Best behaviour – how to train your dog to make a polite hello
Most dogs get really, really excited when a visitor calls or they meet a friendly human on their walk – often getting so carried away that they jump up, twirl and bark in an exuberant flurry of tail-wagging activity. Often, not even the offer of a tasty dog food treat will distract them. And, while this can be rather cute when they’re a small puppy, it’s not so good when they grow into their paws and jump all over the person in question.
As most owners will testify, without training, this is pretty normal behaviour in dogs. That’s why, if you want to know how to stop a dog jumping up, you’ll need some expert advice.
Rehoming charity Battersea says: “For many dogs, meeting new people can be all too exciting. This can sometimes manifest in jumping up, licking, mouthing or general hyperactive behaviour. Lots of dogs simply don’t know how to deal with people in this situation, so ideally we want to teach our dogs to greet new people politely, whether in the house or out on the street.” So, how do you teach your dog to curb their enthusiasm and learn how rewarding a polite and calm hello can be?
But jumping up works...
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 we help our dogs to learn to manage this behaviour.
Do I have your attention?
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 what they want – 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.
Battersea advises: “You will also need to practice ignoring those unwanted behaviours, such as jumping up, licking, intense sniffing, etc. Even negative attention is still attention, which can be reinforcing for a dog that craves attention.”
Telling your dog off will only make matters worse
Dogs Trust advises that it’s really important that you don’t tell your dog off for jumping up: “If your dog enjoys the attention you give them when they jump up, they might even find it rewarding should you try to discourage them from jumping up by telling them off or saying ‘no, get down’. They're unlikely to care that you’re saying ‘bad dog, no jumping up, get off’ because they can’t speak English after all. In fact, they’re more likely to learn that jumping up gets you to look at them, talk to them and touch them too, if you push them away – and some dogs will find even this type of attention desirable. Telling a dog off could also be distressing as a dog might become anxious or confused about an owner who is at times happy and fun, while at others cross and agitated. This anxiety might then cause a dog to jump up even more in an appeasing attempt to make the situation better.”
Teach the four paws on the floor rule
It’s easier to teach a puppy polite behaviour than it is to change an ingrained habit in an older dog – although adaptable canines are never too old to learn. To instruct your puppy that good behaviour is the way forward, remember the golden rule: ‘Four paws on the floor’ is the way 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.
Make training a fun game
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 or her 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.
Sitting gets rewards
Training your dog to sit when meeting new people is really useful. If your canine chum realises that sitting nicely gets a reward it will quickly become their default position. If they find themselves in a situation that they’re not sure about, they’ll choose to sit down rather than bark or jump about as they’ve learnt that sitting usually results in something positive, such as praise or a treat.
Dogs Trust recommends this routine:
- Ask a friend or relative to help you by walking towards you and your dog so that when you get close to them you can stop a little distance away and ask your dog to sit. Have some extra special tasty treats ready to reward them with because, if they really want to greet the person, they’ll find this difficult.
- Keep giving them treats and have your helper join in by giving them some more, as well as their attention – as long as your dog enjoys this. Continue to reward your dog for as long as all four paws remain on the floor, giving them a treat every now and again while you talk to your helper.
- If your dog suddenly becomes excited and jumps up make sure you don’t engage and simply stay calm, quietly waiting to reward the moment they stop bouncing. Nagging them to sit again is unlikely to have any effect because they’re so excited, so just wait calmly for them to realise this behaviour gets them no attention at all and then reward them right away as soon as they stop jumping up.
Practice makes perfect
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 want 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.
The key thing is that your dog has to be able to make the connection that ‘four paws on the floor’ magically result in attention and affection from people.
Dogs Trust advises: “Don’t worry if it seems to be getting worse at first. If this does happen it’s really important to understand why, because it can be a big reason for many owners abandoning training that would soon begin to pay off if they had only persevered a little longer. Whenever you stop responding to any behaviour the way your dog is expecting you to, they’re likely to try that same behaviour with greater intensity, determined to get you to react the way you usually would – this is part of the learning process! Of course, this can be very frustrating for owners and although it might feel easier to simply let them jump up, being consistent with the training means your dog will learn over time and repetition that there is just no point in jumping up any longer.”
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, stay calm, clear, consistent and kind.
Battersea has some other great trips to try:
Excitement often starts before a new person has even walked through the door. Your dog may bark at sounds like the doorbell or even the front gate squeaking. To help with this, we want to change the dog’s initial reaction to these noises and show them a preferred behaviour. For example:
- Identify the first trigger of excitement, in many cases this is the doorbell.
- Ring (or have someone ring) the doorbell. If your dog remains calm, give them a treat. If your dog reacts, ignore the behaviour until your dog settles – then give them a treat.
- Repeat this until you have the desired reaction. For example, when the doorbell rings your dog looks at you calmly, expecting a treat.
- Delay the reward for 3 to 5 seconds to build up the time your dog is expected to be calm. By reducing this excitement before the new person comes in, your dog is in a better frame of mind to greet a person calmly. Asking for a controlled behaviour such as ‘sit’ is a good alternative to jumping up behaviours.
Now it’s time to reinforce the positive behaviour. Try these steps:
- Get someone to ring the bell. Ask your dog to sit slightly away from the door as the new person enters. You can have your dog on a loose lead if it’s easier.
- Reward your dog for continuing to sit as the new person enters. If your dog gets up, the person should move back, and the exercise should start again without reward.
- Repeat this with the dog sitting for as long as possible. Ideally, you want the new person to be able to stand beside your dog as they remain in the sit.
- When your visitor is ready to interact with the dog, you can tell your dog that it is OK to greet them. ‘Say hello’ is a good command to use for this.
- Give a treat to your visitor and ask them to drop this on the floor as the dog approaches. This will focus the dog’s energy downwards, rather than jumping up.
- You can then ask the visitor to have a brief, calm interaction with the dog before moving away.
- Once the visitor has moved away, give your dog a treat away from them. This will encourage your dog not to follow and pester the visitor, or any new person.
Need more help with training?
- For information on how to prevent and manage problem behaviours, visit Dogs Trust Change the Tale.
- You can also find lots of advice and training videos through Dogs Trust YouTube
- Visit the pet advice section of Battersea’s website for lots of tips and techniques
- Find out more about The Kennel Club’s Good Citizen Dog Training Scheme
- Canine Principles runs several ‘Dog Skills for Humans’ courses and workshops
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