There’s a common misconception that dogs jump on people to establish dominance. Balderdash! Dogs jump on people because there’s something about jumping that is reinforcing for the dog – usually the human attention that results from the jumping. If you want your dog to stop jumping on people, you have to be sure he doesn’t get reinforced for it. Here are five things to do when your dog jumps on people:
1. Interrupt. Minimize the reinforcement your dog gets from jumping on someone by cheerfully removing him from the situation as soon as possible. To that end, you may want to leave a “tab” attached to your dog’s collar when he’s around people – a short (4 to 6 inch) leash that makes it easy for you to lead him away. These are available from Premier Pet Products (premier.com; 800-933-5595); or just cut off an old leash. Don’t leave the tab on your dog when he’s alone; he could get it caught on something.
2. Manage. When you know your dog is likely to have trouble controlling himself, put his leash on before he can jump on someone. When you see the jumping-up gleam in his eye, restrain him to prevent the reinforcement he gets from the initial contact. Other useful management tools to prevent reinforcement include strategically located tethers, baby gates, doors, exercise pens, and crates.
3. Educate. Tell friends, family and even temporary acquaintances what you want them to do if your dog starts to jump up. Insist they not reinforce jumping up behavior – even those friends who claim they don’t mind! Educational options include telling them to:
• Greet your dog before he jumps, perhaps even kneeling to greet a small dog.
• Turn and step away from your dog until he sits, or at least has four feet on the floor, then turn back to greet the dog.
• Ask your dog to sit and reinforce by petting him if/when he does.
• Back away from your dog (if you have your dog on leash) and wait for him to sit before greeting or petting him. If he jumps up while you are petting him, simply stop the petting and take a step backward. Resume petting only if he sits.
• Toss a toy conveniently provided by you to redirect the dog’s behavior before the jump happens.
• Walk away from your dog through a gate or door and close it behind them to keep the dog on the other side.
4. Train. Of course you need to practice polite greetings in the absence of the exciting stimulus of guests and strangers by reinforcing your dog’s appropriate greeting with you and other family members. (See “Keeping Four on the Floor,” Whole Dog Journal May 2008). Be sure to take advantage of the presence of guests and strangers to reinforce your dog’s polite greeting behaviors while you’re managing with leashes and tethers.
5. Apologize/take responsibility. It’s your job to prevent your dog from jumping on people, even when they say they don’t mind. If your management efforts fail and your dog does jump up, apologize.
If in the process of jumping up he puts muddy pawprints on a business suit, snags a pair of nylons, knocks down a small child, or otherwise does some kind of property damage – even if the damage is minor – be responsible and make amends: pay for the cleaning bill, purchase a new pair of nylons, buy the child an ice cream cone, or do whatever you need to do to repair the damage. Then redouble your training and management efforts.