Jumping up is a common behaviour problem probably experienced by most dog owners. Jumping up is usually invited and encouraged by owners as a greeting ritual, expression of affection and play. When puppies are small they tend to jump up to obtain your attention and interaction; we then reinforce this behaviour by touching and talking to them. The puppy then learns that to obtain attention; that is what he must do.
As the puppy gets older and bigger in size the more of a nuisance behaviour it becomes, especially if you have a dog that jumps up on visitors, small children, elderly people or when you have your work clothes on. You might have adopted an older dog from a rescue agency and the dog might have arrived in your home with the habit of jumping up.
Some dogs who display this behaviour quite intensely are usually relinquished to the back garden when visitors come, they are pushed down, yelled at to stop jumping, and none of these procedures will do anything to improve the dog’s behaviour; it can actually make it worse!
We have all heard to ignore the dog when he jumps, but using extinction alone will not solve the unwanted behaviour. What usually happens when someone tells you to ignore the behaviour, the dog might actually try harder to get your attention by jumping up more. In the past he has learnt this is what he must do to get your attention, and for some reason now it’s not working, so the dog tries harder.
Or the dog tries another behaviour to get your attention; other behaviours might consist of barking at you, mouthing your hands or feet or grabbing hold of the bottom of your pants. When the dog then do these behaviours we tell him to stop it, we push him away or yell at him; but he has managed to get your attention; thus he has succeeded in getting your interaction by doing another ‘annoying’ behaviour. Thus because the latest behaviour was successful, it will be employed in the future again (to obtain you interaction).
If the jumping up is purely an attention seeking behaviour or an over enthusiastic greeting ritual then yes ignoring the behaviour will work, BUT at the same time one has to teach another behaviour in it’s place. Don’t leave a ‘void’ for the dog to fill. Your best results will be obtained by teaching an alternative behaviour (sit) with rewards and play rather than focusing on suppressing the unwanted behaviour.
Teach your dog a good reliable ‘sit-stay’ cue with both verbal and hand signals. Dogs are a visual specie and respond more reliably to a combination of visual and verbal cues than just using a verbal cue alone. Practice the ‘sit-stay cue under various levels of arousal i.e. during play and when going on walks. And also practice this in the context that it happens i.e. the front door or the back garden. Ensure that you reward the sit behaviour with lots of treats, play and interaction.
Be pre-emptive; before the dog even has the chance to jump up to greet you, ask for a ‘sit’. If he complies he can be calmly greeted, if not ignore the jumping up/withdraw your attention from him/turn away and then ask again for a ‘sit’. This way they learn that jumping up does not work, but ‘sit’ brings him positive interaction and attention.
If you have a small dog you can crouch down during greetings to the dog’s level to prevent him from jumping up.
Some dogs can also jump up as means of seeking comfort in certain situations that they feel unsure, i.e. at the vet or in group class. The accompanying body language will tell you if the dog is seeking reassurance. Their tails are usually fully or partly tucked, their ears could be drawn back, the forehead and cheek muscles are pulled tight, and they almost seem to ‘hold on’ or pawing you, rather than just jumping up against you. If this happens, go down to their level and provide comfort, be it in the form of slow, gentle stroking or speaking in a soft upbeat voice.
Guests will need to be informed of the new rules, as consistent feedback to the dog will make it easier for him to learn the new more rewarding greeting behaviour.
If you have a really excited dog that likes to jump on people then you can either keep him on a lead to prevent him from jumping (or inadvertently hurting guests) or keep him outside until he’s calmed down, and then allow him to greet the visitors while doing a calm ‘sit’. Dogs respond better to commands the less aroused/excited they are,but it is not impossible to teach your dog to comply to commands when highly excitable; it just takes some extra time and patience.