How to Ground a Jumping Dog
I was at my annual wellness exam. My doctor cautiously said, 'Tm noticing some bruises. Anything you want to talk to me about?"
Slightly alarmed, I took inventory. Sure enough, there was a dark purple splash on my right leg, a pale violet one on my arm, and one fading to yellow on my other leg.
"Oh," I said with a smile. "It's wonderful of you to be concerned, but I promise I'm OK. I'm a dog trainer. This one was a German shepherd, that was a Lab mix, and the other one was a Jack Russell." (I've had a lot of jumping dog clients lately.)
A chief complaint among pet parents is that their dogs are jumping up and down on them or others. With small dogs, this can be annoying. With larger dogs, it can be dangerous. Forget bruises; some dogs can knock you down.
Most of the time, jumping is an attention-seeking gesture. Your super friendly pit bull just wants to say hello. Getting vertical is the easiest way for him to reach your hands (for you to pet him) and your face (for him to kiss). A friendly dog will be wiggly, with a curving body posture and squinty eyes. Friendly or not, if your dog is a jumping maniac, it's time to ground him.
How to Stop a Dog from Jumping: Teach Him to Sit
Do you ever reward your dog for jumping? You may think not, but consider this: If you push him off you, you reward him. He thinks that's fun. If you yell at him for jumping and he keeps doing it, that's not punishment. He thinks it's great. This often applies when you give your dog attention for doing "bad" things. When he's behaving himself, you don't pay any attention. So it's in his best interest to be naughty because that's when he gets your complete focus.
If you pet him when he puts his paws on you for any reason, you reward him. For example, you're sitting on the couch and he puts his front paws on your leg. You scratch him behind the ears. You just paid him for jumping on you.
Anytime I run across a dog who is an active jumper, I know the behavior has been reinforced, and reinforced behavior is likely to be repeated. Your dog is getting a paycheck from someone for jumping. Is it you? Your family? Day-care staff? Someone is doing it, probably unintentionally. As long as the reinforcement continues, your dog will keep jumping on people. Stopping the paychecks is the first step to fixing this problem. So teach him to sit using some positive reinforcement training.
- Start by carrying tasty treats your dog loves. You can use a clicker to mark the instant he does something correctly. Always follow the click with a treat. Or you can use a verbal marker, such as "yes," which should also always be followed by a treat.
- Hold a treat just above his nose. Slowly move your hand between his eyes, above his head, and toward his rear. As his nose goes up to follow the treat, his rear will lower. As soon as it touches the ground and he sits, either click or say "yes" and give him the treat.
- When he is sitting reliably, do the same hand motion without a treat in your hand. You want to wean off your lure treat quickly so you and your dog don't get dependent on it. As soon as he sits at your hand signal, click or say "yes" and give him a treat. When he is reliably sitting at the hand signal, add a verbal cue. Say "Fido, sit," and then give the hand signal. When he sits, click or say "yes" and treat.
- Once your dog knows "sit," ask him to sit for everything. Sit before you attach his leash and take it off. Sit before going outside and coming inside. Sit before eating. The goal is to teach your dog that when he sits, fun things happen. With practice, he'll start sitting automatically as a default.
Your biggest challenge will be to pet your dog only while he is sitting. If he gets up, the petting stops. If you have a persistent jumper, this is an important step. He can't jump on you if he's sitting. So instead of giving him attention when he jumps on you, shower him with attention when he sits.
When you have guests over, get your treats, have your dog on a leash, and train him to sit for company. If you're not attached to him via the leash, you can't stop him from jumping on your grandmother or the neighbor's toddler.
Make sure everyone in your dog's circle follows your new rule: No sit, no reward!
If your bouncy dog has been jumping on you for months or years, understand that it will take time to teach him not to. Stick to it, and with practice you'll enjoy the benefits of a nicely grounded, polite pup.
Dealing with an Unfriendly Jumping Dog
"He's friendly," the client will say as her dog jumps on me. I see a different picture. The dog is stiff with tail held high. His eyes are open wide and not blinking. This is not friendly behavior.
It's easy to assume if a dog jumps on someone, he's saying hello. But that's not necessarily true. Some dogs will jump on a stranger as a warning, in the hopes of scaring him off. In addition to jumping, these dogs typically also have a history of displaying other signs they don't like strangers: barking, growling, moving toward and then away from them in a conflicted manner, and avoiding being petted.
If this describes your dog, simply teaching him to sit isn't going to be helpful. You need to address his real issue: fear and distrust of strangers. Please get help from a professional trainer or behaviorist who uses modern, reward-based techniques based in science. You'll learn to use techniques such as desensitization and counterconditioning to help your dog learn that guests aren't monsters but new friends. Help him become less afraid, and he will no longer feel a need to jump on people to scare them away.
A version of this article first appeared in Happy Paws Spring/Summer 2020.