One of the most common things I get asked is how to stop a dog from jumping up – be that jumping up at owners, or jumping up on people in the park or on the street. It is one of the things people struggle most with, and can be very frustrating, but before teaching your dog a new behaviour, or modifying an unwanted behaviour, it is first of all vital to understand how dogs learn. Dogs are fairly simple creatures, and they learn by what works, and what doesn’t work. So any behaviour that they do that gets reinforced in some way will strengthen and be repeated….whereas any behaviour that they get no reinforcement for will gradually diminish. Also, the more a dog practices a behaviour, the more that dog will perform that behaviour.
So….with jumping up, what classes as reinforcement? What dogs find reinforcing and rewarding will vary from dog to dog (the same way that whilst I am a chocaholic and cannot seem to get enough of the stuff, some of my friends could have a pile of chocolate in front of them and not be tempted, whereas if you put a glass of wine in front of them that is a different story!). Some dogs may sell their soul for chicken or cheese, but a cuddle pr praise isnt sufficient for them….other dogs would do anything for a cuddle or a load of fuss or attention. Really, reinforcement is anything that that individual dog finds rewarding enough to encourage them to perform that behaviour again. So in the case of jumping up, if a dog jumps up and finds it works in some way, they will do it again. Even if we push the dog off, say “no” or “get off”, that can still be better than no attention for that dog, and therefore can be sufficient to perpetuate that behaviour, so it is important they get literally no attention at all for jumping up, but only get attention and rewards when they are on the floor. So we need to not only set it up so the dog doesnt get to practice jumping up, but also it is important to teach them how we actually DO want them to behave in that situation…..and if a dog learns they dont get greeted until they are sitting, or at least have all four paws on the floor, they will start to volunteer this behaviour instead of jumping up.
As with any behaviour we wish to change, consistency is vital. Everyone in the family needs to be on the same page and only greet the dog when they are sitting. So if you come in after being out shopping, or you come down in the morning and your dog is super excited to see you and jumps at you, initially ignore the jumping until they have all four paws on the floor, and only then reach down and gently greet them and give them attention. If they jump up, remove your hands, remove all attention and stand up until they place all four paws on the floor again, then repeat the attention. It is preferable that you do not ask them to “sit” if possible…..if we set it up so that they essentially are working out for themselves what works, they will develop a much stronger, and automatic behaviour, than if we constantly ask them to “sit”.
As a lot of you know, i am a big fan of using food rewards in training and behaviour modification because it feeds (no pun intended!) into how dogs learn and uses one of the highest value resources for dogs, but also because I have not yet met a dog who is not food motivated! If someone says their dog is not food motivated, it is usually because the wrong type of food is being used for that dog, or that dog is over threshold and is too anxious to take food. Food in the case of jumping up can be used to reward your dog BEFORE they jump up….so if you come into the house or into the room and he chooses not to jump up, drop a piece of food on the floor to reward him for this decision. But…there are a few situations I do NOT like using food….and jumping up can be one of them! Dogs are smart, and if they learn they can jump up, get off and then they get a food reward, they can make that behaviour chain happen in order to get food…..so then you may find your dog jumps up, gets straight off and waits for his reward! Food rewards in this situation can be given if a dog chooses NOT to jump up in a situation he normally would, but not for getting off a person.
If your dog jumps at people on walks, then again it is about preventing the dog practicing that behaviour. So if your do tends to run over at strangers to say hello, and jump at them, you should have your dog on a lead or long line so they cannot practice that behaviour. That way as well, if someone approaches you and wishes to say hello to your dog, you will be able to ask them if they could wait for him to “sit” first before greeting him (in these situations you can ask him to sit initially), thereby retaining that consistency whereby he learns that the fastest way to get greeted by anybody is to sit down…or at least not jump. In these situations you can also reward your dog for NOT jumping at strangers as they approach.
One thing that often gets overlooked in terms of behaviour such as jumping up, is to ensure the dog’s needs are fully being met. By this i mean is he getting sufficient physical exercise; is he getting sufficient mental stimulation and enrichment; is he being fed an optimum diet with no artificial colours and flavours etc which have a profound effect on behaviour; how much time is he spending alone per day? If a dog is under exercise, under stimulated and bored, being fed the human equivalent of Haribo and Skittles all day and is spending a considerable amount of time alone, then no matter how much you work on teaching him to “sit” to be greeted, you will find the progress is slow at best.
At the end of the day, if your dog NEVER gets any attention or interacton of any kind for jumping up, but gets tonnes of attention, rewards, cuddles and games for keeping all four paws on the floor, this latter behaviour will be what your dog chooses to offer. So be consistent, set up the environment so that your dog cannot practice jumping up at people, and contact me if you have any questions or need help!
Polite Paws Dog Training 2017