Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker DVM
A misbehavior that is annoying, potentially dangerous, and also quite common in dogs is jumping up on people. It’s so common, in fact, that it feels like a natural canine reaction to the excitement of greeting a favorite human, or at least a human who is known to offer treats!
The person being jumped on is often reluctant to correct the behavior — especially if the dog is small — because, well, it’s nice to receive such a joyful, lavish welcome! However, failing to discourage jumping in your dog can have unforeseen consequences that are difficult to predict as you look down at her happy, fuzzy little face.
Experts generally agree that a dog’s behavior is almost always linked to something his owner, caretaker and/or trainer did or didn’t do at some point in her life. There are three behaviors in particular that most dog parents don’t appreciate but may be unintentionally reinforcing: begging, leash pulling and yes, jumping.
These behaviors have been making pet parents crazy forever, and they seem almost impossible to extinguish — perhaps because it’s actually easier to inadvertently encourage them than to train dogs not to perform them, and once trained, it’s also easy to undo your hard work.
Why Punishment Is Never the Right Approach
I think one of the most difficult concepts for dog parents to grasp when it comes to training their canine companion is that punishment is typically ineffective, and it’s often counterproductive. In other words, you can make your dog’s behavior worse using punitive tactics. As veterinary behaviorist Dr. Valarie Tynes explains:
“When punishment is used incorrectly, it will appear unpredictable and confusing, so many pets become anxious or fearful around the owner that administers the punishment. When punishment is used in an attempt to train an animal that is already afraid or anxious, [the] fear and anxiety are likely to worsen and may lead to aggression.”1
According to Tynes, three important rules must be met for punishment (correction) to be effective:
1. The punishment must occur every time the unwanted behavior occurs
2. The punishment must be administered within a second or two of the inappropriate behavior
3. The punishment must be aversive enough to stop the dog from repeating the unwanted behavior in the future but not be so aversive as to frighten the dog
Unless your dog is physically tethered to you (e.g., you have him on a leash and the leash is attached to you in some manner), it will be extremely difficult to be on top of him when he misbehaves, and within a second or two of his mischief.
In addition, in my experience it’s the rare individual who can deliver “just enough” punishment to train a dog not to repeat the behavior without frightening him, or conversely, without teaching him to simply ignore verbal commands.
In other words, it’s easy to over-deliver or under-deliver punishment. If you allow anger into the equation, it can result in both physical and emotional harm to your dog. The flip side of the coin is punishment that’s so wishy-washy and non-committal the dog learns to simply ignore you. As Tynes points out:
“Meeting all three of these criteria can be difficult. That’s why punishment often fails to solve behavior problems and should not be the first training method of choice. Positive reinforcement training, in which animals are rewarded for appropriate behaviors, is safer and more effective.”
I absolutely agree with this, and can’t stress strongly enough the importance of positive reinforcement behavior training, not only to help your dog become a good canine citizen, but also to preserve and protect trust, and the close and precious bond you share with him.
Punishment Can Backfire With a Jumping Dog
Tynes gives the example of a dog who greets people by jumping up on them, and the owner’s response is to either knee the dog in the chest or kick her when she does it to them. As a result, the dog learns to avoid the owner because the kicking has caused her to be fearful. However, she continues to jump on everyone else.
“Many dogs are highly motivated to greet people by getting close to their faces,” Tynes explains. “In most cases, kneeing or kicking such a dog is less powerful than the dog’s desire to greet people by jumping on them.”
I think this is good information that can further your understanding of your dog’s motivation if he’s also a “jump greeter.” Just as some people greet everyone they meet with a big hug and a kiss, it seems there are dogs who are similarly inspired!
Since not everyone the jumping dog meets responds to her behavior with a knee or a kick (thank goodness), the punishment she receives is intermittent, and therefore ineffective. In addition, there are dogs who don’t perceive being kneed as punishment, but rather reinforcement because they’re receiving attention, albeit negative attention.
Kneeing a jumping dog or worse, kicking her as a form of punishment (or simply to keep her off you) doesn’t teach her a more acceptable behavior to replace the unacceptable one. In addition, you can cause injury to her and/or yourself using your knee or foot against her. And there’s also the issue of unintentionally reinforcing the bad behavior because you’re paying attention to her when she jumps.
A Better Way to Manage Your Jumper
Canine “jump greeters” need a replacement behavior that is equally motivating. Tynes suggests teaching your dog to sit to greet everyone. Sitting becomes the alternative behavior that gets rewarded with petting and/or a food treat.
While he’s being taught to sit to greet people, it’s important to stop reacting when he jumps on you. Turn your back, stand straight, and ignore him. This is the opposite of what he wants (attention) and sends the message that you don’t welcome his exuberant jumping routine.
The goal of positive reinforcement behavior training is to use very small-sized treats (pea sized is good, and you can even use frozen peas if your dog seems to like them) and verbal praise and affection to encourage desired behaviors in your dog.
1. Come up with short, preferably one-word commands for the behaviors you want to teach your pet. Examples are Come, Sit, Stay, Down, Heel, Off, etc. Make sure all members of your family consistently use exactly the same command for each behavior.
2. As soon as your dog performs the desired behavior, reward him immediately with a treat and verbal praise. Do this every time he responds appropriately to a command. You want him to connect the behavior he performed with the treat. This of course means you’ll need to have treats on you whenever you give your dog commands in the beginning.
3. Keep training sessions short and fun. You want your dog to associate good things with obeying your commands. You also want to use training time as an opportunity to deepen your bond with your pet.
4. Gradually back off the treats and use them only intermittently once your dog has learned a new behavior. Eventually they’ll no longer be necessary, but you should always reward him with verbal praise whenever he obeys a command.
5. Continue to use positive reinforcement to maintain the behaviors you desire. Reward-based training helps create a range of desirable behaviors in your pet, which builds mutual feelings of trust and confidence.
No matter what you’re trying to train your dog to do or not do, consistency is the key to success. If your mind is often elsewhere during interactions with your dog, in an instant you can begin to unravel days, weeks or even months of training.
If your dog is a jumper or has other undesirable behaviors and you’re not sure you can deal with it on your own, talk with a positive dog trainer or a veterinary behaviorist. You can also find directories of credentialed dog professionals at the following sites:
· Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (C.C.P.D.T.)
· International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (I.A.A.B.C.)