Over the last few weeks I’ve been receiving regular Facebook posts from people asking how to stop their dogs from jumping up on everybody, including visitors. The good news is that stopping this is fairly straight forward but it does require the help of some tasty treats and some planning.
In a nutshell, dogs jump up because it’s reinforcing. Even though we may be telling them “no” and “stop” or pushing them back down, dogs still consider this to be attention which equals reinforcement. Dogs are incredibly social creatures which is one of the reasons they have so ingrained themselves into our lives. So it is not surprising that, once they have been apart from us, they are going to be overjoyed when we return. Jumping up is a guaranteed way for dogs to make sure that we know they are there and that they get the attention that they so want.
As with all dog training you will always be more successful when you replace what you don’t want with what you do want. This provides the dog with very clear direction as opposed to just telling it ‘no’. Considering a dog jumps up to gain attention, often in an overly excited state, it is highly unlikely that they are going to stop without a distraction. If telling a dog to ‘stop’ actually worked, I doubt that I would be getting so many questions on the Better Pets and Gardens Facebook page! If instead you provide them with reinforcement for not jumping up then you are far more likely to have success.
It is important that you start your dog’s education in a controlled environment. There is no point having your first training session with your dog at your next dinner party when you have eight people coming over. Organisation is also really important so before you start, have a think about what you are doing and what you need.
To begin, enlist the help of a friend who can be your “visitor”. Have a container of your dog’s favourite food to use as a reward. Make sure it is easily accessible so you can grab it in an instant. I tend to use my pockets but an open container where you can quickly reach the treats is fine as long as your dog can’t help itself!
Put your dog on a collar and lead before starting so that it is under control and close by and move into a quiet room. Have the initial contact quite low key by having the ‘visitor’ walk into a room that you are in rather than coming in through the front door. Before the visitor comes in, spend a couple of minutes just rewarding the dog for hanging out with you and being nice and calm. Once it is focused on you, signal quietly to your visitor to enter the room and come over to you. At this early stage ask the visitor to be very calm and make no eye contact with the dog or try and interact with it in anyway. As the visitor approaches, talk to the dog while putting food on the ground and encouraging it to eat. Continue putting food on the ground as the dog’s attention stays on you. If he looks at the visitor, which is fine, just encourage him to continue eating the food as you place it on the ground. Don’t worry about your dog sitting or doing anything formal as you only need to concern yourself with rewarding him for having all four feet on the ground. Keep a steady stream of rewards flowing and remember that you need to make keeping feet on the ground more enjoyable than jumping on the visitor. Be prepared to use a lot of treats!
Once you can see that the dog is paying more attention to the treats he is getting than the visitor, ask the visitor to act in a more outgoing manner which will be a greater distraction for the dog and next time, when the visitor walks into the room they can start talking to you or even saying hello to the dog.
As the dog progresses to these greater distractions, continue to reward him all the time. If you hit a spot where the dog does try to jump up, drop the excitement level down a touch and then when your dog is ready, start to increase it again. Continue increasing the distractions as you see success and slowly build up to having a visitor arrive at the front door and ringing the bell or knocking. All of these things will increase your dog’s excitement level so work up to them slowly and only when the dog is ready.
Karen Phillips is the owner and trainer of Riot, the beautiful border collie that is the Better Pets and Gardens mascot. Karen has had immense experience and success with her border collies as well as little Cassie, the very fast papillon, and is currently involved as a trainer with the Agility Club of WA. Karen is also a regular expert on our Facebook page every Monday night.