Why do dogs jump up?

Why do dogs jump up?

You may have read about a number of different theories about why dogs jump up to greet people. The main reason is to gain your attention at the first possible opportunity. We often reward this undesirable behaviour by immediately giving the dog our attention - even if it is to try to discourage the activity. When we shout at the dog, push it away or simply repeat the word 'down' - which the dog doesn't yet understand - we are giving it our full attention. Quite a result for the dog!

Puppies need to investigate their surroundings
Puppy investigating their surroundings.

As in almost every type of canine behaviour that we don't want, the actions we do or don't take can be part of the problem.

How to stop your dog from jumping up

If we accept that the dog is seeking the reward of gaining our attention we need, instead, to reward behaviour that we do want, rather than rewarding behaviour that we don't.

First we need to ensure that the unwanted behaviour doesn't generate the desired reward for the dog. We do that by witholding our attention. We can do this by silently turning our back on the dog, arms folded across the chest, immediately the dog jumps up. If your dog runs around to face you, repeat the action and turn around the other way. You may need to do this repeatedly. But, eventually, in the absence of any reward, the dog will stop jumping up.

Alternatively, you can remove the reward by removing yourself. If your dog jumps up as soon as you enter the room, don't acknowledge him at all but go back out again and wait for a few moments before quietly coming back into the room. You may need to repeat this several times but, eventually, your dog will recognise that jumping up is fruitless.

Sheepdog happy and barking
Misty the sheepdog lying down

These actions will seem repetitive and will require patience, commitment and above all, consistency of approach - but they will work.

Different types of reward

As the dog's aim is to gain a reward, we can subsitute a different reward to recognise the behaviour that we do want. As soon as your dog keeps all four paws on the floor, reward him with a treat and associate the action with a key word or phrase. Some trainers use the phrase 'Four on the floor' and say that phrase each time the dog achieves the desired behaviour and a treat is given. Any phrase or word used consistently will soon become associated with that specific desirable behaviour. Some dogs will respond better to the positive reward of your quiet approval while others may work better and faster with food-based treats or the reward of a favourite toy.

The second form of reward comes in our own consistent use of calm behaviour rather than the exasperated reaction that might previously have characterised our own response. Too much excitement and loud praise will simply trigger another bout of excited response (or jumping up). So, by adopting a calm approach we generate a reward for ourselves as well as the dog.

Practice, practice, practice.

It is the consistent and repetitive action that makes this approach effective. And it will be helpful to make this a significant part of your training schedule when trying to stop your dog from jumping up. If you make this a serious part of your interaction with the dog, at times other than when you come home after work, the additional practice soon becomes a quiet but fun part of training. You can practice it just as much as you would with 'sit', 'stay' and 'come'. As in all training, remember to reward the dog each time he does a behaviour that you do want. And never punish behaviours that you don't.

Once your dog is managing to keep all four paws on the floor, even for just a short time, it soon becomes a progression to add in a second command. An example of this might be 'sit', so that each time you enter the room and say 'sit', your dog is happy to oblige and gets a treat as a reward for sitting straight away.

Older dogs Oscar and Lakja
Older dogs Oscar and Lakja

Keep treats handy at all times so that your approach is always consistent. You want your dog to be focused on something other than jumping up at the person coming in. By placing treats on the floor rather than feeding them, you encourage the dog to look downwards rather than up. By laying a short trail of treats as a reward, you are adding distraction into the mix and replacing the stimulus for good behaviour with one that you can control.

How do you stop your dog from jumping up at other people?

It may not be easy to get everyone else to comply, but it is important that whoever comes through the door gets the behavioural response that you want. To stop your dog from jumping up everyone needs to be on-board with the whole procedure. From quietly ignoring the dog and turning their back through to consistency in the use of the command 'sit' as well as their tone of voice. In fact, right through to the dog gaining a reward for desirable behaviour. If you have friends and family who will join in the training, that can be really helpful. It is important that everyone does exactly the same thing to maintain the consistency of approach.

In order to stop your dog from jumping up at other people when out on a walk, it is important that they too understand what you are trying to achieve and are willing to join in with consistent training. Not everyone will want to do this. To ensure that you can keep up the training momentum, you may find it better to keep your dog under the control of a long or retractable lead. Then, if you see people approaching, you can practice and reward recall instead and focus on pairing recall with 'sit' to get the behaviour that you want.

Anticipation is key

Just as we do with children, it is often far easier to head off unwanted behaviour before the opportunity for that unwanted behaviour arises. Distracting your dog with an activity or command which is guaranteed to result in a reward can be a far easier way to achieve some harmony, whether in the house or outside. Do this at the point at which you want to stop them from jumping up.

Keeping your dog in another room when visitors arrive, before your dog has mastered this behaviour, and then introducing them calmly and following your consistent training approach will help you keep control of the situation. It will also give you time to alert visitors to the fact that you are working towards stopping your dog from jumping up.

Ideally, you want the dog to behave in the acceptable manner whether on the lead or off it and it can be counter-productive to use the lead to pull the dog away from contact with people. If in doubt, when you are out, avoid situations which you cannot control until your dog has mastered the command to 'sit' before meeting people.

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email helpline@oscars.co.uk.

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