Not even the most avid dog lover wants muddy paw prints all over their jeans! So how can you kindly and effectively discourage this behaviour?
22 January 2017
Dogs learn from their earliest days that jumping up works – it quickly gets them the interaction and attention they crave. Jumping up and sniffing and licking faces is a natural part of dog-to-dog greeting, so it’s not surprising that they exhibit this behaviour with their human companions.
However, this is where dog/human relations clash. At best, it means muddy paw prints all over someone’s clothes – at worst it could result in a small child or elderly person being knocked right over. That’s why it’s essential that responsible dog owners learn to manage this behaviour.
We humans tend to inadvertently reinforce jumping up, rather than rewarding a dog for keeping their feet on the ground. When our dogs are politely seeking contact, we ignore them. When they jump up, we interact with them. And, whether their reward is a reassuring cuddle or being told to ‘get down’ or ‘stop it’, being pushed away or having their feet placed back on the ground, your dog has succeeded in getting your attention. In this scenario, even if they then stop jumping up, it’s not because they know they shouldn’t, it’s because they got what they wanted – a response from their human. This pattern of interaction keeps repeating because we humans feel we are ‘training’ the dog to stop jumping but, as far as our dogs are concerned, they’ve learnt that jumping up works.
It’s easier to teach a puppy polite behaviour than it is to change an ingrained habit in an older dog. To instruct your puppy that good behaviour is the way forward, remember the golden rule: ‘Four paws on the floor’ is how to get lots of attention and food treats. Everyone involved with the puppy needs to stick to the rule and be consistent in turning off the attention the second they start to jump up.
With dogs that already have a habit of jumping up, or puppies who seem intensely motivated to jump, it helps if you can shift their attention away from you towards the ground. As with most training, this works best when made into a game. To teach your dog to be ‘Politely pleased to see you’, walk towards your dog until you get within a few metres and throw a couple of bite-sized treats on the ground. Continue throwing treats down as you walk closer, as long as your dog has four paws on the ground. Once you get closer, try offering the food treats from your hands, and include tickles and cuddles as part of their reward for keeping ‘Four paws on the floor’. If your dog gets over-excited and jumps up at any stage, immediately ignore his behaviour by standing up and turning away, tucking your hands up by your chest. Once your dog has ceased jumping, start the game again. Practice regularly (in short bursts of five to 10 minutes) and your dog will soon learn that ‘Four paws on the floor’ works, whereas jumping up doesn’t.
Every dog is different and some will take longer to nail it. Very persistent canines may jump even more at first in an attempt to get what they desire using behaviour that previously worked for them. Persevere because eventually your dog will give up. And remember, never withhold attention when your dog’s feet finally do touch the floor – even if you’re irritated with them for jumping up a few moment earlier. Your dog has to be able to make the connection that ‘Four paws on the floor’ magically result in attention and affection from people.
Once you can play this game with no jumping, it’s easy to transfer the lesson to everyday life, swapping the food treats for attention treats. The same rules apply – take the initiative to interact with your dog when they have all four paws on the ground, and never interact with them in any way if they seek attention inappropriately. And, as with all training, always be calm, clear, consistent and kind.
Sources: pets.webmd.com/ positively.com