Michael Nichols is a dog trainer with over thirty years experience. He writes this weeks blog post which is all about how to teach your dog to not jump on people. From identifying the situation to managing your dogs behaviour, Michael includes all the useful information to help you solve the problem!.
Dogs jumping on people is rarely welcome, and often actually dangerous. It is not generally a technically difficult issue to overcome, but the work can be tiring, and consistency is vital. Most important, and most difficult, is to leave behind the outdated methods and advice about why dogs do this or how to modify the behavior. In fact, the way to change this behavior is generally the same for nearly any behavior we wish to reduce; it is only the specifics which vary.
First, identify what reinforcement the dog is receiving for performing the behavior. What is the dog getting out of it? For jumping up, the reinforcement can be intrinsic – it might feel good to stretch out like that, it might feel good to get their face closer to ours, or it might feel good to release pent up energy in this particular way. The reinforcement often comes from us, though – the people being jumped on. Usually with the best of intentions, we talk to them or touch them, or both. We say, “No, down, off…” and unless the dog has serious aversion to these words, or the tone being used, we are probably reinforcing the behavior through verbal attention. “Off,” is a particularly confusing word and behavior. For the dog to perform the trick we call “off,” the dog must first be “on.” For the dog to be good at getting off, they must practice, and in order to practice, they must get on. In order to practice either, they must be reinforced for both, and so many dogs enter into a lifetime carousel of confusion and inappropriate reinforcement for a behavior most of us would rather extinguish altogether. How many of us have been jumped on by an adult dog, who was then told “Off!” by their handler? If “off!” was going to teach the dog to not jump in the first place, it would have worked by now!
Instead, when a dog jumps on us, we should turn around and walk away a couple steps, thus removing all reinforcement for their action. If a door is nearby, walking through the door and closing it for a few seconds (with the dog on the other side), can be very effective. Anything we say or do to the dog after they put their paws on us, short of outright brutality, is likely to reinforce the behavior, thus making the situation worse, not better.
It is not enough, however, to only remove reinforcement after an undesired behavior. Like many other behaviors, the dog may find the jumping up, it itself, rewarding enough to keep doing it, without any help from us. Worse, when this behavior doesn’t work to get attention, the dog may try another, even less desirable behavior – like barking, mouthing at clothing, or jumping on someone else. In fact, and this is one of the most important lessons a dog trainer can learn, what happens after an unwanted behavior is really not the most important part of changing the behavior. The most important steps in changing a behavior occur before the unwanted behavior happens at all.
We have to decide what we realistically want the dog to do in situations which typically cause the dog to jump up. With guests or strangers, we cannot be sure the person will turn around and walk away – so until the jumping up is changed to something else, dogs should be leashed in order to prevent it – while we elicit different behaviors which can replace the jumping up. Sit is the simplest and most common example. Dogs are most likely to jump when aroused, however, and when aroused, it can be difficult or impossible for the dog to perform as we ask. We must practice in low stress, un-aroused moments, if we expect any chances of success during excited, over aroused moments. Sit, sit, sit. Just sitting isn’t enough – wait or stay is also important, so that the dog has a strong enough history of being reinforced for sitting and holding still, that they can do so when greeting people while excited.
Finally, don’t be afraid to create more desirable behavior in stressful situations. We are all so worried about reinforcing bad behavior, and instilling good habits, we forget to create better behavior in the difficult moments. When dogs are most likely to jump up is when they are the most aroused, and when most aroused is when dogs are least able to perform requested behaviors. These are not really learning opportunities so much opportunities for us to manage. If the dog is extremely excited, and has a habit of jumping, asking for the sit/wait or sit/stay is unlikely to be successful until that habit has been changed. If it is safe, simply tossing a few morsels on the ground is an effective way to redirect the dog’s attention away from a likely jumping target, and onto the game of finding food. Much better to toss a few treats on the ground then it is to ask for a sit the dog cannot perform in that situation!
In summary, for any behavior which is undesired by us, the sequence is:
*Identify what the dog is getting out of performing the behavior. How is the behavior being reinforced?
*Remove the reinforcement.
*Train other, more desirable, behaviors which the dog can perform (and be reinforced for) instead of the undesirable behaviors.
*Manage the dog so as to prevent the possibility of the undesired behaviors, until the new habits are established.
*Practice, practice, practice, and reward, reward, reward, the things you like!!!
Michael Nichols, CPDT-KA