Quick tip: How to tackle jumping up

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One of the most common problems dog owners ask me about at Puppy & Dog School is “How do I stop my dog from jumping up?”

Firstly, jumping forms part of ‘normal’ dog behaviour, typically, produced as part of dog’s greeting ritual.  To understand how to tackle jumping, you need to be aware of the common factors that drive jumping behaviour.

Factors that can prompt jumping:

  • Performed as part of the greeting
  • To solicit attention
  • To solicit play
  • Incomplete training
  • To gain physical contact
  • Frustration
  • Anxiousness
  • Seeking reassurance
  • Neurological disorder[s]
  • Over-dependence on the owner (often seen upon reuniting, even if separation has been momentary)

For ANY behaviour to be repeated – even the stuff you don’t like – there must be reinforcement.  That means somehow the dog is getting rewarded for jumping up which is causing it to be repeated.  So, being aware of how you handle this is key; otherwise you maybe unwittingly reinforcing jumping up.

For example; when I ask a client how are you currently dealing with the dog’s jumping they may say “I tell him to get down”, “stop”, “say no to the dog” or push him away.  Each one of these examples can reinforce jumping.

Why?  For a dog that wants interaction, even a telling off is interaction; pushing the dog away when he jumps also creates unintentional reinforcement as obstructing efforts generates persistence, frustration and further separation-distress, not great when you’ve already got an anxious dog!

Think about this…

How often do you ever give your dog feedback when he is quietly resting, especially young dogs?  If the dog learns he gets a big reaction for doing something like jumping up, then he will continue to jump even if he is ‘told off’.  By contrast, if your dog jumps up and you say nothing but step back so the dog cannot make physical contact with his paws, the dog receives no reinforcement.  With absolute consistency, the jumping behaviour will reduce and extinguish altogether because there is no longer any reward for jumping.

So, that brings me onto lack of consistency.  This is one of the biggest issues when it comes to problem behaviour.  For example; some people may tell their dog off for jumping up but give their pet attention when he places his front paws on the owner’s legs for a ‘fuss’.  Often when the kids come home from school they are excited to see their furry friend and say “hi” whilst Fido is leaping about, this may then lead to the dog getting told off by the parent – how confusing is that for the dog!  Moreover, such intermittent schedules of reinforcement and punishment can lead to more resilient unwanted behaviour (jumping).

So what can you do about it?

Prevention, management and training:

  1. Restrict your dog’s access from any areas that jumping occurs.  If your dog is crate trained use this or have him on-lead and wearing his harness upon visitor arrivals.
  2. Learn to earn.  Teach your dog that for anything he desires such as attention, food, grooming, fuss, putting the lead on, going out etc, requires a deference behaviour.  This means he has to “sit” and make eye contact; think of this as teaching your dog to say “please”.  Consistency, practice and patience is key here.
  3. By mindful of where you are holding food; often poor reinforcer delivery (e.g.) dangling a treat just out of reach, can cause the wanted behaviour (sitting) to breakdown and result in the dog leaping up in an attempt to get the food.
  4. Stop any shouting, avoid telling off or using non-reward markers or NRMs (e.g.) ah-ah etc.
  5. Ask friends or family to pop over to help you practice visitor arrivals.  You can be as controlled as having your dog in another room on his lead and harness when they arrive, then bring him into the room once the visitor has settled.

Good luck and happy training.

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