How to Change Jumping Up Behavior
By Jennie K. Willis, PhD as published in the Coloradoan in October of 2012
Jumping up is a natural behavior that can happen for several reasons. If your dog jumps on you or well-known friends, wiggles and tries to seek a lot of body contact then this behavior often means they are very excited and simply have trouble with controlling their emotions. If your dog jumps worst with strangers they have not seen before this can be a form of anxiety, where they are gaining information about these new people even while they are feeling conflicted. Sometimes being “out of control” is a strategy so no one can touch them. If your dog jumps on you or anyone else and hits hard with their front feet or muzzle and then disengages, this is a different type of problem. This type of jumping hurts and doesn’t feel friendly. Often these dogs are doing it to keep their distance from you or a feared person.
Jumping is a behavior that can have inherent rewards. When your dog’s paws and body contact a person, they get reinforced. Sometimes even eye contact from you or a guest can be reinforcing! As with all behaviors when they are meant to be attention seeking, the best way to improve them is to withdraw the opportunity for reward as their only punisher.
When a dog is jumping and that behavior is rewarding to them try the following strategies to improve doorway greetings:
1) Practice when there are no guests around and when your dog is calm. Ask your dog to sit and begin to approach. If they get up, turn your back on them, give them some time and start over. Repeat until you can proceed all the way through approaching them and actually petting them while they remain sitting.
2) Play peek-a-boo at the door. Open the door and if your dog jumps, close it again immediately and wait to a count of twenty. Repeat as needed and don’t enter until your dog is calm and able to follow a cue such as sit or watch. This is very powerful when your timing is good. Give them several repetitions to figure it out.
3) Have your dog on a leash so you can maintain distance between your guest and your dog. Ask your dog to sit. Have the guest begin to approach but stop if your dog gets up. Instruct the guest to turn their back on your dog and wait before turning to approach again. Your dog learns that no petting or attention happens when they jump.
If your dog show nervous towards people first barking at the doorbell then jumping on guests, we need to relieve their anxiety before the problem behavior will disappear. The distance increasing jumping can be treated too, but many times it is a symptom of a larger problem and may need professional help. I hope greetings at your house become more fun and more under control!
Dr. Jennie Willis is an instructor of animal behavior at Colorado State University and owns a private consulting business, which provides counseling for problem pets and their people. For more information about consultation, seminars and classes please visit www.AnimalBehaviorInsights.com