Why do dogs jump?
As a pet dog trainer, one of the biggest complaints I hear about is jumping on people. We spend a lot of time working on this in my manners classes because it’s such an issue for so many dogs. Dogs jump for a variety of reasons, including seeking attention, excitement, and anxiety. If we understand why dogs jump up, it’s a bit easier to come up with a training plan to help with the problem.
Although attention-seeking and excitement jumping looks a bit different than jumping due to anxiety, we can treat the different types of jumping pretty similar and still get some success. Often the first reactions to a dog jumping include pushing the dog down, yelling “off!”, or kneeing the dog. These are techniques that have been used over and over again, often with little success. Dogs frequently play very rough as they body slam and crash into each other. It makes sense why often times our “feeble attempts at play” (from the dog’s point of view) encourage the dog to jump even more! If your dog is anxious, using aversive techniques will often add to the anxiety, causing your dog to continue to jump.
What Can You Do?
So, if you can’t push the dog away or yell at the dog, what can you do? This problem is one best solved using a multiple prong approach. When the dog jumps up, the best thing to do is completely ignore the dog. Do not react, except maybe to turn your back on the dog. The goal is that the dog finds absolutely no reinforcement or attention by jumping on you.
But you can’t stop there! You need to teach the dog to do something that will earn attention, a behavior that is not compatible with jumping. In other words, you will replace the jumping behavior with another behavior that you’d rather see. Sit is a common behavior that can replace the jumping. Start by giving your dog a ton of attention and rewards for sitting. This will work best if you use higher-value rewards such as soft training treats. When your dog sits, praise the dog and give a treat. Over time, the dog will start to realize that when he/she sits, a treat will be delivered, but if jumping occurs, all attention is removed.
But wait…there’s more! While you’re working on all the stuff listed above, remember that your dog is often jumping from excitement, or over-arousal. Perhaps your dog doesn’t see a lot of people and the thought of someone paying attention sends him/her into a frenzy. Or maybe you’ve been gone at work all day long and your dog is beside himself with excitement when you walk in the door. We can’t expect the dog to listen to our cues to sit if he’s so excited he can’t focus, so we need to reduce that excitement a little bit! We can do this a couple of ways. First, scattering food can really help lower your dog’s arousal. When your dog searches for food and licks and chews, chemicals are released in the brain that help calm your dog down. If you keep some food in your car or right by your door, you can scatter that as soon as you walk in. Usually by the time the dog eats the food, you can cue a sit and he/she will be ready to listen. Equally important is ignoring your dog when you walk in the door. If you walk in and start talking excitedly to your dog, you can understand how that will create more arousal and cause more undesired jumping!