You must be consistent. You must use your leash. You must fall back on your dog’s basic obedience training. You can’t just do nothing, or expect someone else to do something. You need to make sure that your dog knows exactly what to do the next time they meet someone. Set them up for success, and prepare for the inevitable challenges that will arise.
If you are reading this article hoping to find out how to punish your dog for jumping up, finally ending the debate on which correction is most effective, you’re about to be sorely disappointed. I don’t recommend giving your dog a swift knee to the chest to wind them, nor do I recommend shooting them with a water gun, nor blinding them with lemon juice. I certainly don’t want you to grab their paws and squeeze hard until they cry out in pain. Don’t bother with a shock collar either, same goes for yelling at them, rolling them on their back, and anything else some guy at the park came up with too, even if he saw it on TV, or he’s pretty sure that’s what worked for his dog. Let’s move forward with steps you can take that will make a difference in your dog’s behaviour, without unwanted consequences.
Step 1: Realize that your dog does things for a reason
The reason your dog is jumping up on people is pretty obvious. They want attention. They want to get closer to your face, they want dad to look at them, they want to smell and kiss your kid, and they want to get to know that stranger on the street. They know that, at least occasionally, someone will look down, say their name, bend toward them, and ultimately focus directly on them, perhaps even touching them. Even if they aren’t given attention, negative or otherwise, jumping is it’s own reward, it is a release of bottled energy that is intrinsically motivating.
Step 2: Reward alternate behaviours
Notice when your dog isn’t jumping up. Reward calmly with pets and attention, stopping the very moment your dog gets excited and thinks about jumping up.
People tend not to notice when their dog isn’t jumping up and fail to reward them, continuing on with conversations, staring at phones, waiting for the dog to get bored, jump up, whine, bark, and beg for attention.
Teach alternate behaviours. Telling your dog ‘off!’ each time they jump up is one thing, but it doesn’t teach them what to do instead of jumping up. It doesn’t give them the information they really need. They need to be told exactly what to do the next time an exciting human is around. They need a new way to get attention, and you need a new plan. Just waiting for your dog to jump up so that you can correct them isn’t good enough, you need to be proactive.
Begin by teaching your dog basic obedience commands like ‘sit’ and ‘down.’ Teach your dog to hold their ‘sit’ and ‘down’ position while you pet them briefly, before releasing and trying again, practicing until they can hold a ‘sit or down’ position while you pet them enthusiastically for increasingly longer periods. Once your dog has mastered that, move on to having a family member pet them.
Ask people to pet your dog, but tell them that in order to help you train your dog, they must pet only if your dog is sitting or lying down, whichever you’ve chosen. Note that if your dog is shy, fearful, or reactive, they will need a different protocol; this advice is for puppies and dogs that are overly friendly.
Start with calm, sober, single adults. A group of partyers or kids will likely be too stimulating for your dog, and too difficult for you to control. If your dog is having trouble holding their ‘sit/down’ position when an exciting person is introduced, ensure you practice when your dog is tired and hungry. Set them up for success by allowing them to nibble on a treat while they receive calm brief pets under their chin. Practice on-leash, stepping on it if necessary, leaving just enough slack for your dog to jump an inch or two off the ground.
Step 3: Teach the “OFF” cue
Teach your dog to respond to an “off” cue by luring them on and off of tree stumps, fences, walls, and concrete barriers. Say “Yes!” as they remove their paws from all kinds of things and reward with a treat.
While the “off” cue is helpful, be sure to manage your dog with a leash and obedience commands to prevent jumping up in the first place. Your dog may still try jumping up despite your best efforts to prevent it, in which case, the “off” cue should do the trick if your timing is good.
If not, and…
Your dog is jumping up on you: Ignore them. Raise or cross your arms and look upward, turn around, talk to someone else, walk away to do a chore, or pick up your phone and check Facebook (dogs hate that!) If they continue to jump up, leave the room. Avoid looking at them, talking to them, or touching them. Reward your dog with touching and attention when they give up on jumping up and try something else, like standing on all four paws, sitting, or lying down. Because jumping itself feels good, your dog will find it intrinsically rewarding to jump on you or someone else, so you must manage their behaviour with your leash and/or leaving the room if they continue to jump up after you’ve given the ‘off’ cue. Have them wear a leash around the house so that you can step on it.
Your dog is jumping up on your child or another person: Instruct everyone to ignore your dog as above and allow you to handle it. Try to say “off!” at the moment your dog thinks about jumping up. Don’t bother with punishments beyond verbal interruptions like “nope!” or “ah!” which are more than enough if you are consistent.
Be very matter of fact, go over and remove your dog, applying the leash and stepping on it if necessary. Do not instruct people to knee your dog in the chest, grab their paws, or to do anything else to your dog. You cannot expect that person to apply corrections effectively, and the attention your dog receives will confuse them.
If your dog is jumping up while you are seated or lying down: Teach your ‘off’ cue again in this new context, standing up if they don’t get off within 2 seconds. I like to hold my hands up high, palms facing the dog. Soon your cue ‘off,’ with your hands up, will signal to your dog to leave your lap and enjoy petting from the floor. Most people try to push the dog off, but your touch is exactly what your dog is seeking, holding your hands up will also remind you to avoid touching your dog.
Play ‘Go Wild & Freeze’
This fun game will teach your dog impulse control, solidify your ‘off’ cue, and reward your dog for the behaviours we like most with exactly the kind of attention dogs like most. If your dog or puppy is an especially avid jumper, tether your dog to something sturdy. Alternatively, play in a secure room or exercise pen so that you can easily step out if needed. The key is to set aside time to work on impulse control each day, rather than just waiting for the dog to jump up. Instead, start this game at a time when your dog isn’t jumping up. This game works for puppy biting too! All the same rules apply.
Go Wild: You’ll begin by petting and playing with your dog, trying to reach a 7/10 excitement level. You’ll keep playing until the very moment your dog jumps up or bites too hard.
Freeze: Suddenly stand up straight, hands in the air. This is the ‘off’ cue part of the game. This body language means that play, petting, and attention will resume only when the dog is calm, with 4 paws on the floor.
Once your dog is calm and isn’t trying to jump up, you’ll resume the game again, playing with them, jazzing them up, then stopping and standing up abruptly the very instant they think about jumping up again.
This game gives your dog plenty of feedback about which behaviours work, and which don’t, while allowing you to gain total control over your dog’s energy level, literally putting hyperactivity and calm behaviour on cue. This game also gives your dog more control over his impulse to jump up, and the game provides the practice and repetition needed for them to understand the ‘off’ cue. If your pup is especially excited and keeps jumping when you give the ‘off’ cue, back up or out of the room to ensure that they can’t continue earning rewards for jumping. The cessation of play is the best punishment you can give. Time outs for dogs are typically less than 3 seconds. The timing will depend on how long it takes your dog to calm down.
Pro-tip #1: Let your dog hold a toy when guests arrive.
This works particularly well for sporting dogs who love having a favourite stuffed toy to soothe them. Dogs who are holding a toy are less likely to bark at or jump up on guests, and if the toy is something disarmingly adorable, then how could aunt Margaret be scared of your sweet angel dog holding his baby ducky (or whatever).
Pro-tip #2: Scatter food to deflect a jumping dog
If a dog is about to jump up on you, being prepared with a fistful of treats to scatter on the floor can not only keep your dog on the floor, but can train them to focus downward instead of jumping up, if done repeatedly (whenever you come through the door for instance).
Pro-tip #3: Expect Regression
Jumping up is a common behaviour problem, for a reason.
The reason your dog is still jumping up is the same reason you take another sip of coffee, even after the first 2 sips burned you. The rewarding taste of perfectly hot coffee is a well-worn memory. If your dog manages to earn a reward for jumping up, they will keep jumping up, even if they get burned sometimes. Don’t bother trying to apply punishment; it is confusing, and often applied incorrectly anyway. Your dog will get the idea when rewards for jumping up go cold, consistently. Take away the motivation, and the behaviour will extinguish.
It will not extinguish overnight, which means you must be consistent. In fact, expect the problem to get worse before it gets better. This is an expected and important phase of learning called the extinction burst. Google it. It helps to know what to expect as you embark on your behaviour modification program. Your dog’s progress will follow a very predictable pattern that is NOT a straight line from here to cured. Your dog won’t give up jumping up that easily, it has worked so well for so long. If jumping up has been rewarding in the past, you’ll need to spend months of rewarding alternate behaviours to compete with that. It will be worth it though. Eventually your dog will choose to sit or lie down, and those behaviours will become the attention seeking behaviours. In the meantime, expect that your dog will keep trying to jump up, because he is a dog. He will try jumping up harder, because he is an animal. Don’t let him learn that all he had to do was try harder.
The solution is so simple on paper. Your dog will choose to sit or lie down to get attention when rewards for those behaviours overshadow the rewards they have received for jumping up in the past. In the meantime, we will use obedience commands to help them choose the correct behaviours. Set your dog up for success. If you are waiting for your dog to jump up on people and wondering what to do to make them stop, you are already a step behind the game. Be proactive, be clear, teach your dog what to do to get attention in the first place so that they don’t resort to jumping up.
Be prepared for regression. Don’t just expect it, welcome it as a necessary part of the process of behaviour modification. Be prepared for your dog to try jumping up, again, and again, and again. Do not sigh, do not give up. Your dog is watching, your dog is listening, and your dog notices that you are confusing and inconsistent, and that you are giving up, and giving in.
Why is it not appropriate to use punishments that cause pain? There are much worse problem behaviours than a dog who is too friendly and jumps up to kiss people. Dogs are association making machines, and while you are hoping the connection between jumping up and your punishment is clear cut, your dog associates punishment with you, and the people they are jumping on. While harsh corrections seem to give instantaneous results, they fail to teach the dog what to do the next time they want attention, and often leave the dog with an anxiety problem, worrying that every person is a bomb ready to go off. At the moment, your dog loves people and wants to jump up to greet them; much preferable to a dog who fears, mistrusts, or even dislikes people.