I am fortunate to receive letters from dog owners all over the world. My show- ‘It’s Me or the Dog,’ has been broadcast in over twenty countries and fortunately the message of responsible ownership is also spreading to far off places such as Brazil, Dubai and Hong Kong. If I personally answered all the training questions I receive from dog owners I would be spending the next two years on my computer. I don’t have the luxury of time, so I will attempt to answer some frequently asked questions via this blog.
What doesn’t surprise me is that dog owners all over the world have the same problems. I receive letters asking for advice on anything from housetraining to destructive chewing, from aggression to jumping up on visitors. Some owners are mildly irritated by their dog’s bad behaviour, while others are at their wit’s end and ready to send the dog to a shelter. However it continually amazes me that many owners still have very little knowledge about how to deal with their dog’s behaviour. There is such a wealth of great training information available, yet it seems few people tap into it. Please don’t let this stop you writing for advice because I feel very honoured to be in a position where I can help to improve dogs’ lives with their owners and vice versa. But I would urge you to take advantage of valuable information that is readily available in books, videos and from good trainers, making sure that you stay away from any that are punitive or unkind to the dog. There are still many ignorant ‘traditional’ trainers out there that think the best way to train a dog is to make it submissive towards them using harsh methods such as choke collars, prong collars, Alpha rolls, hitting, physical manipulation and other appalling techniques and devices such as the shock collar. SHAME ON THEM. There are, however, many wonderful trainers that use positive reward methods. If your dog has a behaviour problem that you don’t know how to deal with and you need help – invest in one of these trainers. It will change all your lives for the better.
One frequent question I get asked is how to stop a dog from jumping up on people when they come into the house? I always start by asking the same question, ‘why do you think the dog is jumping up?’
Dogs jump for many reasons. Don’t we like to see people’s faces when we say hello? Jumping while greeting is a great way for a dog to get your attention. Some dogs will jump from sheer excitement. Ever feel so excited that you just want to leap around? Excitement produces physical energy and this energy has to go somewhere. Jumping and licking can also be sign of submission. The dog has to jump up in order to lick the owner’s face. Licking the face and around the mouth is a learned behaviour in our dogs and particularly prevalent in wolves, our dogs’ ancestors. Licking around the mother’s mouth stimulates her to regurgitate food. It also shows mum that pups are submissive towards her. Many pups and adult dogs will lick faces of humans and other dogs after being reprimanded. Licking is an appeasement gesture – sorry mum.
On the other side of the coin – some dogs will jump because they feel uneasy when someone comes into the house. Jumping becomes a controlling/coping mechanism that allows the dog to deal with the new intrusion. Taking this to the extreme is the dog that jumps up, puts his front paws on a person’s shoulders and stares them full in the face. I’ve met a few of those dogs and that is a direct challenge that I am not willing to win at that moment. I shall win the battle in a much gentler but clever way throughout training.
So what can you do if your dog jumps on people when they come through the door?
- If your dog is jumping from pure excitement then it is wise to manage your environment by not allowing the dog to greet people when they first come through the door. Keep your dog behind a baby gate and don’t allow him to greet until he is calm.
- It is important to be consistent. Don’t allow the dog to jump up on you when greeting and expect him not to jump up on guests when they come into the house. Mixed messages are confusing and unfair.
- The best way to stop a dog from jumping up is to ignore it while it is jumping. This is an easy but effective way to deal with the problem. Each time the dog jumps up at you – turn your back. Don’t look, talk or touch the dog at any time it is trying to jump. Fold your arms in front and be boring. When he stops jumping wait for four seconds of four paws on the floor then reward this with your attention in a calm manner. If your dog jumps again, repeat. Sometimes the dog jumps harder and higher to get your attention. This is known as an extinction burst. What has worked before is no longer getting attention so the dog tries harder. Be consistent because eventually he will give up! Remember ignore the crazy and reward the calm.
- If your dog is unconfident around guests and jumps to be controlling, do not allow your dog to greet your guests. Put him in a place where he can be calm and confident. When guests are seated allow your dog to come in and say hello. If your dog is aggressive in any way to strangers it is your primary responsibility to keep your guests safe. If this means your dog is away while guests are in your home, so be it. You will have a happier dog and happier guests.
- When your dog can greet in a calmer manner, teach him to walk up to a person and sit in front of them rather than jump all over them. This exercise will give your dog something to do while greeting providing a more controlled energy outlet which you and your guests will appreciate!