It is easy to identify the “problems” our dogs have. It’s like trying to locate a large sliver in your hand. The pain it causes makes it very noticeable. Jumping seems to be one of these behaviors that is a glaring problem for many dogs. This is one of the most frequent problems we see or hear about. We are often asked, “why won’t my dog stop jumping?” I think coming to an understanding of why dogs jump in the first place is the best place to begin answering this question.
If we step back and consider the life and development of dogs raised with a lot of human contact, I think we can gain some valuable insight. From a very young age puppies draw the attention of adults and kids alike. Before they have even opened their eyes they have often won the hearts of the humans close to them. We seem to find great joy in holding and caressing these small creatures. Before long, they are relaxing in our arms; they are finding equal pleasure in the relationship. As the puppy grows, the interaction increases. We use our hands to hold the puppy, to pet the puppy, to play with the puppy, and feed the puppy. It doesn’t take long for the puppy to learn that many good things come from our hands. Soon the puppy is seeking our hands. It learns that if it climbs up on our leg, it might be picked up. If it climbs into our lap, it will be petted. If it follows our hands, it will receive a treat. In no time at all the puppy has begun seeking our hands. When standing up, our hands naturally hang above the dog’s head; consequently, when the dog is seeking our hands, they are naturally drawn upwards; climbing or jumping to get to our hands. This desire to get to our hands is so cute when the puppy is small. It even warms our hearts to see the puppy’s desire to be in our arms and we tend to be thrilled to grant its wish. However, the cuteness seems to wear off quickly as the puppy grows, as claws scratch, as paws get wet and muddy, or when this jumping is on our guests. What was so cute and endearing has now become a problem!
So, why do our dogs jump? Because we taught them to! They have learned that these actions create the human contact that they crave. Dogs are obedient creatures. They dependably repeat behaviors that bring the results they are looking for. The challenge is that once they have discovered an action that has proven to bring the results they are looking for, they can become very persistent, repeating the action over and over until it once again pays off. When it comes to jumping, it’s almost a guarantee that if they jump enough times, they will receive the interaction with the hands that they were seeking. (To see this in action, watch our YouTube video about jumping: Why Won’t My Dog Stop Jumping?)
Let’s look at two scenarios:
First, a natural reaction to a dog jumping is to use our hands to push the dog to the ground, often holding the dog down and speaking to it to prevent it from jumping right back up again. This attention and touch is giving the dog the attention it desires, and actually reinforces the behavior.
Second, another common reaction is to back away from the dog. This “giving” of ground draws the dog forward and always increases the jumping.
So, if both pushing a dog down and retreating “reward” the jumping, how do we get the dog to stop? This is the dilemma dog owners are often faced with.
However, there is hope! There is a pattern that I apply to most behaviors that I want to change. First, I interrupt the behavior. Second, I lead the dog to a desired behavior. Third, I positively mark the desired behavior. Fourth, I reward the desired behavior.
With jumping, I interrupt the behavior by claiming the space around me. It becomes difficult for the dog to jump if I’m moving toward it. Because of the work I’ve done with my dogs in the Foundational Courses, the dog will understand as I ask it to move away from me or my guest on whom it is jumping. This also puts me in a place of leadership.
For the second step in the process, I would call the dog back to me and have it sit. When the dog sits, I would mark the behavior (third step in process) and give the dog the affection it was seeking as the reward. (fourth step in process)
With a little repetition we should see some change. In most cases the dog still shows some tendency to jump, however, when we claim space he will back off and sit. When the dog shows that it understands that we would like it to sit to be petted, we can then begin to negatively mark the jumping. Because we taught the dog verbal negative markers in the Foundational Courses, a simple verbal negative marker as we claim space should suffice. Clear communication and good timing when we give the markers and rewards is vital and makes all the difference in the effectiveness of these techniques. (See our video The Importance of Time and Timing) For additional tips, see our Jumping Series videos where we cover these concepts in more depth.
Understanding the why of a dog’s jumping can be very helpful. With this awareness we can shape the dog’s behavior and teach our dog how to “ask” for the physical attention it craves; and we can choose when and to what extent we have the physical interactions with our dog that we enjoy.