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Top tips to stop your dog from jumping up

Probably one of the most frequent behaviours that we are asked about – how do I stop my dog jumping up at me??

It’s one of the most reinforcing behaviours for a dog, and 90% of the time we reinforce it without realising.

Yes, it’s usually our fault!

Dogs and puppies don’t come pre-programmed to understand that jumping up is undesirable They are a completely different species to us with a completely different agenda. Unfortunately, from the moment our puppies come home we are often (without realising) encouraging them to jump up.

Let us paint a picture:

Cute puppy comes to greet Mum. Puppy really wants Mum’s attention so puppy starts bouncing on their back legs, pawing at Mum’s trousers until she gets down to play and, lo and behold, without even thinking about it, the behaviour chain has started.

The thing that puppy wants? Fuss and attention.

How does puppy meet this need? Jumping around until Mum rewards the behaviour by interacting.

Fast forward six months – cute, but very big and muddy puppy, just back from a lovely walk, rushes to greet Mum, who is about to leave for work in her clean suit. Mum is much less keen!

Fast forward another six months – less cute and much bigger puppy sees favourite, elderly Auntie arrive, rushes to greet her and knocks her flying, potentially injuring her. Or a friend’s small child is flattened by the enthusiastic greeting and not only hurt but now frightened of dogs.

There is a common misconception that puppies will just grow out of this behaviour. Unfortunately, this is rarely true. In addition to this, by the time puppy is six months, they have been able to practise this behaviour for quite a while, and man, it has felt so good!

But let’s get serious: it is no longer cute and it’s getting them -and potentially you - into trouble. It's often only when it becomes a problem that we start to take action. And it’s vital that we do; we want our dogs to be safe off lead and around the home. The world is an exciting place, and we want our dogs to enjoy freedom and interactions with other dogs and humans, so it’s our responsibility to make sure they are under control and safe when they
do so.

The legal stuff:

Apart from the fact that it’s a really annoying and frustrating behaviour (for us humans), there is a legal requirement for all dogs to be under control at all times:

Under section 3(1) of the 1991 Act (as amended by the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, (the '2014 Act')), if any dog is dangerously out of control in any place, including all private property, the owner, or person for the time being in charge of the dog, is guilty of a summary offence.

What does this mean?

Your dog no longer has to bite a person: jumping up, knocking someone over – even if only in play - can have serious consequences for both you and your dog. If the person feels like there is a threat, then they are completely within their rights to report the incident to the dog warden and the police. This includes how they behave to delivery drivers, postal and refuse collection workers when they are on your property. It’s not just relevant out on walks
but in the home too.

So how do we do teach them not to?

Ideally, teaching our dogs not to jump up should be high up there with things to teach the moment your new addition arrives at your home. Everybody needs to be on the same page. Imagine how confusing it can be if, after months on end, we are suddenly told that something we love doing is no longer acceptable? You would want to find a way to continue doing the thing you love, right?! The problem is behaviour that gets rewarded gets repeated
and that can work for the stuff you want AND the stuff you don’t want.

Let us first look at how dogs learn.

With all training and behaviour modification we have to be aware of how dogs learn and the science behind it. The concepts are the same for dogs and humans, and it may be helpful to think of how you have been 'trained' without even realising it! For example, there can’t be many of you who don’t think of ice cream when you hear the sound of an ice cream van! How has that happened? The jingle itself is a ‘neutral stimulus’, but because we’ve grown up learning that it means the van is near and ice-cream can be bought, we have a ‘conditioned response’ – we associate the sound with ice cream. Just like that! Classical (or Pavlovian) conditioning at its finest!

So – if the ice cream van of our childhood has ‘trained’ (or classically conditioned) us to respond to its sound because we associate it with something we like, we can apply the same science to teaching our dogs what we would like them to do. We can train them using positive reinforcement techniques – giving the dog a reward (toys, treats, praise) for good behaviour which then increases the likelihood of the behaviour happening again. When we train using positive reinforcement, the dog will enjoy doing what we are asking them to do, because they know rewards will follow. This is called a conditioned emotional response.

Where do we start?

New puppies

If we can get in quick when our puppy first arrives home, we can ensure that everyone greets him at his level, ignoring any jumping (moving away if necessary) and praising and greeting as soon as all four paws are on the floor. This should quickly establish a pattern of pup not needing to jump because he can get the attention he wants – and needs – by sitting or standing.

But what if I’ve missed that window??

Jumping up in the home

If we know that our dog is likely to get over-excited and bouncy when we come home from work or when visitors come to the house, we need to think of ways that we can pre-empt the behaviour and stop giving them the opportunity to practise it – remember, what gets rewarded gets repeated. This works both ways, so if we are rewarding the good behaviour, such as calm, paws on the floor, we are going to see more of it.

Have some treats on you; as you come through the door and your dog approaches you, get down to their level and reward the four paws. For visitors, think about implementing barriers such as puppy pens, crates, stair gates and house lines. Pop your puppy or dog behind these barriers when people arrive and then attach a house line for them to greet the visitors. Prep visitors before they arrive. Tell them you are working on your dog not jumping up and explain how they should act to help. You may also want to think about teaching a settle on a mat or go to bed cue.

Jumping up out on walks

Again, preventing the behaviour before it happens is going to set your dog up for success. On lead walks, use the lead to ensure there’s enough distance to prevent your pup jumping at people you meet, and don’t be too polite to ask well-meaning dog-lovers not to encourage over-enthusiastic greetings. “Oh, I don’t mind, I love puppies!” is guaranteed to sabotage all your hard work!!

In my experience, lack of recall and jumping up often go hand-in-hand, so we need to limit the opportunities for practising this behaviour. The best way to do this is with a long line – a long, flat lead that you can hold the end of or leave to drag along the floor. This means that your dog gets the freedom of being off lead, but you have a safety net should a distraction appear. You can then practice some fantastic recalls away and your dog learns that distractions = run to mum for games or rewards.

Consider your training environment:

Environment is key when practising and refining any type of training. If your dog is struggling with jumping up in the home, then taking them to the local dog park, beach or forest where there are loads of other distractions is going to be a recipe for disaster in the beginning. You have a long time to experience all of the above with your young dog. If you are going with the thought of training in mind, then be sure to choose times where there is more likelihood that your dog is going to succeed than fail.

I tell my dog NO and they just ignore me!

Ever heard the saying “my dog thinks his name is NO?”. Feel like you use the word NO in every other sentence? Let’s face it, jumping up is a really frustrating behaviour and there is often the temptation to tell your dog NO or move their paws from you. There are two issues here; ‘no’ only tells your dog what not to do, not what we do want to do, so they miss a learning opportunity, and any sort of feedback (even telling them off) is still feedback – and attention. The more that a behaviour gets rewarded, the more likely it is to continue. The moment you change your behaviour, your dog has to work out why that no longer works. Sometimes we will see an increase in the undesirable behaviour as your dog may feel the need to escalate in order to try to understand why the behaviour is no longer getting rewarded – if this happens, you need to be extra-consistent in ignoring or preventing the jumping and rewarding ‘four paws on the floor’.

What about ignoring the behaviour?

This works to a degree but everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, needs to be ignoring the behaviour.

Dog jumps up - human steps back and turns away.

Dog jumps up - human stands up (if sitting)

Dog continues to jump – human leaves the room

#Rewards must only come when four paws are on the floor. Remember a reward is something that your dog enjoys. Just because you like fillet steak doesn’t mean they will. So play around with rewards to find out what they really will do anything for. If we can pre-empt the behaviour and get the rewards in BEFORE the dog has the opportunity to jump-even better, perhaps asking for a ‘sit’ so we’re giving them something to do instead.

Teaching a Paws On and Off cue.

Often when the jumping up has become prolific, guardians start to use a variety of words to try to get the dog to stop. The problem is, this can lead to confusion. How many of you have used “down”, “off”, “no” multiple times to no avail? It doesn’t really mean anything to your dog and we are providing feedback out of frustration, because we want them to stop. Personally, for me down means to lay down so I tend to teach an OFF cue. What do I mean by this? Well, I teach your dogs to put their paws on something – “on” cue, and we use the exact same method to teach the dogs the paws “off” cue.

Think back to the ice cream van! Before it is trained, the word “off” means nothing to your dog. They have never heard it before and even if they have, nothing has been expected of them when it has been said. “Off”, for your dog, is a neutral word.

Dogs generally love food – it’s a natural response, an unconditioned stimulus, they haven’t had to be conditioned to enjoy it.

When we begin to pair the word “off” with food, with enough repetition, the word “off” itself will have a conditioned response because your dog knows it is followed by a reward.

Teaching the ‘Paws On’ cue will supply you with an abundant array of cute photo opportunities, help to create body confidence and rear end awareness, and set you up for training the opposite behaviour: ‘Paws Off’.

1. Find a small step (or a large book if you have a smaller dog) and lure your dog towards it with a treat on the end of their nose.

2. Slowly bring the treat higher into the air, above the step.

3. If your dog puts a paw onto the step, mark with a ‘yes’ and reward.

4. Continue until your dog reliably steps onto the platform.

5. Introduce an ‘off’ cue by throwing a treat away when they are on the platform.

You can then generalise this by practising it in lots of different places. This exercise allows us to put loads of value into the ‘off’ cue, and stops it being a punishment for our dogs. Think of all the places on your walks where you could do this? Log piles, platforms, park benches, water troughs and so on.

If you have enjoyed this blog and you would like to know more, we offer in-person jumping up workshops and also have a downloadable ‘No Jumping Up’ pdf which is jam-packed with more tips and activities that you can try at home, that can be found by following this link.