Teach your dog to sit to greet people: It’s WAY better than jumping up!

What’s wrong with dogs jumping up on people?

Dogs that jump on people are annoying at best. At worst, jumping up can be dangerous for older folks and small children. Sometimes it’s hard to see how this behavior benefits the dog. This can make changing the behavior a challenge.

Why do dogs jump up on people?

Picture a puppy meeting someone new. When the human doesn’t bend down and pet the little pup, he jumps up on the person’s legs. Now that the human can reach better, he pets or playfully tickles the pup. If what the pup wanted was attention and interaction, he gets what he wanted. The pup learns that jumping up works! Next time he meets someone, he’ll jump right up on them.

Why not punish a dog for jumping up?

Sometimes humans push dogs off when they jump up. Some large-breed pups will consider this the start of a new game and do their part by jumping up again. Pay attention to what happens next when you respond to a dog’s behavior. Did the result you had in mind occur? What happens the next time you greet the dog? Reinforcement has many faces. You may think you’re punishing a behavior and making it stop. In fact, you may be reinforcing it and making it happen more. Check with the dog to find out!

Some humans might try to punish the pup with a knee in the chest when he jumps up. People have many ways of inflicting pain in attempts to stop behavior. For some dogs, this may be enough to cause them to resist jumping next time. This response may cause a dog to be hesitant to approach a human next time. Dogs make associations in a moment. Painful response from humans may be associated with humans. Dogs may avoid humans after an experience like this. An exuberant, outgoing pup may jump up with more force the next time, excited to play the new game. Then the human will need to escalate the battle.

These examples illustrate why physical punishment is not the best way to respond to a dog’s experiment in behavior. Humans can easily create a hesitant pup who becomes a wary adult dog. Attempts to punish jumping up can also result in a dog who jumps up with gusto on everyone he meets. These habits are difficult to change.

Start out right with a new dog.

When you first meet a dog or puppy, start immediately to recognize behaviors you want to develop. Have in mind those behaviors you don’t want the dog to learn to do better. You have a unique opportunity to set dogs up for success starting the moment you meet them. That’s when teaching good manners begins. Use routine, consistency, and reinforcement to help dogs form new habits they can maintain for life.

What behaviors can you reinforce?

Begin by reinforcing things you like the first time you meet him. At a shelter, reach down to give the dog a treat or pet, even through the fence. This will help the dog to keep his front feet on the floor. Ignore a dog who is jumping up on the gate. Wait for him to get off before stepping forward, reaching down or squatting to greet him. All these behaviors on your part can be reinforcers for the dog’s behavior. The more you reinforce a dog for having his front feet on the floor, the less he will jump up. “Four on the floor” may be sitting, lying down, or just standing there. Any of those behaviors can be viewed as the “opposite” of jumping up.

You can start creating “not” jumping up on people, gates, counters, tables, or anything else, right away. Of course, you don’t really create “non”-behaviors. You’ll develop the behavior of “front feet on the floor.” Reinforcing the opposite of what you don’t want is always a good plan!

A note for rescue group volunteers:

Some rescue group volunteers are involved in accepting owner-surrendered dogs. The moment you walk in a dog-owner’s door, you’re training the dog you’re about to get. Apply what you’ve learned about dog behavior and you may be able to help an owner keep his dog. Show the owner how to interact with the dog appropriately and this dog may keep his home.

Teach dogs to keep their feet on the floor – the opposite of jumping up.

Always arm yourself with treats before you meet a dog. Remember, they’re your training tools. Your observation skills and ability to predict what a dog is about to do are also training tools. If the dog is about to jump up on you, simply take a step back and turn your side or back so he misses. Repeat if necessary. When the dog lands on all fours and looks at you quizzically, give him a treat. Step away and let him approach you again. You have an advantage this time. You know he’s likely to jump up, so your prediction is easier. Give him a treat when he steps toward you without jumping up.

Feed the dog a treat each time he sits, lies down, or stands on all four feet. You’ll quickly teach him how valuable it is for him to remain on the floor. Yes, it’s a lot of treats; they’re your training tools when each one is given for behavior you like. The dog will need consistent input from his owners to build this behavior, but the die has been cast. If you take this jumping bean into rescue, you’ve started setting him up for success in his future home. A change in environment usually results in changes in behavior, so that may help too. End his jumping by teaching him a desirable alternative behavior – 4 feet on the floor.

What if your dog already has a habit of jumping up?

Start with a plan that follows the strategy laid out above. You have a predictive advantage, because you know he’s going to jump up when he approaches you. You know because he does it every time. Don’t waste time thinking he might spontaneously stop doing it. He won’t, because it has worked for him in some way in the past. (Refer to the first part of this post!) Have a treat ready. Know where your dog’s mouth is when his front feet are on the floor. If it’s a small dog, that’s close to the floor!

Place the treat right at the dog’s mouth while he’s approaching. Give it to him before he jumps up, while his feet are still on the floor. Then you can ask him to sit and reinforce that with another treat. Don’t misread this and wait until the dog jumps up, tell him to sit, and then giving the treat! That will not get you what you want. You’ll create a chain of jumping up and then sitting.

Follow this plan every single time your dog approaches you and you’ll change his habit. You may even start seeing him sit automatically when he approaches! Have all family members, friends and visitors cooperate with the new plan. Make the commitment that the last time your dog jumped up on someone was the last time. Apply the plan and enjoy your dog’s new way of greeting people.


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