Dog Jumping Issues

Dog jumping is one of the most annoying dog behaviors that most dog owners encounter at some point. It is essentially a natural type of dog behavior that we often end up classically conditioning without even knowing or paying attention to it.

The background of this behavior

The reasons for which a dog jumps can be summed up in the following three:

  • as a form of playful interaction
  • as part of a social behavior pattern
  • “leaking” behaviors (type of actions that occur when a dog is unable to control the excitement and so that excitement transforms into actions like jumping, spinning, barking, etc.)

As mentioned it is a natural behavior, but never the less, if encouraged in any way, or if the dog realizes that he can control a certain situation and environment with this action, a dog’s jumping will increase.

Preventing dog jumping issues

As with anything, prevention is the first and best plan. For example, we think of it as cute when you see a young puppy stretching up and jumping in order to reach your hand, the problem is that a few months and many pounds later that same dog can knock you right over with that same action, and suddenly it’s not so cute or welcomed anymore.

Even small dogs can be unpleasant when they jump, because they often use their paws to scratch at your leg until you respond to their needs. Often dog jumping gets more intense as time goes on and is soon followed by scratching, barking, pushing, etc.

In order to help prevent this behavior issue, always control the environment, especially with young dogs. Make it clear right from the start that jumping will not bring any rewards. Most people fail to stick to a strict or consistent plan. When dealing with animals you need to always be consistent. Avoid playing with your dog in a way that will encourage jumping up on you. If you reach a point that your dog or puppy starts jumping during your play, stop for a moment or two, let your dog calm down a little and then continue playing.

Dog jumping is also a part of normal social behavior in dogs. For example, you return home to your dog who is jumping up as high as he can to greet you. He is actually trying to reach your face. Face licking and nipping are common greeting signals among most pack animals or when a parent returns to the litter. Your goal is to train an alternative behavior to this one. The sooner you start, the less trouble you will have.

Leaking is a term that some dog trainers use to describe actions that a dog performs while at a high energy/excitement level (or even a high motivation or frustration level). What happens is that a dog reaches a level at which he is unable to control his pent-up energy. When a dog hits this point, he often releases some of the energy (or all of it) in the form of a behavior such as; barking, jumping, whining, etc.

The best way to deal with this is through training in which you will gradually increase the level of energy/ excitement in your dog, in order for him to learn how to deal with it at each level. Training alternative behaviors also goes hand in hand with this process.

Variable reinforcement schedule

This is the driving force in a reward-based training system; however, as dog training actually covers anything that we do with our dogs (not just obedience work), dealing with dog jumping is part of this training as well. You can find out more about variable reinforcement schedules in the clicker (marker) training part of the website, but I will also touch on it briefly here.

The power behind a variable reinforcement schedule lays in the fact that a dog never knows when he will get rewarded. So therefore, he will keep trying because he knows that eventually he will get what he wants. In the case of dog jumping, it is easy to fall into this trap. For example, if you ignore your dog when he jumps five times, but then on the sixth time you pay attention to him or start petting/ playing with him, this just reinforces for him that jumping works, eventually.

Or if you do everything by the book with your dog when you come home, but your visitors greet him by allowing him to jump up on them, this sets you back in your training attempts and delivers the clear message to your dog that jumping still brings a reward.

Behavior extinction bursts

Before it vanishes, every behavior first reaches a point at which it looks (and actually is) like it is increasing. Dog jumping is no different. Once you start addressing the dog jumping behavior you will notice that the intensity of the behavior increases. In most cases, dog owners conclude that the technique that they are using is not working, so they stop, quit or give up altogether.

This is the worst thing that you can do, because stopping at this point is only reinforcing the behavior even more and it is almost guaranteed that from this point on, your dog’s jumping will be rougher and more intense than before. The reason is that you have now raised the bar for the behavior by delivering the message that this increased form of the behavior is now what it takes to get what the dog wants.

When addressing any behavior (and this includes dog jumping) make sure that you stick through it throughout the behavior extinction bursts period. After that, you will notice a decreasing in the amount of the behavior, and in some cases the particular behavior will be completely gone in a very short amount of time.

Dealing with dog jumping behavior issues

There are a few ways to deal with dog jumping issues. As mentioned above the best way is not to encourage your dog in the first place. First of all, ask yourself what you would like your dog to do instead of jumping; would you like him to sit, down, or it is okay if he stands around as long as he doesn’t jump? Training an alternative behavior is a first step. Now with that said if you wish to use the sit or down command for example, be aware that your dog needs to be fluent in performing these exercises, he needs to have reached the generalization point (which means that the sit or down command is to be performed regardless of the environment and situation), and also keep in mind that you will be dealing with a high level of distraction and energy.

Having visitors at the door is a highly distracting situation, as is playing with a dog, so it isn’t surprising that these are two of the most common times that the dog jumping behavior occurs the most.

You will need patience; all family members and all visitors will have to stick to the same training plan. Depending on your dog’s energy level, size, etc., you may need to use an obstacle like a baby gate in the beginning of the training.

Places like the entrance way and around the main door are places where the dog has already established an emotional attachment. This is the place where he gets excited before going out, as well as the place where he gets excited when someone comes through the door. The reason for mentioning this is that it is more difficult dealing with a dog in that environment, simply because the level of energy and excitement is classically conditioned.

The longer your visitors spend in that area; the more the dog will get over-excited. By simply moving through and away from that area faster, you will help the dog keep a lower energy level and calm down quicker. However, if you are dealing with a dog that is nervous, fearful, territorial, etc, you have to allow your dog time to sniff and investigate the visitors before they proceed to move forward into the house. But again, if the dog gets highly excited after that initial “inspection”, then it is time to move.

Sit, down or stay

It is a personal choice as to what you would prefer for your dog to do when someone arrives, or while playing, etc. But there are also different levels of difficulty and time requirements for each alternative behavior, so this might factor into helping you decide what you prefer.

A standing position (or all “four on the floor/ground” as some dog trainers call it) is the easiest alternative position for most dogs to accomplish. A good thing about it is that it allows the dog to walk, and walking helps take some of the excessive energy out. A bad thing about the standing position is that is relatively easy for the dog to break concentration and jump. Nevertheless, if all the rules are followed the amount of jumping will decrease until it has extinguished.

A sitting position is a more complicated one and requires a significantly longer period of training than just standing would. The problem with sitting (as well as the down position) is that it is unnatural to the dog. In nature, a dog would never sit during this kind of highly-motivating scenario. This is a trained position, and since it is extra difficult for the dog to contain himself and his energy level while he is sitting, it may take you a long time before this performance is fluent.

A down position would be the toughest one to train, although in some cases, it is the easiest one. For example, if your dog really likes a belly rub and petting, you may try incorporating this type of behavior into the overall performance. So instead of just a down position, your dog will lie down and turn over waiting for a belly rub.

The easiest way to do this is to train separately both the down position and then turning over and offering his belly; finally, you put this action on cue. After that you can simply use that verbal cue in the situations when someone is at the door or meeting you outside, etc.

Other than this belly rub version, the down position alone is even more demanding than a sit position in most cases. And it will take a longer period to reach fluency in the performance.

Human rules

The most important aspect of success is the human factor. It would be fair to say that the human factor itself is responsible for the dog jumping issue in the first place. There are a few rules to follow, and this is to be performed by every single person who is in contact with the dog:

  • Control your energy, your body language, and your voice (the higher energy from a human, followed by encouraging verbal praise and hand signals are just encouraging dog jumping)
  • Avoid yelling (or even better, any talking at all) to the dog while he is jumping or over-excited.
  • Avoid direct eye contact and bending over the dog (these types of body language is intimidating for some dogs and can be a signal to jump for others)
  • If the dog jumps, avoid pushing, pulling or wrestling with him in any way, shape or form (simply turn sideways so that the dog loses his balance and falls down)
  • Ignore the dog until he performs what you want him to do and then reward him. This can be done by using the clicker (marker) training principles or if you are fast enough, even without a clicker. Just make sure that you are ignoring what you don’t want and rewarding only what you do want.

These are a few rules that every person around the dog should stick to, even if you are dealing with a dog that has been trained not to jump. Dog jumping is a natural form of dog behavior and it is easy to get any dog do it, so avoid encouraging in any way.

What if the dog is too big or too hyper?

In some cases when the dog is too big for you to be able to ignore his jumping (because he can physically harm you with his weight and claws) or if the dog is way too hyper to control, you may need to rearrange the environment in order to deal with this issue.

The best approaches in these cases are to use baby gates or some other physical obstacle whereby the dog can’t physically reach the humans, but that the humans can reach him. Simply put your dog behind the obstacle when the visitor arrives, if the dog jumps, the person should ignore him completely, (the best way to do this is to stand sideways without any eye contact or body language). As soon as the dog stops jumping, the visitor can reward him with attention.

TIP: You may notice that as soon as you start rewarding your dog, he will try jumping again, immediately stop your actions, turn sideways again until the dog calms down, and then reward again. It is a black and white message for the dog…he only gets the reward and attention if he isn’t jumping.

Using a leash in this process

One approach that some people try is to use a leash for these scenarios. They put the dog on the leash and out of reach of the person visiting; as soon as the dog sits or offers any of the non-jumping behaviors , the person comes closer and rewards the dog.

I don’t support this training technique, and I only recommend the use of a leash if there aren’t any other options. Any form of physical restraint of the dog in a highly motivating situation is only serving to build drive and frustration.Building drive and frustration will only set you back and make the whole situation more difficult to deal with, especially if you are dealing with a larger dog that you have problems physically holding onto.

It is a basic truth...When you restrain a dog in a highly motivating situation in which he wants something it will only make him more hectic and determined about getting/reaching it.

Use of corrections for dealing with dog jumping behavior issues

Corrections are unfortunately one of the first lines of defense that most dog owners try. And yes I say the word “try” because in most cases, these don’t work. Even today some dog trainers continue to use methods like putting the dog on a leash, and when he jumps giving a strong correction with the leash which often pulls the dog down or he may even end up falling on his back. Or putting a knee up to hit the dog’s chest, or when the dog jumps, the person grabs his front paws applying pressure, etc.

These are all forms of corrections and the thing about corrections when dealing with dog jumping is just like with any other type of corrections; you have to ask yourself, what are you correcting, and what can your dog associate the correction with?

By performing a leash correction, your dog can associate the correction with a certain environment, or certain people, and they may turn fearful or even aggressive toward strangers, etc.Kneeing a dog every time he jumps will usually train your dog to avoid jumping when he sees you lifting your leg, or he will figure out that he can avoid the knee by jumping to the side of people, or he may even start mouthing the legs, etc.

The same thing can happen with grabbing the dog’s paws; he will start mouthing the hands because the hands are what create the discomfort, and eventually it is possible that he will even start snapping or worse when people try to touch him.In most cases, dogs associate the unpleasantness with people, not with the jumping behavior itself.

I often see people applying corrections when their dog jumps, months or even years after having started practicing this training technique, and the reason for this is that after a certain amount of time in which a dog has practiced the jumping behavior, it becomes an uncontrollable pattern (dogs don’t think of it, it just becomes a subconscious action).

Like Pavlovian Dogs, when after so many times of feeding them right after the sound of a bell, just the presence of that sound would later be enough to start their mouths to salivating, dogs who have been practicing their jumping behavior for so long, are no longer consciously controlling it. No amount of correction could have stopped Pavlov’s dogs from salivating, simply because they couldn’t control it by that point. Corrections for dog jumping also become ineffective in time.

Training an alternative response to the trigger (in this case, people) and exchanging the dog’s jumping response with this alternatively trained behavior, is the way to go.

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