Jumping is one of the most common complaints from dog owners. For some it’s a safety risk, other’s don’t like getting scratched or dirty, and ultimately - it’s just kind of rude. Jumping, however, is a very natural behavior and an innate part of your dog’s species specific repertoire - so there’s no surprise all dogs, of all sizes, ages, genders, and skill levels - at some point or another, jump.
Before we discuss how to stop your dog from jumping, let’s consider why dogs jump in the first place.
Is it for attention?
Out of excitement?
Because it was reinforced in the past?
Because of over-stimulation or frustration?
Lack of guidance or direction to an alternative?
The answer is - any and all of the above. Jumping as a habit has many components, most of which are due to poor handling, training, or direction from the owner/handler.
The first component is the emotional state of the dog. Excitement and over-stimulation, are the primary influencers of jumping behavior. It’s a totally normal way for your dog to react to heightened arousal. It is important to remember that during these times, the dog is less aware of the actual act of jumping - and is merely reacting due to the heightened emotional state.
For these dogs it is critical to work on focus, impulse control, and ensure the dog is calm before allowing them to greet anyone. Only once you have achieved engagement and a more relaxed dog, can you work them through the process of unlearning the jumping habit.
Things to look for and reward:
Eye contact and focus on owner
“Settled” behaviors (paws on the ground, slow breathing, ears neutral, relaxed expression, weight evenly distributed, eyes blinking)
Self-removal such as turning away, walking away, or loss of interest in the visitor
The second component is reinforcement history. Owners sometimes unknowingly encourage jumping through their actions and reactions. Here’s a look at some ways people are part of the problem:
Turning away from the dog (good concept, but this often leads to a fun game of poke and turn around for the dog. I am looking at you Labs and Goldens!).
Looking at the dog while yelling, or touching the dog. This includes lifting the paws, bumping with your knee, stepping on their feet, or repeatedly yelling the dog’s name with “no jump, off, stop, no” (social interactions are rewarding for your dog, so every time you look at them, touch them, or talk to them while jumping, you are merely highlighting the behavior. Dog’s don’t speak English - so all they see is a reaction from you).
Ignoring the dog and folding your arms (this may work for some dogs, but other dogs just don’t care and enjoy jumping anyway. Here’s looking at you hounds and terriers!).
Until you have done some more training, a good defense for jumping is to use good management and prevention to minimize further reinforcement of the behavior. This may include:
Leashing your dog for greetings so the handler can remove the dog the moment the dog jumps (then try again so they have a chance to get it right!).
Putting the dog behind a baby gate and only allowing them access when they have calmed down (you can even pet from the gate and walk away if dog levitates).
Tethering the dog, so if a visitor approaches and the dog jumps, the visitor can successfully walk away without the dog jumping further (this is especially helpful with puppies!).
Crating your dog if you, or visitors, are unable to work the dog through social interactions (keep in mind, consistency is key! And the only way to set up new habits is to completely abandon old ones or you risk confusing the dog).
The most important component of alleviating jumping is to teach an incompatible behavior that eliminates jumping completely. The key to success is to redirect the dog onto an activity BEFORE the initial jump (NOT after! As at that point the dog has already failed). There are loads of exercises to help curb your dog’s enthusiasm and help keep them under control, some of which include:
Sit/Stay when someone approaches on a walk
Sit/Stay when approaching someone on a walk
Down/Stay when interacting with kids (more control and safety)
Wait at doorways or thresholds when deliveries arrive
Place/Stay when visitors come over
Leave it for when social interactions are not welcome (disengage and walk away)
If in doubt, CROUCH DOWN and get to the dog's level before they jump!
My dog won’t jump on me, but will jump on other people, what do I do?
Consistency is key in any training program! If you have a kid, spouse, or visitor the dog is jumping on, but not you - then there is an issue in consistency. Make sure every interaction is purposeful with your training goal in mind (that means jumping is never allowed). Be prepared by using good management and prevention to minimize the unwanted habit. And lastly - have some rewards handy and see interactions as training opportunity before the dog fails! Yes, that does mean more commitment from all those involved and taking the time to stage or work through interactions!
But what if I want my dog to jump sometimes?
It is incredibly challenging for your dog to follow “exceptions” to the rules, which is why teaching a “hug”, “jump”, “bounce”, or “paws up” command can be super handy for owners who wish close contact with their pups.
They key is to distinguish clearly between the default behavior (paws stay on the ground, no jumping) and teaching a command to specifically encourage jumping behavior. Consistency and clarity is key here - the more relaxed owner/handlers are about the rules, the more confused the dog will be! We suggest working addressing nuisance jumping for multiple months before even considering teaching a cue to jump.
My dog does well at home, but cannot be controlled in public, what do I do?
If your dog has trouble in different environments, it’s time to get back to practice! Your initial goal needs to be on building calm focus before attempting to address jumping. In order for your dog to generalize new skills, they must learn, re-learn, and master not-jumping in at least 5 different environments or contexts.
As you can see, jumping is not as simple as it seems - your strategy to curb and redirect the behavior will be completely based on contact. Keep in mind - the main objecting is always to try to reward alternate behaviors and impulse control.