How many times have you heard that a dog jumping on people is a sign of dominance? They are trying to be higher than you like an Alpha Wolf, or push you over to show dominance over you?
So is it dominance? Or is it just another training issue? I’m sure you know which side I’m going to argue, but before I do, I just want to point out that I am not talking about aggression here, just the usual dog jumping up ‘greeting’ that we often get from excited dogs – aggression will be addressed in another blog in this series.
Just to briefly recap my first blog in this series, the dominant alpha wolf hierarchy/status model is debunked and dogs cannot be considered as mini-wolves anymore, they no longer exhibit many of the habits and behaviours of wolves. So even though wolves don’t try to dominate their own packs, do dogs try to show dominance to humans by jumping on them?
Imagine… You are a young cute puppy. Imagine all the coos, petting and cuddles you get from people just for being adorable. You quickly learn that new people are really exciting, they often make the most fuss of you! What do they do? Often they pat their legs and you rush over to them and jump up to say ‘hi’ with a wagging tail and lots of licks! They often pick you up and cuddle you in their arms, letting you lick their faces, which you love to do, that’s how you greeted your mum and litter mates! New people are awesome! Then, in the matter of a few weeks, their reactions to you start changing. They start to get annoyed when you jump up at them. They push you off and shout no, your human parent starts to pull you off and away from visitors now instead of letting you jump all over them. No one picks you up anymore for cuddles and face licks, so you jump up more to try to get that, but it doesn’t seem to happen. What on earth is going on? I’m sure you’ve guessed it, you’ve grown! You no longer look like that cute tiny pup (although you still are in your mind) – you are bigger and stronger and some people are now a bit scared of getting pushed over.
Often when we get our puppies it is so easy to let jumping up slide, until it becomes a problem. It’s really hard to get people to ignore a gorgeous puppy rushing up to greet them and so throughout its first few months, your puppy is massively rewarded for the jumping up behaviour that seems to come so naturally to it. As your puppy gets bigger, jumping up is less acceptable, but now, even more confusingly for your puppy, some people don’t mind it and still make a fuss of them, others ignore it, still others get angry and push it off and shout at it. So your puppy learns to play a numbers game and jumps up at most people as it sometimes ‘wins’ and gets a fuss, or at least some attention. Hopefully you can see, that from your puppy’s perspective, jumping up is not a sign of dominance, it’s just an overly enthusiastic (and frequently unwelcome) greeting.
What ways have been used previously to ‘fix’ jumping up?
- Shouting – Shouting at the dog has sometimes been used to correct a jumper. Does it work? Well it can do, if the dog is scared by the person it is jumping up at, it may stop jumping and go away. But it could also make your dog scared of strangers, which is not a happy position for your dog to be in. Also, some dogs find shouting exciting, and it could actually exacerbate the jumping!
- Pushing the dog away – Pushing the dog down or away is a popular method for stopping the jumping. Unfortunately, it doesn’t often work. The physical contact is often accompanied by eye contact (exciting!) and if the push doesn’t hurt, then the dog has just had attention, cool! If the physical contact does hurt, it could make the dog scared of strangers again. So in my mind, although this may work with some dogs, I don’t find this is a useful strategy to ‘fix’ a jumper.
- Kneeing the dog – “do it once and do it hard”. I cannot say how much this makes me cringe when I hear it. As a solution to a dog who loves humans and who wants to say hi, this ‘fix’ is to massively hurt the dog when it says hi, so badly it won’t ever want to do it again. Will it work? Maybe, it could scare your dog so much it never wants to say hi to another person again and it is scared of sudden leg movements – dangerous ground! Also is this ethical? Physically hurting an animal because we’ve not shown it how to greet people properly? Absolutely not in my opinion.
- Turning your back on a dog – this move mimics dog body language. Dogs turn away from things that they do not want to be engaged with (another dog, human touch etc). This can be a very effective move for some jumpers, it communicates that this is not a welcome approach. This works very well for my puppy, she realises she will not get attention this way and will often then try a sit. This may not work on all jumpers, some have learned a way to bypass this (run around and jump again, or jump at your back, they may see it as a game) and the movement itself could excite some puppies, so if this doesn’t work you may need to try something else.
- Ignoring the dog – if we understand that the main reason your dog jumps is for attention, then removing the attention if they jump is a brilliant tactic. If they get nothing (no shout, no marker, no eye contact, no touching) they will give up. Before they do so, they may try harder and harder, but if they get nothing out of it, no reward, there is no reason for them to do the behaviour and it will die out. The difficulty with this tactic is that everyone needs to do this for it to be an effective solution. If someone rewards the dog with attention, then the dog may continue playing the numbers game.
Of course there are many other options, citronella sprays, leaving a leash on the dog to pull it when it jumps, smacking, nose taps etc, but these are all punishment based methods. In this world, it is so important to teach dogs that people are good and that they should not be scared of them. Fear can very easily lead to aggression and turning a happy to meet everyone other enthusiastic jumper into an aggressive dog to ‘fix’ the jumping would be nothing short of a catastrophic failure – using these painful or unpleasant punishments risks this happening. These punishments are known as ‘positive punishments’, you give something to the dog (a kick, a shock, loud harsh words, a smack) to punish it. Positive punishments are fraught with unpleasant side effects – not the least of these being that your dog may learn not to trust you, which is a sorry state to be in.
Modern dog trainers find ‘negative punishments’ to be much more effective and with much lower risk of the side effects of positive punishment. Negative punishment involves taking away something that the dog likes, attention, cuddles, treats etc as a consequence for a behaviour that we don’t want. Not paying a dog any attention when it jumps up is a negative punishment and as I previously mentioned, a very effective one! Modern trainers also look to use MEBs as a way to get rid of unwanted behaviour. MEB means a mutually exclusive behaviour. An example of this would be training your dog to sit when it greets anyone. A dog cannot sit AND jump, therefore this is an MEB. It takes time and training, but it does work!
So, if you are having problems with your dog jumping up when it greets people, ask yourself if you really believe it’s a sign of dominance, or if your dog has learned that jumping up often gets a fuss and attention. Then find yourself a good Modern Dog Trainer to help you identify the right way to teach your dog that it will get much more attention if it doesn’t jump!
If you are based in Guildford or Godalming areas then I’d be very happy to help you train your jumper using modern methods, either on a 121 basis or in a class environment, but if you are outside of the area, then please visit the IMDT website (Institute of Modern Dog Trainers) for details of other qualified dog trainers who only use modern, scientifically proven methods in their training.