Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
What's Up With Dogs Jumping When Greeting Someone?
Many dog owners look for tips on how to stop a dog from jumping when greeting and it's understandable why. Many dogs seem to learn not to jump on their owners, but extra challenges occur when they are exposed to visitors, friends or strangers on walks. In such cases, dogs appear to struggle to control themselves, but why is that?
The Dog Is Over Threshold
We can describe a state of calmness as a state of equilibrium. It can be said that bodies would always prefer to be in their desired state of homeostasis, a state of internal, physical, and chemical steadiness, in other words, a condition of optimal functioning.
Emotions such as anger, excitement and fear, get the body out of this ideal state. Such emotions elicit physiological responses, such as a pounding heart, increased respiration and the release of stress hormones like adrenaline. When the body is in this state, it is difficult to think clearly.
For sake of comparison, imagine having a phobia of spiders and having to solve a math problem while a spider is crawling on you. Or imagine being a big fan of a famous actor and not being able to speak when he walks by you and looks your way.
While your dog is often calm enough in your presence to remain in a learning state, being exposed to other exciting people can cause your dog to be over threshold and therefore unable to control himself.
People Can Evoke Excitement
Of course, the behavior of people who are around your dog doesn't always help. Many humans can't resist dogs and they'll often engage with them in ways that only contribute to further add fuel to the excitement fire.
Behaviors that people carry out that may evoke jumping behaviors in dogs include talking to the dog in an excited tone of voice, reaching out to pet the dog, and even just looking at the dog. Children can overstimulate dogs even more with their high-pitched tones and abrupt, quick-silver movements.
In this state of physiological arousal, and with the focus on the person giving signals that tell the dog to come closer, most untrained dogs are unable to control themselves and end up going into a jumping spree.
A Matter of Instincts
But why do dogs jump in the first place? Dogs are naturally inclined to jump up from early puppyhood when they are in the breeder's care with their littermates and mom.
Puppies would greet their mom after she would leave the whelping area and they often did this by jumping and licking her face.
Once puppies are in their new homes, they will therefore instinctively want to greet their owners and any other humans the same way. Jumping, therefore, takes place because it gets them closer to peoples' faces.
A Matter of Reinforcement
Behaviors that tend to repeat are maintained by some type of reinforcement. In the case of a dog who jumps when greeting, what keeps the behavior alive is in most cases the attention the dog gets.
Many social dogs love to interact with people, especially when young. Since jumping gets them closer to people's faces and dogs often get attention this way, the behavior can be said of being positively reinforced.
Positive reinforcement is one of the four dog training quadrants that causes behaviors to strengthen and repeat.
How to Stop a Dog From Jumping When Greeting Someone New
To stop a dog from jumping when greeting, as mentioned, it's important to tackle the issue from various angles. Dogs must be prevented from engaging in troublesome behaviors as much as possible while learning to cope with their emotions and attaining better impulse control. Following are several tips to reduce, and eventually, with time and persistence, potentially stop a dog from jumping when greeting people.
Firstly, Avoid Physical Methods
It's important to avoid any physical or intimidation-based methods. Pushing a dog, grabbing his paw to unbalance him or using your knee to move him away may increase arousal.
Using your hands or legs may make your dog more hyper as he perceives it as an interactive game. Most dogs engage more when we reach to push them away, and many dogs are attracted to movements.
On top of this, correcting a dog using intimidation methods risks harming the dog physically and can potentially lead to a dog who bites defensively which is a much greater problem than a dog who is simply jumping out of joie de vivre!
Prevent Rehearsal of the Problem Behavior
Just as actors rehearsing a play get better and better in performing the more they practice, dogs get particularly good at acting overly excited the more they get to practice the hyper jumping-when-greeting behavior. The age-old saying "practice makes perfect" applies to dogs as well.
Therefore, try your best to prevent your dog from rehearsing the overly excited jumping behavior as much as you can. Management is imperative and goes a long way in these cases.
For example, if your dog tends to jump all over guests when they enter the door, keep your dog on a leash at a distance from your guests, behind a pet gate or in a separated area.
If your dog jumps on people he meets on walks, don't stop to talk to them or at least stay at distance from people so that your dog doesn't feel compelled to jump.
In other words, avoid putting your dog into overwhelming situations that you know have caused jumping behaviors in the past. "When in doubt, leave it out," just simply avoid exposing your dog to these situations that evoke over-the-top excited behaviors.
So the main goal of management is to prevent rehearsal of the problem behavior. It can be used for those times when you do not have time to train, or when you are in the early stages of training.
Create Systematic Set-Ups
Dogs who get overly excited during greetings to the point of jumping benefit from a plan that involves desensitization. Desensitization is a behavior modification technique that entails presenting stimuli or situations to the dog in such a way that they don't evoke the problem behavior.
The dog is therefore carefully exposed to lower intensity situations, which don't evoke jumping, and therefore, increases the chance that the dog remains under threshold and in a better "learning state."
Desensitization involves the use of baby steps, breaking down tasks into smaller, easier to assimilate components and then gradually practicing in more manageable chunks, and of increasing difficulty, as things get better. It's therefore important to work at the dog's pace.
In the case of a dog jumping when greeting, this would mean exposing the dog to people at a distance that doesn't evoke the overly excited behavior so that the dog remains in a calmer state and is more capable of learning how to better cope with his emotions.
Systematic set-ups can therefore be organized with a few volunteers. You can enlist the help of some friends to meet casually on walks at a distance. Friends should be instructed to not talk to your dog or look at him and to maintain a certain distance. They should only talk to you and make contact with you and keep the encounter short.
Friends can be also invited over to do the same. No talking or making eye contact with the dog, while your dog is on leash at a distance or behind a baby gate.
Such setups are very important because here's the thing: just as rehearsing hyper behaviors makes them stronger, it’s equally true that rehearsing calmer, less hyper behavior makes these stronger too, which in this case, is exactly what we want!
Train an Alternate Behavior to Focus On
Once you have found that sweet spot where your dog acts calmer, it's time to put his brain to use.
Arm yourself with the tastiest high-value treats (keep them in a bowl by the door when receiving guests or in your pocket or treat bag when on walks) and offer these when your dog practices a desirable behavior.
Keep the training brief and fun to set your dog for success. For example, when you have your guests over, keep your dog on leash and drop several treats to the ground for him to search for, while the guests enter. Then place your dog behind the pet gate to enjoy something fun to chew (stuffed Kong) or play with (Kong Wobbler).
If he is too hyper on leash, keep him behind the pet gate for the first few minutes until your guests are seated and he is in a calmer state.
Then, let him out on leash, ask him to perform a few behaviors at a distance from them, reward and let him scavenge for a few treats/kibbles tossed around the room to allow him to rehearse a thinking state, and then place him back behind the pet gate with something to keep him busy and happy for some time.
If you are walking your dog, practice several steps of attention heeling (dog walking as he looks up at you) as you walk by them at a distance, and lavishly praise and reward him every few steps.
When you stop to talk with these friends at a distance, you can ask your dog to sit at a distance, reinforce that and then ask him to do a couple of tricks and then drop a few treats every now as you chit-chat or let him tug with a toy for a bit and then leave—explaining to your friend that your dog is in training and you need to resume your walk.
Keeping the encounters brief and fun will help your dog succeed and lower the chances that your dog may revert to his old jumping antics. Don't give a chance for a setback to happen.
Use These Tricks for Increasing Success
To strategically prevent your dog from directly jumping up on guests, you may find it helpful to use a tall baby gate or pet fence.
Alternatively, you can tether your dog using an indoor chew-proof tether so that you can have guests practice the set-ups approaching at a distance without your dog being able to directly jumping on them.
You can have them practicing approaching your dog and asking for a sit. If the dog sits, they give your dog a treat. If your dog manages to try to jump, they should immediately move away.
Be a Splitter, Not a Lumper
"Be a splitter, not a lumper," is a common saying among dog trainers. This simply means, breaking tasks into smaller steps rather than going for big chunks. Make things easy-peasy for your dog.
So start practicing by exposure to people at a distance who ignore your dog, then work at closer distances, then start adding some slight challenges, like people who look at your dog, people who talk at your dog, or people who pet your dog.
Remember this very important rule: If your dog jumps at any time, take it as a sign that you have progressed too fast and he wasn't ready for that level of distraction. You will therefore need to take a few steps back and expose to less overwhelming forms, and gradually build up from there.
For example, if your dog did well not jumping on people who ignored him, then did well with people who looked at him, but now jumped on the first person who tried o talk to him saying, "Hello!" in an excited, loud tone, go back a few steps and practice with this same person ignoring him, then looking at him, and then saying "hello" from a distance in a calmer, lower tone, then closer, then closer in a less calm voice, until you can build up to your dog not jumping on the person saying "hello!" in the exited, loud tone.
If your dog struggles with jumping when greeting guests, break the behavior into smaller components. For instance, train your dog to sit by the door, then progress to sit with the door open, then with a volunteer taking one step through the door, then with the volunteer entering, then entering with an excited voice, etc.
All the pieces need to be broken down and if your dog jumps, find out what triggered the jump, take a few steps back and add further intermediate steps as needed to reach that level of intensity with your dog sitting calmly.
Make sure to use high-value treats to reward calm, desirable behaviors such as not jumping, ignoring the person or even better sitting. By going high-value you leave a strong impression and increase the saliency of being in a calm state, making the sitting behavior more reinforcing than jumping.
Enroll in a Canine Good Citizen Course
If you have the chance, enroll your dog in a canine good citizen course which prepares you and your dog for the canine good citizen test. In this course, your dog will learn many great impulse control skills such as accepting the presence of a friendly stranger without jumping.
Training at subthreshold levels is very important. Your dog will be in a better thinking state and therefore learns to stay calm. Lots of practice with different people helps too. At some point, meeting people becomes a cue for sitting.
Avoid Uncollaborative People
During training, you will want people to ignore your dog unless he is calmly standing, and later on, staying in a composed sit or a down. If your dog jumps, your helpers should stop approaching or even turn their back if the dog persists. By doing so, they are informing your dog that this form of greeting isn't desirable and won't lead to engagement.
If possible, stay away from people who won't follow your directions. Some people will want to give loads of fuss even when dogs jump up on them. They may tell you that it's OK for them if your dog jumps on them and some may even question your training. Avoid these people until your dog is better under control and has learned to have all four glued to the ground
Watch for Behavior Chains!
It's a common trend in the dog training world to tell people to redirect a dog's jump by asking for a sit right afterward. You'll find advice like this: "When your dog starts to jump, stop petting and redirect into a 'sit' and start petting again" or "ignore the jumping and immediately reward the sit."
While well-meaning, these tips may lead to an annoying behavior chain that may be challenging to undo. A behavior chain occurs when a dog thinks that unwanted behavior is part of the training. In other words, your dog learns to jump and then sit rather than just sit.
Ideally, you should catch your dog before he has an opportunity to jump and ask him to sit. This important detail will prevent you from getting into the sticky situation, where dogs will jump and then immediately sit and the jumping never extinguishes because dogs think it's part of the exercise!
Encourage Calm Activities
Dogs who are prone to getting overly excited benefit from learning how great it feels to feel calm. These dogs benefit from learning the perks of lying calmly on a mat.
It also helps a lot to train dogs how to better cope with their frustration and learn to control their impulses.
Brain games, clicker training, foraging opportunities and nose work are all great activities that help dogs stay practice calm behaviors.
Think About it as Re-Wiring Your Dog's Brain
Think about the whole project as a way to "rewire your dog's brain." His brain is now on automatic mode "gotta start jumping when greeting people" and you want to rewire it into "I will stay calm and engage in something other activity despite the distraction."
You will need to therefore find ways to "re-wire" his brain to seek other forms of engagement that compete against the reward he is getting from jumping up.
You can start with organizing some easy games and activities when guests are over to defuse the initial excitement. Such games provide food without much thinking involved (tossing treats, giving a dog cookie that takes a few minutes to eat while guests come in and sit down, playing a treasure hunt game, bottle game -that is a, bottle without lid or labels filled up with kibble to get out- most pups can't resist this game).
Afterward, once the initial excitement has defused, one can then gradually move to games that require more thinking (hand targeting, going to the mat as guests come through the door, having the dog hold a sit-stay).
A Word of Caution
Finally, a word of caution. Not all dogs jump because they are happy greeters. In some circumstances, dogs may jump to put distance with certain people. Some dogs jump to deliver a muzzle punch.
These are classified as anxiety-related behaviors that are distance-increasing. In other words, the dog jumps to put more distance rather than decrease it.
They are saying to people "go away" rather than "come closer and pet me" and since jumping makes some people really move away, dogs may continue jumping because it has accomplished its goal. These dogs need more behavior modification than actual training.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Adrienne Farricelli