It’s far easier to teach your pooch good habits from the start than to retrain your dog later. Danielle Chenery asks the experts for their top tips on stopping dogs from jumping up.
Nothing says “I love you” like the full-bodied greeting of an excited pooch jumping on its master after any absence, long or short.
But what starts out as an adorable display of affection quickly becomes annoying for you and off-putting for guests. So how can you nip this behaviour in the bud?
Melanie Griffiths, pet expert at Mad Paws, Australia’s largest pet-sharing network, says it’s far easier to teach your puppy good habits than retrain your dog later on. “So start as you mean to go on,” she says. “Consistently rewarding ‘four paws on the floor’ behaviour from the very beginning is a great start; don’t greet or interact with your pup until they are calm with all paws firmly on the floor.”
Consistency is the key, adds Melanie. “Reward good behaviour and ignore anything else. Engaging with your jumpy puppy will only tell them that you enjoy this springy behaviour. When your puppy jumps up, say a firm ‘no’ and turn your back. Once the little one is calm with four paws on the floor, then you can reward with attention and a treat, if you wish.
“Over time, your puppy should learn that when they are calm, the people they love shower them with attention and this becomes a learned behaviour.”
You also need to be patient and remember that you are in this for the long haul. “This is not going to be an overnight fix,” says Melanie. “You must be consistent and make sure all members of the family are following the rules. Try to encourage visitors to your home to do the same; resist the urge to greet the newest addition until he or she is calm.”
Sandra Sullivan, founding member and current vice-president of the Western Suburbs Dog Training Club, adds, “Pup is jumping up for attention, so even pushing pup down and saying ‘no’ is giving attention.” She advises the following preventions instead:
- Take a step backwards or sideways, so attempts to jump up on your legs miss their target and the pup lands on floor.
- Turn your back on determined attempts and even walk away so the pup realises this behaviour always results in failure (but make sure pup gets plenty of attention and petting when the pup is “four on floor”).
- Start immediately training a sit (by holding a small piece of food just over the pup’s head and slightly back. Twisting his head up is uncomfortable and pup will sit so he can look at the food more easily).
- Reward all sits. Don’t use a “sit” command until you have some success with this. Then you can encourage the pup to sit for everyone to pet.
Can you teach an old dog new tricks?
This is all well and good for new puppies, but what if you need to teach your older dog to stop jumping up? Melanie says the same rules apply but it may take longer.
“With a puppy, you’re teaching them from the very start that jumping isn’t allowed,” she says. “An adult dog could have had years of positive reinforcement — ie ‘Good things happen when I jump! I get stroked, scratched, picked up and given treats!’ — so you’ve got a tougher job ahead. You essentially need to undo all of those years of learning that jumping is good.
“Consistency is key. Just like with puppies, ignoring jumping, turning your back and only rewarding (stroking, giving treats etc) when your dog is calm is the best way for them to learn. There’s no quick fix for a dog who jumps up; perseverance and patience is the only way.”
Sandra agrees consistency is the key to change a dog’s lifetime habits. Her tips for adult dogs are:
- If the dog is wearing a collar, take hold of the collar to hold the dog down for petting.
- Only pet when dog has “four on the floor”; turn your back on any attempts to jump up.
- Start immediately to heavily reinforce (with food) every sit and practise a sit on every possible opportunity.
“I suggest owners have a small bowl of treats out of reach of their dog but with easy access,” she adds. “This way they can practise a sit quickly every time they encounter their dog. ‘Sit’ will become the dog’s ‘please’ and the dog should sit for everything: for attention, to go in and out the door, for his dinner, for the ball to be thrown, for the lead to go on for a walk.”
Alisa Sannikova, pet trainer/behaviourist and member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers Australia, agrees that teaching your dog a “good, strong sit” is helpful.
“When you see the dog approach you and start thinking about jumping, ask them to sit first instead and then quickly reward the sitting with treats or affection,” she says.
“When combined with physical barriers such as a baby gate or a leash that prevent the dog from jumping on you successfully, dogs quickly learn that sitting is a much better strategy for greeting people than jumping was.”
Dr Leigh Davidson, veterinarian and founder of Your Vet Online, says eventually your dog won’t even need to hear the word “sit”, let alone be treated each time he sits. He just learns that to get any sort of attention, he simply needs to sit.
Not breed specific
The experts agree jumping up is not a breed-specific trait; nor is it particularly linked to sex or if your dog has been desexed. It may be more common in unneutered dogs, but this is no guarantee.
Alisa adds that in some cases jumping can be an issue of size: “I find that small dogs tend to learn to jump more often, simply because owners don’t bend down to their level enough. Jumping is a good way to get to treats, toys and hands faster when those rewards are coming from above.”
She adds, “Also, as puppies grow into big dogs, their size means the owners are more likely to start finding the behaviour obnoxious and train them out of it, while small dogs stay cute and non-threatening for longer.”
Melanie says, “Jumping up is a behaviour displayed by both male and female dogs if they are not taught correctly as a puppy. However, even without any growling or biting, jumping can indicate that your dog is challenging you as pack leader and attempting to show that they are further up the hierarchy than you. Dominant behaviours tend to be more common in male, unneutered dogs and so you may find it more likely for your male to jump up than your female.”
The experts agree that the strongest link comes down to learnt behaviours. “The reason why dogs do things incorrectly, whether it’s jumping up on you, dragging you on the lead, or barking non-stop, is because we have been inadvertently rewarding that behaviour,” says Dr Leigh.
“Animals learn by operant conditioning: if a behaviour works, that is, they receive a reward (even if it’s yelling at them because that is attention), then they will continue to perform that behaviour.
“Training isn’t about forcefully stopping your dog from doing something. It’s about teaching them to do something else instead.”Make sure your furry friend is always looked after at our DOGSLife Directory