8 Steps to Stop Dogs From Jumping on People

“We’ve tried everything!” say the frustrated owners of Jumpy the kangaroo dog. When I get to their home it looks like a scene from a sitcom! They’re staring Jumpy in the eye, snapping and pointing their fingers, shouting and making "Schttt" noises, all while poking, pushing, kneeing the chest and turning their back on him, trying to remember where the hell they put the damned squirt bottle. Yep, they’ve tried everything alright.

The problem is, Jumpy’s people are “trying everything” without a solid foundation. It’s all out of context and chaotic. They are being reactive rather than proactive in Jumpy’s training. Jumpy needs a more holistic program to teach him to keep his paws on the ground, without losing his friendly disposition. Below are eight steps for achieving this.

#1 -Don't Reward the Dog for Jumping: Don't reward unwanted behaviors...it sounds so simple but people do it all the time. Even if you don't, other people will pet your dog for jumping up on them saying, "It's ok, I don't mind." Other times people will say, "No!" while pushing the dog in some exciting fashion. Their words say, “No” but there actions say, “Yes!" This attempted punishment is actually a reward because it's fun for the dog. Do your best not to send mixed signals.

#2 -Play Hard To Get: This means that you put all attention and affection on your terms. There are two basic terms:

  • Attention by Invite Only: You need to totally ignore your dog's demands for attention, yes, even the non-jumping ones. Behaviorists call the act of ignoring, extinction, but Cesar Millan’s mantra of, “No Touch, No Talk, No Eye Contact” may be more clear. Whatever you call it, most dogs will approach in a calm and respectful manner when they are invited. Dogs used to soliciting uninvited attention tend to be jumping.
  • Invite Only When Calm: A calm dog is less likely to jump. They are also less likely to jump on a calm person, so invite calmly.

Note: This is not a response to jumping, this a 24/7 lesson in manners, patience and leadership.

#3 -Control Interactions: Once you begin an interaction with your dog you need to somehow establish control so he doesn't jump on you. He should be calm first (see above) but invitation tends to invigorate so we need to follow three basic rules:

  • Voices - calm and quiet
  • Hands - slow and low
  • Hold Jumpy by the collar or stand on the leash to eliminate his ability to jump.

#4 - Train Your Dog: Dogs with basic obedience training are more pleasant to be around and get to go more places because their behavior is more manageable. These skills can be used to do what behaviorists call redirection. For example: Simply "Redirect" Jumpy’s energy into a Sit before petting or allowing others to pet him. Eventually this becomes a pattern, or habit, and he will start to approach people and sit politely, rather than jumping up.

#5 - Exercise Your Dog: A dog that is properly exercised will be calmer and hence less likely to jump on people. Sure, they may still jump a little but it will be less frequent, less frenzied and easier to manage. Note: Proper exercise means mental as well as physical. For example: Walking in Heel position is as much mental exercise as it is physical. This creates impulse control and I think we can all agree that Jumpy needs more of that, right?

#6 - Socialize Your Dog: A properly socialized dog will tend to be calmer, have better impulse control, be used to seeing people and therefore less likely to jump on them. Please see my article on the Three Paths to Socialization.

#7 - Create Negative Consequences: There are a gazillion recommendations being tossed around about creating negative consequences (aka corrections) for jumping. We saw some of the more popular ones being attempted by Jumpy’s owners at the top of this article. I cannot endorse nor condemn any particular correction without knowing the dog. What I can say is this: Every correction ever recommended has worked for someone but failed for someone else. Every one also has cases of increased jumping and some have a risk of harming a dog. Choosing the right correction is critical. It's also critical to understand that all corrections have adjustable intensities.

Example - Squirting with water: Sounds harmless enough but water can actually be very scary for some dogs. Others will blissfully bite at the spray having a grand ol' time which hardly makes it a correction. In either case, you would obviously not use a squirt bottle. However, some dogs will find it annoying but not terrifying. These are good candidates for a squirt correction for jumping. The intensity can be adjusted by setting to mist or spray, how close you are to the dog, whether you target the face or the body, etc.

#8 The Biggest Secret - The Non-Engaging Correction:  Corrections are like a good joke. Finding the right one is like knowing your audience, then it's all about the delivery. When I give Jumpy a subtle correction and it works, the humans' jaws drop like I’m David Copperfield or something. "What? No way! But, we tried that!" they exclaim!  Their version of "trying everything" was creating what behaviorist call Competing Motivation. Jumpy thinks, "Sure, it's uncomfortable, but it's totally worth it because they pay attention to me!" Strong dogs don't even feel uncomfortable, they just say "Yes! Party time! Let's wrestle!"  The trick, regardless of correction choice, is delivering it in a NON-ENGAGING fashion.

Examples that have worked for me:

  • Lightly sweeping the dog's front legs off your body, while your focus remains on something else. (No eye contact.)
  • The Walk Through: Walk forward, into the dog's space, forcing him to move. "Isn't that mean?" some clients ask. It may feel rude but so is a jumping dog, you have every right to your personal space and to walk wherever you please. “I’m trying but…” Ah-ah, stop looking at Jumpy, I can see you, just walk forward with purpose.
  • A poke with thumb and fingertips to the muscle on the side of the neck, between the ears and shoulder. Warning: It should be sharp, not deep. This is NOT punching the dog in the throat. It's a surface level correction which does not injure the muscle tissue or send the dog flying. Again, make it obvious that your attention is somewhere else, like shewing a fly.

If you look at the corrections I just described, they are very casual, not intimidating or overly harsh, just enough to be effective. If Jumpy still has a wagging tail, confident demeanor, is happy to see you and doesn’t jump...well, you know you got it right.

Conclusion: Many dogs will stop jumping with little or no corrections by following the first six steps outlined above. However, the right "Non-Engaging Corrections" can be very fast and effective without harming Jumpy's friendly personality.

If you are having serious jumping issues, please consult a qualified, professional balanced trainer in your area.

-Chad Culp, Certified Dog Trainer and Canine Behavior Consultant

© Thriving Canine 2015