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Jumping Dog Problems

As a dog trainer I get questions ALL the time about how to stop a dog from jumping. This question is usually followed by a list of things the person has tried so far. There seem to be even more ridiculous “solutions” out there than there are people looking for answers! So let’s dissect this issue to find out why dogs jump, why these common crazy “solutions” don’t really work, and what we can really do about our jumping dogs.

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Why do dogs jump on people?

Most people would say that their dog jumps because he/she is overly excited. He/she is likely too excited, but that’s not why he jumps - in fact, dogs jump during greetings for many reasons.

Attention - The obvious and most common reason: the dog wants your attention. If there are other dogs present, they may all be competing for your attention. If your dog is a particularly forceful and relentless jumper, he/she may be demanding your attention. Many dogs may jump to demand your attention and then growl when you finally give it to them.  These dogs are likely use to controlling their environment - i.e. saying what he/she wants and doesn’t want and getting it. There were likely never any consequences for this behavior (either the jumping, or the growling, or any snapping) except perhaps to be sent to a crate for a time out. Why is this a problem?  Time out does NOT work - Your dog is bright, but cannot reason. He/she doesn’t know why he’s separated and confined. Without being able to tie the action (jumping/growling/snapping) to the consequence (the separation and confinement), it is totally meaningless. If you’re currently using your crate as punishment, I would recommend you stop immediately for this among many other reasons (perhaps the subject of a future blog post).

Claiming - A dog may jump on you as a way of “claiming” you. This looks so similar to the dog who is demanding attention that it may be impossible to tell them apart. One hint that the dog may be claiming you is if he/she jumps, rests her paws on you, and looks around at everyone else as if to say “are you all seeing this?” This is usually just as harmless as the dog who jumps for attention, but not always. Sometimes, the action of a dog “claiming” a certain person can be a prelude to a conflict either between the dog and other people, or the dog and other dogs. You will likely not be able to distinguish whether your dog is “claiming you” or if he is just trying to get attention. Don’t worry though – it doesn’t really matter (more on that in a minute).

Submissive Gesture - There is also the possibility that the dogs intention is simply to lick your mouth. In dog behavior, this is often a submissive gesture. Even if this is your dog’s intention, he/she is still taking control of the situation, which is unacceptable. Plus, many people don’t appreciate “kisses” from a dog so its a bad habit to let slide!

Learned Behavior - Dogs are stimuli response animals, meaning they don’t think things through - "When A happens, I do B." "When people come in, I jump."  If your dog had enough time to practice jumping, it just becomes something they do. This is why it’s not harmless to let a puppy jump. Unless you get lucky, your dog is not likely to grow out of this behavior! "When people come in, I jump on them." There is no “why.”

Overall, it is not really important to understand why a dog jumps – attention, claiming, submissive gesture, learned behavior, etc. Its only important to understand and accept that this is an inappropriate behavior and needs to be addressed. Whether a dog is 100lbs or 10lbs, it’s inappropriate. A large jumping dog can create a lot of physical damage (think about Grandma falling and breaking a hip, or a toddler cracking his head on a nearby piece of furniture, or a table crashing to the ground and shattering a lamp into a thousand pieces), but a small jumping dog can be a hazard as well (think about someone being alarmed or caught off guard, a child being frightened, someone being scratched with the dogs' tiny dagger nails, etc.)

Regardless of a dog’s size, jumping is inappropriate because it is representative of the wrong state of mind. A jumping dog is making his own decisions; a jumping dog is taking control and is leading the "pack". What does that say about your relationship with the dog? Your dog should ALWAYS be under your control, and should be responding to YOUR instruction. Not because he/she is a lowly, inferior creature, but because he/she is an animal. If we want our furry friends to peacefully and safely coexist with us in our homes, we need to train our dogs to respond to us, not the other way around!

Why don’t quick fixes work for a jumping dog? 

In order for any approach to create lasting change, it should address ALL the variables that influence the dog’s behavior, not just stick a band-aid on the problem. This includes, but is not limited to, the aforementioned  relationship between dog and owner, and the dog’s lifestyle. That said, there is one way to get rid of bad behaviors: consequences. Before you say you don’t believe in telling a dog no, think about this: consequences are a normal part of life. What would happen if there were no consequences for bad human behavior? Chaos! Consequences are a normal part of life for the entire animal kingdom; dogs are no exception.

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In order for a bad behavior to stop, there must be sufficient motivation to stop doing it. You can try to redirect your dog with treats, or teach him a different response using treats (reward) alone, but in order for that to work, the desire to eat a tasty treat has to outweigh your dog’s desire to jump. This is why a treat-based trainer shows up armed with hot dogs, not Milkbones. However, most dogs enjoy jumping so much that even a hot dog isn’t enough to change that behavior pattern. Sometimes short term progress can be made, but this approach is not likely to achieve lasting results.

So if treats are neither an effective, nor efficient way to stop a dog from jumping, what kind of consequence should you introduce? How do you know if it’s a sufficient motivator? In order for something to be considered a “consequence” it has to hold weight, which means it will vary based on the dog’s personality, temperament, size, desire to do the undesired behavior (in this case, jumping), etc. If it doesn’t stop the bad behavior from happening, it isn’t enough of a motivator. This is why “time outs” in the crate aren’t a consequence – the dog isn’t able to associate it with a specific action so it’s unable to hold any weight. There are many common suggestions for consequences for jumping: the squirt bottle, the shaker can, and a knee to the chest, to name a few. I’ve met people who swear by the squirt bottle, but let me ask you this: how many times have you refilled that thing? Countless times, right? And you’ve gotta have a full tank if you know people are coming over, right? So the squirt bottle might stop the dog from jumping once he’s started, but it doesn’t prevent him from jumping in the first place. Even if you’re okay with that – “oh, that’s fine. I don’t mind carrying it around. I don’t even have to squirt it anymore, just hold it up!” – is it really fair to be continually punishing, or threatening to punish the dog? (rhetorical question)

So, how can you teach your dog not to jump in the first place?

It is important to set a dog up for success as much as possible. We, as humans, can reason. We can think things through, and arrange the variables in our environment so that the dog is set up to make the right behavior choice to the greatest extent possible. It's only fair to do so.

So when your dog is in a situation where he’s likely to jump (e.g., when company comes over), take away his opportunity to jump by giving him something else to do. Try the "place" command, or a "sit/stay", or a "down/stay". If he still makes the wrong choice, only at this point do consequences come into play. Remember, your consistency is the number one factor determining whether or not your dog will get it!

I have purposely avoided making specific recommendations regarding tools and methods because this advice largely depends on many variables (the individual dog, situation, etc.). Nevertheless, I hope this article has shed some light on the jumping issue!  If you are searching for a dog trainer in the Asheville area to help you with your dog’s jumping issue, or any other behavioral problem, please call me at 828.423.0156 or email me at  adinna@thankdogavl.com. I would be happy to talk with you about your dog’s issues, and exactly how I can help!