The “Hi!” Jump Challenge (aka - “He just wants to say hi.”)
One of the top complaints we get from clients is that their dog jumps up on people. It’s a difficult problem for most dog owners and it’s not an easy one to solve - the longer it goes on, the harder it can be to change the behaviour.
How does it start?
Puppies are inherently shaped almost from the beginning to jump up:
- They jump up on and all over their mom when they’re very small.
- They jump up on and all over their littermates in play and exploration.
- If they are with a good breeder or responsible rescue, they are enclosed in a safe confinement area with lots of novel items to jump up on and climb all over.
- They jump up on the sides of their confinement area when food is arriving, or company is coming to visit, or they simply want to get out.
- Once they start socializing with new people, they jump up on and climb all over our legs and our laps and lick our faces in happy excitement and exploration.
Jumping up quickly becomes one of ways curious puppies gain access to things they want to have or things they want to investigate very early on.
Side note: Any owners who get their puppies from a breeder who follows the protocols of the Puppy Culture Program will be at a bit of an advantage as those breeders encourage puppies to Sit whenever they are asking for something or indicating that they need something (termed “manding”). These puppies come into their forever homes already understanding the concept of Sit and do so very regularly, especially in front of people. However, it’s up to the new owners to understand the value of this and to maintain it as their puppy matures.
The first 16 or so weeks of a puppy’s life is the main imprinting or critical learning period and anything they learn in this period goes in those little brains hard and fast. A single instance of jumping up on a new owner that is reinforced with something important to the puppy in that moment, can have a tremendous impact. This can make jumping up a solidly learned behaviour - even in that single moment. Imagine being a puppy who is suddenly frightened and jumps up on the only human it knows and is immediately picked up and soothed – that’s a strong and immediate reinforcement.
Everyone loves a puppy, and the minute you bring your puppy home and begin taking them out and about, you will be inundated with people eager to pet and meet your new pup. It’s your responsibility to either keep your puppy at a distance from people or be prepared to train in those moments so that behaviours you don’t want aren’t inadvertently taking place and being reinforced. Socializing with people does not have to involve other people handling your puppy or petting your puppy or getting close enough that your puppy jumps on them. There are ways to socialize and train and do both of those things very well.
When you bring your puppy home, you should already have a plan in place of (1) things that are important to begin teaching your puppy right; and (2) things that are important to prevent which must also begin right away. Some of these things are standard items like house training, learning to be alone comfortably, coming when you’re called, etc. Others aren’t always considered until the behaviour has already become pretty hard and fast and, often, they are things that would fall under the category of “behaviour prevention” not necessarily “obedience”. Not jumping up on people falls into both categories but prevention is high on the list for sure.
In my opinion, puppy training isn’t really about “obedience training”, it’s first and foremost about “behaviour prevention” training. I want an adult dog who is safe to be around and friendly and polite (no jumping up) with people and other dogs, easy to take places, comfortable at home alone, can play with other dogs and can be free off leash when appropriate. That’s a big list, but some training can be as simple as prevention or managing the environment well.
Management is arguably more important than training or at least more important than simply training alone – it could easily be the subject of a future article all by itself. Managing the environment is a very important part of raising a puppy and at the crux of the problem of the “Hi!” Jump issue.
If your puppy was never allowed the opportunity to jump on any human including you, this would never become a problem (in theory). Your puppy (or new dog) very likely came to you with a history of strong reinforcement for jumping already well advanced based on the reasons I listed above. If you really don’t want your dog to jump on people, then your job starts immediately.
Ideally, the first step is to stop any and all reinforcement for jumping. This is much harder than it sounds. Jumping can be fun! Puppies and young dogs like to be active, and they are fast and reasonably agile so it’s hard to for us humans to prevent a jump before it happens.
That’s why it’s important to make a plan before your puppy (or new dog) comes home. Everyone in the family needs to be on the same page with how, what and when the training focus will be with your new puppy, and everyone needs to know how to do the training. Puppies learn incredibly quickly and if the reinforcement is meaningful to them, things can be thoroughly taught just as quickly.
Many times, I have visited a home with a new puppy, waited patiently for the puppy to sit in front of me (after much bouncing around and jumping up), given said puppy 5 pieces of delicious roast beef one after the other as soon as he sits and, voila! that puppy will sit in front of me each time he approaches for the remaining part of that visit almost without fail. The next time I visit, he will very often run over and immediately sit as soon as I enter the area or at least with very minimal jumping and so on and so on. It never ceases to amaze me how fast this learning can take place! It also never ceases to amaze me how strong this learned behaviour can quickly become. Each time I see this puppy during our training, that Sit is firmly ingrained and well-practiced (and highly reinforced by me). Even long past our interactions whenever we happen to have a chance encounter, that behaviour is still directed at me and still strong – even years later. The brain is a remarkable thing!
If you don’t want your dog to learn to jump on people, then training can be as simple as managing all the interactions your dog has with people. Distance is an important element of all dog training and it’s a critical one here. If you don’t allow your dog into people’s space or other people into your dog’s space (aka within the length of his leash), he can’t jump on them – it’s as simple as that.
The leash, itself, is the number one management tool in this situation. Your dog cannot be free to jump up on people if there’s any chance he will choose to do so – again, it’s as simple as that.
I realize that’s not practical and not what people want – but frankly if you don’t want to do any training and you don’t want your dog to jump up on people, that’s what you need to do – there is no other good option.
The “Hi!” Jump Behaviour Chain.
I’ll tell you what often happens and what we see all the time – the “stop jumping training” that most dog owners do when faced with a dog who jumps up:
- Dog jumps up on someone
- Dog owner reprimands dog and tells him “Off” or “Down”
- Dog jumps down and puts 4 feet on the floor
- Dog owner praises and sometimes hands dog a treat
A simple chain: jump up, get told to get down, receive praise/treat when 4 feet hit the floor.
The jump begins the chain and is reinforced at the end with praise or a treat. At no point does the dog get any information that tells him NOT to jump up. In fact, it’s the exact opposite – jumping up ends with a reinforcement that is tangible to the dog. The proof is in the behaviour. If it keeps happening, then the behaviour of jumping up is getting reinforced and you’ve created a behaviour chain. Not jumping up in the first place is never addressed, at least in your dog’s brain.
What is the right training?
The answer isn’t as simple as you might think. To some degree it depends on the temperament of the dog you have.
Most people want their dog to simply Sit in front of someone, and that’s not a bad choice at all. However, that requires training – a lot of training.
Even if your dog has a good Sit behaviour on cue, you still need a lot of training before it’s going to work well in this context. Learning to Sit for a treat in the house, or at the corner before crossing the street, or while waiting for dinner, or before being let out into the yard are all very different behaviours then learning to Sit while someone you really like, and who may even have a treat for you, is within jumping distance!
Learning to Sit in front of each member of the family at home is a good place to start. I often suggest to families with new puppies or dogs that everyone be armed with treats or have treats handy and ask for or use a treat to lure their pup into a Sit each time he or she approaches someone for play or attention. If everyone is consistent, you will have a good basic behaviour to then begin generalizing to visitors or to other humans you meet outside the home.
Taking it outside.
Once you begin working on your “anti-jump” training outside the home, you have to Manage the environment during each training session so that your dog is not physically able to jump up on the human – i.e. a leash/harness on and out of range of the human.
Keep in mind that practice makes perfect. Each time your dog successfully jumps on someone the behaviour is reinforced and each instance of that will make your training that much harder. This is particularly true if it only happens occasionally or even rarely because random reinforcement strengthens behaviour. Think of a slot machine or the lottery – if you’ve ever won anything while playing, you are very likely to continue to play whenever you have the opportunity just on the off-chance you might win again. Even a very small win will strengthen the behaviour to want to try again.
Next, you must train in such a way that you gradually teach your dog that Sit means Sit regardless of what is happening with the human. In other words, it shouldn’t matter who the human is or what the human is doing or even if there is more than one human, or even if the human happens to also have a dog with them. And what if that dog with the other human is jumping on your human?! None of that should impact the Sit nor is any of that a Release of the Sit.
Every difference becomes a different training scenario. For example, think of someone your dog loves vs. someone your dog has never met – each will have to be handled differently and may require more or better treats, more or less distance away and more or less practice – depending on which is harder for your dog.
The success of your training depends entirely on your consistency and how much you practice. It’s very difficult to only practice when the situation occurs and achieve any degree of success. You must set up situations that allow you to practice in all the different scenarios you can think of to successfully eliminate the “Hi!” Jump from your dog’s repertoire.
What if you have a fearful dog?
Earlier I said that the training also depends on the temperament of your dog. If you have a dog who is afraid of humans, even just some humans, asking him to Sit while the human is present may actually be quite punishing to your dog, and it could very well ruin a perfectly good Sit behaviour as a result. Not only that, but it can also damage the relationship you have with your dog because you are putting him in a difficult and potentially scary, to him, situation.
I’m a fan of giving dogs options, so that in these types of situations a fearful dog doesn’t feel “trapped” in a Sit behaviour. Instead, give him the option to move away from someone who makes him feel uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s not always obvious to us whether a dog is uncomfortable or not, so if you let them have an option – Sit or Stand or move away – they can make a choice that feels best to them and helps them feel well supported by you. Heavily reinforcing the other options (one term for that is DRA – Differential Reinforcement of Alternate behaviours) will give your dog all the choices he needs. The only option not available is jumping up and that’s where the management comes in.
When you’re training your dog, keep in mind that it’s hard mental work for him so keep training sessions short and fun. There’s no need to train longer than 5 minutes at a time. You can have several training sessions a day, but they should be short with plenty of time to have a break in between.
Because you can’t always be training…
We can’t always be training, but our dogs are always learning – especially young puppies. So, make sure you have a plan to set yourself up for success too.
Manage the environment so there is little to no chance that your dog can successfully jump on a human until they have learned alternate behaviours and have a solid reinforcement history of doing them successfully in many contexts. Use distance, leashes, long lines, baby gates, pens, and crates as tools to help you.
If you want to have your dog off leash, then work on a building a solid Recall as another tool so you can successfully call your dog back to you as soon as any human appears on the horizon.
Anyone who will be walking or managing your dog must use the same management. They don’t all have to be doing the actual training, but they can’t be actively undoing your training, or you will never be successful. It’s not productive, for example, to have your children walking your dog if they aren’t old enough (or strong enough) to be able to consistently manage or train when walking by other people who your dog is likely to try and jump up on.
It’s also not helpful to allow your dog to jump up on the people he lives with. A human is a human and we can’t expect dogs to know who they can and can’t jump on. Consider the exercise I mention above – teach your dog to Sit in front of each member of the family when they approach.
There are dog owners who like having their dogs jump up on them because they enjoy the feeling of how happy and excited their dog is to see them. If this is you or someone in your family, there is a simple work around: teach “jump up” as a cued behaviour and only cue it at certain times like when you first walk in the door from a long day at work.
If you are teaching your dog to jump up on cue, just be careful. To be truly successful with this skill, you must teach “jump up” very thoroughly and systematically so that it only happens when it’s cued, and your dog doesn’t begin to anticipate the cue and “pre-jump” the jump. This can be a tough training challenge, so plan it wisely.
Do you have a dog who does the “Hi!” Jump? Are you one of the “it’s okay, he’s friendly” people on the trails or at the park as you race behind your dog as he’s heading directly at someone? If you want to eliminate this behaviour, get started today and let me know how it goes. Keep it positive and be consistent – you can do it – take the “Hi!” Jump challenge!