Michael is an avid pet-lover and content writer on topical themes related to dog care, training and behavioral development.
Confronting an Impulsive Behavior
Changing this behavior is all about controlling an impulse. The reason why dogs jump on people or moving objects has a lot to do with how they were handled as puppies. They were small at the time and it may have been thought of as a cute or sweet way for them to express affection. As the puppy grew, however, the behavior was condoned and in many instances even encouraged. Eventually, it became one of those cases where the dog trained the human instead of the other way around.
Let’s consider a litter for a moment. The reason why a puppy jumps when it is small is to get closer to the mother’s face, either to receive food or to lick as a show of affection. The behavior is rational at this stage because of the tiny size of the puppy and also because there are others reaching for the same parent’s attention. As the dog grows older, however, the behavior no longer becomes necessary.
There are certain cases where adult dogs can indulge themselves reasonably. For example, when they meet with their peers, they may jump on each other especially if they are close and have not been together for a long time. They would not treat the leader of the pack in this way though, because to do so would be to send an insubordinate signal which we shall shortly examine.
If it is not acceptable to act in this manner toward a pack leader, then applying the same behavior to humans is out of order. Moreover, a large enough dog can knock someone over and this is especially dangerous for small children, the elderly, or the incapacitated. It can open up a host of problems and tie the owner up in lawsuits, penalties, and rehabilitation expenses.
Not only is this a nuisance for members of the household, as evidenced by the scratching and soiling of their skin and best clothes, but it is also a problem for guests when they arrive. Moreover, it can be quite embarrassing for owners if their dog jumps on strangers when they are out on a walk.
There are scores of people out there who do not like dogs and would not think of spending time with them, let alone keep them as pets. Some are naturally scared of animals and would be alarmed were they to encounter an uncontrollable dog. Any of these individuals could be strolling about on an ordinary day, minding their own business as pedestrians. It would be a nightmare for them to be jumped on suddenly by a dog and end up having their clothes scratched or muddied.
Many pet owners whose dogs are jumpy know that the behavior is wrong, but they condone it because they do not know how to stop it. It may be that they’ve tried different solutions without success and have given up as a result. The key to changing this habit is to teach the dog an alternative and more acceptable method of greeting. There are three simple ways to approach this and to solve the problem permanently.
- Avoid enabling responses
- Take remedial measures
- Master counter commands
1. Avoid Enabling Responses
The first step in tackling this issue is to identify the root cause. As noted before, when a dog jumps at someone, it does so out of impulse. It is being moved by excitement.
Owners can therefore unwittingly encourage the behavior by how they respond. If an owner makes a perceptible movement, shouts, or gesticulates using his hands, arms or legs, it sends a message to the dog that this person is also excited.
If a dog jumps on you and you cuddle, stroke, or show it affection, the pet concludes that its behavior is acceptable because it is being rewarded for it. If the dog jumps on a guest and is given a treat or toy in order to divert its attention elsewhere or remove it from the scene, the result is the same. The dog assumes it is being honored for doing the right thing, which in turn reinforces the behavior and strengthens the possibility that it will be repeated in the future.
When a particularly large dog jumps on them, some owners respond by holding the dog steady to keep both of them from losing balance or falling over. This also sends the wrong impression to the dog because the reaction is taken to mean the owner appreciates what it has done.
This is typical especially with large dogs that can reach human shoulder length with their paws when they stand up on their hind legs. The person reacts to the movement by slightly leaning backward in order to accommodate the dog’s head and forearms. Holding the dog in this manner allows for facial interaction in close quarters. The feeling that moves the owner is that their pet is so appreciative of them that it is making an effort to come up to their level. At least this is how we reason on a human scale.
On the canine scale, however, the reality is different. What the dog is actually doing is asserting its dominance by controlling the owner’s space. By leaning backwards, the owner is unknowingly submitting themselves to this domination. They are allowing their personal space to be encroached upon and in so doing, are confirming the dog’s position as one of authority and their own position as one of submission. This is exactly what the dog wants because it proves that the pet can have authority in other situations as well.
Dogs can also become jumpy due to overstimulation. If playtimes are characterized by excessive wrestling, tussling, or other forms of energetic activities, the result is that the pet becomes continuously excitable and doesn’t know when to stop.
Pet upbringing requires a normalized approach. The same also applies to discipline. Punishing a jumpy dog by venting one’s frustrations, lashing out, or shocking it with charged collars, dog zappers and other devices is not ideal, and can actually lead to more difficulties later on.
2. Take Remedial Measures
One main reason why dogs jump on people is that they are seeking attention. Even if the owner reacts out of anger or frustration, the response will be unpleasant to the dog, but it will still be interpreted as attention. Many dogs would much rather have negative attention than no attention.
The key, therefore, is to ensure that you do not show it any attention when it acts unbecomingly. A dog needs to understand the difference between the behaviors that attract the owner’s attention and those that repel it. There should be a clear line drawn between the two and there should be no mixed messages.
When a dog jumps on someone, it is saying in effect, ‘I demand that you stop what you are doing right now and focus your attention on me’. So if the person responds by shouting, flailing their arms, kneeing the dog on the chest, or pushing it down, this will actually contribute to the problem because the dog will interpret these reactions as attention.
If your dog has a habit of jumping on you as soon as you walk in through the door, try turning around and walking out. If it happens between rooms in your house, simply turn and step into a different room.
Another suitable reaction is to stand completely still with your arms at your sides. Avoid making any eye contact or communicating verbally with the dog. There should be no attempt to scold or reprimand. Be as motionless as a statue and act as though your pet was not there at all. Allow the dog to continue its antics and jump as much as it wants.
When it realizes that no response from you is forthcoming, it will settle down of its own accord. This will be your cue to bend over and reward it with a treat or express affection and praise. In other words, the principle here is to only return a dog’s greeting when it is completely calm and settled.
This principle should apply to anyone who interacts or engages with the dog, family members and visitors alike. Guests may mean well when they accede to the dog’s wishes because they want to remain in favor and good standing with you. However, it is necessary to make it clear to them that the dog is to receive no attention if it is misbehaving.
If it is a large dog that can reach up to your shoulders when it jumps on you, the best thing would be to lean toward it while turning aside so that your shoulder faces the dog. This stops the dog from invading your space and it is your way of making it clear that it cannot assert its dominance. Your authority will not be taken from you. Stepping forward slowly as you do so will force the dog to drop on all fours, which is the position it should be in if it wants to receive the attention it desires.
There is still another method. If you have someone with whom you can practice, stand facing each other and have a conversation between yourselves without giving the dog eye contact. As you do so, hold some treats in a container next to your body, covering the container with your arm such that the dog can see and smell the treats but cannot reach them. This indicates to the dog that you are in charge of this situation.
As long as the dog tries to jump on you or tries to get at the container, ignore it and continue the conversation. When it finally backs away from you and settles down, reach into the container and offer it a treat. The action of the dog backing away from you is a show of respect because it finally acknowledges that you are in control. It is giving you space instead of trying to take it from you.
These procedures can be repeated as often as possible. Eventually, the dog will come to learn its true position in the home. When you start the training, ensure that the other family members are on board and that they are able to adjust their behavior around the pet accordingly. The more consistent the training, the more it becomes clear to the pet that attention is given when all its paws are on the ground.
Dogs that jump on people tend to be energetic. It is best to channel this energy in the right direction. Its always a good idea to engage your pet in sporting events, agility training or other such activities that will ensure its potential is utilized sufficiently and that the dog adopts a calm mannerism under ordinary circumstances. When a dog is left to fend for itself over long periods of time and boredom sets in, the approach of any person can be cause for excitement. It simply jumps at the anticipation of being lifted out of the monotony.
3. Master Counter Commands
One effective method of curbing jumpy behavior is to issue a counter command that immediately places the dog in a different position, such as sit, stay or retreat. It is much easier for dogs that have had prior experience through basic training to follow instructions when it comes to changing their mode of greeting.
The bottom line is that no pet is able to do two things at the same time. It will not be possible for your dog to obey instructions and simultaneously have its own way. The counter command will interrupt and break the hold of the impulse that causes it to be jumpy.
Though some owners find the sit command effective enough, others prefer to have the dog stay in a specific spot away from the door whenever it opens to admit guests. This is so that the dog doesn’t block anyone’s progress. Some handlers use phrases such as ‘Four on the floor’ to keep the dog to be on the ground.
Whichever command you choose, always remember to reward your pet when it complies so that obedience is reinforced. Ensure your cue does not have a double meaning. For example, the word ‘Down’ may mean the dog has to lie on the ground or get off a piece of furniture. If the same word is used in these different contexts, it confuses the dog and can make corrective efforts ineffective.
Keep a few treats with you when you enter through the door. If the dog welcomes your presence without jumping up on you, offer it a treat as a reward. You can also use a clicker to help the dog better associate the reward with acceptable behavior. Practice this as often as possible, following the same procedure each time. Involve other members of the family and where possible, visitors who come over.
Dogs learn better when gestures are involved so it would be good to include hand motions in your training as a way of directing the dog to stay or get on the ground. When someone approaches the dog and detects it is about to jump, using the hand gesture in front of him or her will cause the dog to immediately move back.
If you are still in the initial stages of changing your dog’s behavior and people arriving at the home are not aware of the situation, consider keeping your pet in a separate part of the house when they come. This is especially the case if the dog is quite obstinate or set in its own way.
A containment area can be prepared beforehand or the dog leashed in the meantime and kept busy with toys and puzzles. After the behavioral lessons have fully sunk in, the pet will be free to welcome incoming guests without creating a scene.
Some owners use physical barriers like baby gates or dog gates to keep the dog’s movements in check at such times. The drawback is that they may not look pretty and hinder those who have to keep stepping over them. The ultimate solution is to address the behavior itself and completely turn it around.
These methods when implemented with patience and consistency should be able to turn the jumpy behavior around. However, in case the dog still persists, consult the services of a professional animal behaviorist or canine trainer to assess whether there could be an underlying cause that should be tackled professionally.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Michael Duncan (author) from Germany on April 04, 2021:
Thanks for your comment, Liz. One of the dogs we raised also had this habit. It appears to be an issue for many pet owners judging from, among other things, the high level of traffic.
Liz Westwood from UK on March 24, 2021:
This is a very helpful article. It can be embarrassing for owners and irritating for those being jumped up on. I got muddy from the attention of an overexcited poodle whilst walking recently. Having been on the opposite side and apologising to strangers in the past, I just smiled.