Ask Marianna: Jumping on Guests

QUESTION:

Lauren H. Asks:

“I have a dog that likes to jump on people when they come to the house. What can I do to stop this?”

ANSWER:

Jumping up on people is one of the most common concerns for dog owners. There are many reasons why a dog jumps up and just as many solutions. From my experience and observation, these are the top 3 reasons why dogs continue to jump up, despite their human’s best efforts to curb this behavior:

  1. Being allowed to persist in a state of high excitement. It starts in puppy hood. We allow our dogs to go into an over excited/frantic state of mind when people enter the home – after all, it’s absolutely adorable when a wiggly puppy greets you – and it doesn’t take much rehearsal to have it become habit. Getting REALLY excited when someone enters the home is what she’s always done – getting really excited IS what she is supposed to do. Essentially, her brain has been classically conditioned to go into a state of excitement when people enter the home. It’s gone beyond a conscious decision – it is now a reflex. Squealing, touching, yelling, scolding and punishing only adds fuel to the high energy fire.
  2. dogbedLack of Direction. As children, we were taught by our parents HOW to behave in certain situations – we didn’t fall out of the womb knowing how to say please and thank you. All too often, we tend to assume our dogs should “know” what to do with the situations life presents. Our dogs need to LEARN from us what is expected of them. Teach her an incompatible behavior – a wanted behavior, that when practiced prevents the rehearsal the unwanted behavior. This can be as simple as a down stay on her bed while guests come in and get settled (your dog can’t be in a down and jump at the same time). Insist the dog remain in a down and instruct guests NOT to interact with her at all until YOU, the owner are satisfied with her behavior and energy – as Cesar says “No touch, no talk, no eye contact”. Don’t release her to greet guests until she is calm and relaxed. If her excitement returns when you release her, then she must return to her dog bed.
  3. Inconsistency. As a general rule, dogs are very literal creatures who struggle with the concept of “sometimes”. If your dog is allowed to jump up on some people, sometimes, but other times is scolded for it…consider how confusing that might be. If you don’t want you dog to jump on some people, then it shouldn’t be OK for her to jump on anyone (including yourself!). Every time your allow your dog to jump up on you, remind yourself how unfair and confusing it will be next time she gets scolded for jumping on someone else.
  4. Touching/interacting with the dog while she is jumping. Jumping up is usually a self-rewarding/reinforcing behavior. When a dog jumps up on someone, the most common response is to TOUCH the dog – to push her off and/or talk to her. Even if the human isn’t actually feeling affectionate, this touch and interaction is still rewarding and reinforcing to most dogs. One common, but ineffective solution many trainers recommend, is when the dog jumps up, push her off (or pinch her toes etc…) and then pet/reward her when she puts all 4 paws on the ground. To the dog, the whole SEQUENCE of jumping up, being pushed down (touched) and then being petted is reinforcing! By definition, a behavior that is reinforced will almost certainly be repeated. Remember – it’s the dog (not you!) that determines what is reinforcing. Some dogs will even find being kneed in the chest reinforcing – to her, it might be rowdy play!

So, what do you do if you were unable to prepare ahead of the time and your dog beings jumping up on your guest? First, ask the guest to not touch the dog with their hands, not to talk to the dog and to avoid eye contact. Instruct the guest to cross their arms, look straight forward and shuffle right through the dog (as if she’s not even there), reclaiming their personal space. The goal is NOT to be aggressive or hurt the dog – avoid stepping on paws or throwing a knee. Just re-claim your space. If the dog is particularly persistent, using a spray bottle with cold water while the guest is attempting to claim their space can help strengthen the message.

Second, be firm and rehearse what you will say when your guests inevitably reply “I don’t mind! I love when dogs jump on me!” This is my favorite rebuttal – “I understand you don’t mind my dog jumping up – however, If I allow her to jump on you, she will think its OK to jump on my 85 year old grandmother” (or my 18 month old nephew, or my friend who is afraid of dogs etc…).

Best of Luck Lauren! Keep us posted!

Posted in Ask Marianna