One of the most common issues dog owners want help with is stopping their dog from jumping up. And it is usually phrased that way: “How do I get her to stop jumping on me?” The trouble is, that before we can answer that question, we have to ask a different one, “Why does my dog jump up me?” The answer to that question is quite simple, “Because it works.”
Dogs, like all animals, repeat behaviors that pay off for them in some way. The most common pay-offs for jumping on people are the very things that most people do in an attempt to get the dog to stop jumping. When they jump up, we typically respond in three ways:
1. We look at the dog –When you want to interact, you usually engage by looking at your dog. If you do the same when she has jumped on you, she perceives that you want to engage. It may be surprising, but your dog thinks you are the best, so just looking at her can be really rewarding.
2. We talk to the dog – Whether you are saying, “No”, “Off”, “Quit it” or a 4-letter word, the vast majority of dogs are really happy you just said whatever it is you just said. You are the coolest thing ever and when you talk, they love it. Sometimes the louder the better.
3. We use our hands to remove the dog – Push, pull, tug… whatever. Most dogs think hands mean fun and games. It may briefly achieve the goal of getting her feet back on the ground at the moment, but next time if she wants a little play or physical contact, she knows all she needs to do is jump on you.
Accidental reinforcement of jumping up is one of the main reason it persists. The consequences of a behavior are what drive its frequency in the future. Knowing this, let’s ask again, “How do I get her to stop jumping on me?” Now we have a good answer to that question – “Stop rewarding it!”
For my clients who have chronic jumpers I teach a new response to jumping – one that provides the lowest amount of interaction possible as a consequence for jumping.
- Turn head, look away.
- Keep Quiet.
- Step away or to the side, causing the dog to place her feet back down on the ground.
Then, don’t forget, once those feet are on the ground, your dog is being good! That’s the time for all that attention. Eye contact, talking and petting should happen as long as there is no jumping. Sometimes the attention (especially all three at once) is too exciting and she will jump up again. Not to worry. Just turn away, stop talking and stop petting until the feet are back on the ground and limit the excitement next time.
If everyone is consistent, this alone will often do the trick. For many dogs, simply removing all the accidental reinforcement is enough to decrease and even eliminate jumping up all together.