. This would be advisable to do once they have shown some calm behaviours when you enter the house, treats, a bit of a stroke and a fuss will help reinforce this behaviour too.
After all, once your dog is greeting you in a way that you like and is polite to you, see if your dog appreciates you greeting him in a way that he likes and is polite to him?
Teach an awesome sit
A great tool for training away any unwanted behaviour is to teach an incompatible one – basically something you ask your dog to do, that means they physically can no longer do the thing you don’t want them to do. A perfect one in the case of jumping up is a Sit.
If you practice a sit, and get the dog responding really well, they try asking them to sit in slightly more distracting environments – like outside or with dogs passing or cars going by. Now try it by practicing coming home and seeing what your dog does, if they have a really responsive sit, you should be able to ask them to sit after they have calmed and then give them attention and fuss and treats.
After a while this behaviour will become habit for your dog, as they learn this is what starts the process of getting treats and you saying hello. Pretty soon your dog will probably not even need to be asked to sit and will great you with a sit and expectancy of a hello and a chunk of cheese.
Lastly, but very importantly, have a think about other things that might be causing an excess of energy or frustration in your dog, or that might be contributing to the jumping behaviour. An under stimulated and under exercised dog may be more likely to jump at guests than a mentally and physically tired dog. Check out my recent blog Well Trained vs Well Behaved on how to see if your dog is lacking any of the basics that contribute to good behaviour before you even start training.
So there it is, a handful of things to try with your jumpy dog. As with all training the key is consistency, patience, setting your dog up to succeed (by avoiding jump-heavy situations – baby gates are great for this) and rewarding what you do like (any treat is great for this, and don’t forget your praise and attention too – that is what they are after all along!).
With these tips try and see if your dog slowly learns that being on four feet is the best thing in the world, and that jumping up only ever serves to stop the fun!
Pretty soon the only dog jumper in your life may look like this…