Pamela J. Reid, Ph.D., ASPCA
Probably the most common query I receive from new dog owners is “how do I get him to stop jumping up?” Puppies and dogs naturally jump up on people when they say hello. Why? Because we’re taller than them! Dogs greet each other by going nose-to-nose and they like to do the same with us so it’s perfectly natural for them to jump up on us to try to reach our faces. Our reaction must be very confusing to them. Suppose you see an old friend at the supermarket and you run up to give the person a hug. Imagine how you would feel if the person yelled at you, grabbed you by your jacket collar, held you at arm’s length, and then said, “how nice it is to see you again”!!! You would find this experience most unsettling.
The good news is that most dogs can learn to inhibit jumping up during greetings; the glitch is that it often takes considerable effort on the owner’s part. There is no one correct method that works for all dogs either. I’ve provided a selection of techniques so chances are one will be effective for your particular dog.
What not to do
The more excited you act when you greet your dog, the more excited the dog will act. Excited dogs are more likely to jump up. Remain calm when you come home. Speak quietly and pat your dog with long, soothing strokes along the body.
Even though you may scold the dog with your voice, if you push the dog off or try to grab the dog with your hands to control his behavior, the physical contact may actually be reinforcing the jumping up. Dogs love touch and may view your efforts to control him as just part of the game. It’s much more effective to stand up tall, tuck your hands up to your chest, and refrain from looking at the dog until he calms.
Realize that shouting “off” or “down” at your dog won’t do much unless you’ve taken the time to teach the dog what these words mean. The objective is to teach the dog to back off away from you rather than coming forward and making contact with you. This is the reason for teaching the dog “off”. But it’s not enough to just teach the dog what you don’t want him to do. You also need to teach him what you do want him to do, which for most people, is “sit”. So before you do anything else, teach “off” and “sit”.
The “Off” Exercise
Teaching “off” is pretty easy for most dogs. Sit down with your dog and show him that you have a treat tucked in your hand. Hold your hand out as though you plan to give him the treat but keep your hand closed around the treat so he can’t get it (or even taste it). When he reaches with his mouth to nibble at your hand, say “off” in a clear voice (shouting is unnecessary). If the dog pulls back away from your hand, immediately say “yes”, open your hand, and reach out to let him take the treat. If he doesn’t pull back when you say “off”, move your hand toward his nose and give him a gentle “bop”. He should retract his nose from your hand then, at which point, you say “yes” and feed him the treat. The goal is to entice him to pull away from your hand, so you can then reinforce the pulling away behavior. The bop needs to be firm enough to cause the dog to pull away but not so firm that the dog becomes frightened or hurt by your movement.
A common mistake that people make is to pull their hand away from the dog rather than waiting for the dog to pull away from your hand. That won’t teach him the behavior. Once you get it right, your dog should only need a few repetitions before he instantly pulls back when he hears the word “off”. If you are too rough with your bop or your dog is especially sensitive, your dog may become hesitant to take the treat from your hand. Be sure to occasionally offer the dog a treat from your hand and refrain from saying “off”. Simply say “yes” and reach toward the dog. That will help the dog learn that he needs to listen for the word “off”.
Once your dog is consistently pulling away from your hand when you say “off”, require that he wait a second or two before you give him the treat. When you first do this, the dog will likely pull away, then jump back up to mouth or paw at your hand. Say “off” and bop again. Repeat until the dog is able to wait the 1-2 seconds before receiving the treat. This teaches the dog to control himself. Eventually work up to 30-60 seconds of the dog waiting for permission to take the treat.
The next step is to teach “off” while you are standing. Stand up, show the dog the treat in your hand, and wait for him to jump up on you. If he isn’t inclined to do this, just step outside your front door for a few minutes. Come back in, holding your hand, with the treat, in front of your body. When the dog runs to jump up on you, say “off” and deliver the bop to his nose. He will recognize that this is still the same game, and pull away from you. He will most likely sit. The instant he pulls away, say “yes” and reward him with the treat. Repeat this training with you coming in the front door, the back door, the yard, and anywhere else the dog is likely to jump on you. Make sure all family members and regular visitors get involved in the training too. Now your dog actually knows what you mean when you say “off”.
All mannerly dogs know that sitting is the best way to encourage people to say hello. I bet Martha Stewart’s Chow Chows all greet her by running to line up like little soldiers at the door, each with their butt on the floor and their tail wagging!
You can teach your dog to sit when you ask: stand up, show the dog a treat in your hand, say “sit”, and lift the treat up and back over the dog’s nose (aim for about 4 inches above and in line between the dog’s ears). Most dogs will track the treat with their eyes, causing the head to go up and back, and the butt naturally goes down onto the floor. Voila! You have a sitting dog. Immediately say “yes” and give the dog the treat. If the dog backs up or jumps up, you are likely holding your hand too far away from the dog’s nose. You can also practice by a wall so the dog can’t back away from you. Get the dog standing up again and repeat the procedure.
Step 2: Once the dog catches on and sits when you lure him with the treat, fake him out by pretending that you have the treat in your hand. Show him the treat, but surreptitiously switch it to your other hand. Hold your hand and move it in exactly the same manner as you did before. Invariably your dog will sit. Say “yes” and bring your other hand in to deliver the treat to his mouth. After a few repetitions, cease showing him the treat first. This teaches him to be less reliant on seeing an actual treat in order to perform the behavior.
Step 3: Gradually lessen the amount of movement with your hand. Say “sit”, hold your hand up maybe 8-10 inches from his face, and wait a moment. Most likely he will sit. If he doesn’t, help him out a bit (by moving your hand up and back). Then try again. The goal is to eventually just say “sit” without having to move your hand at all or even hold it out there toward him. Always deliver the treat from your other hand. You can also get him used to the treats being on a table or counter or in your pocket so after he sits, you reach to get the treat to give him. This teaches the dog to be patient and it teaches him that he never knows where the treat will come from. Without these last two steps, some dogs become so reliant on the treat that they won’t sit unless the treat is clearly visible.
Now the dog is ready
It is much easier and kinder to teach your dog not to jump on people by doing “setups” rather than waiting to train the dog on the fly. There are two reasons for this. One, you will be ready mentally to direct your dog on what he is to do. Second, dogs learn best through repetitions so you can plan to repeat the lesson a few times in a row.
Option 1: Come in the door and stand still, with your hand held up in front of and close to your chest (use the same hand as you used to teach “off”). As your dog runs toward you, say, “sit” in a firm clear voice. If the dog sits, wonderful!!! Say “yes” and reach down to give your dog a special and tasty treat (Need ideas? Try a piece of dried liver, a slice of wiener, a chunk of cheese, a piece of leftover chicken or steak). Praise the dog while you feed him (even if he then tries to jump up on you, just remind him to sit). If the dog does not sit but instead, launches at you, say “off” in a firm and clear voice, tuck your hands up tight by your chest, and turn your back on the dog. Stare at the wall or the ceiling. While you face the door, repeat “sit” and be patient. When the dog finally sits, say “yes”, turn, reach down and give the treat. Turn and go out the front door, wait 5-10 minutes, then come back in and repeat the procedure. If turning away from the dog doesn’t work (i.e. the dog keeps jumping up on your back or side), step back outside and close the door in the dog’s face for 30-60 seconds. Open the door and say “sit”. If the dog sits, great! Come inside. If the dog does not sit, close the door again and wait another 30-60 seconds. Continue repetitions until the dog has been successful at least 6 times. By “success”, I mean that the dog sits before even trying to jump on you.
Option 2: Come in the door and stand still, with your hand held up in front of and close to your stomach (use the same hand as you used to teach “off”). As your dog runs toward you, say, “sit” in a firm clear voice. If the dog sits, wonderful!!! Say “yes” and reach down to give your dog a special and tasty treat. Praise the dog while you feed him (even if he then tries to jump up on you, just remind him to sit). If the dog does not sit but instead, launches at you, say “off” in a firm and clear voice, and bop him on the nose with your hand in exactly the same manner as you did while teaching him “off”. Say “yes” when he pulls back and then tell him to “sit”. When he sits, say “yes”, praise and reward.
Option 3: Come in the door and stand still. As your dog runs toward you, say, “sit” in a firm clear voice. If the dog sits, wonderful!!! Say “yes” and reach down to give your dog a special and tasty treat. Praise the dog while you feed him (even if he then tries to jump up on you, just remind him to sit). If the dog does not sit but instead, launches at you, tuck your hands up tight by your chest, stare straight ahead and walk into the dog. Typically, the dog will jump backwards. When all four feet are on the floor, stop moving, and ask the dog to sit. If he does, say “yes”, praise and reach down to give the dog a treat. If he does not, step into him again. Please understand that the objective is not to step on the dog’s feet or to kick the dog. If this method does not work after 3-4 attempts, it probably won’t so try one of my other suggestions instead.
Option 4: For this method, you need to recruit a family member or friend to help. Have the dog drag his 4′ or 6′ leash (not a retractable leash) or a rope attached to his collar. Your helper should stand next to the door, on the inside. Come in the door and stand still. As your dog runs toward you, say, “sit” in a firm clear voice. If the dog sits, wonderful!!! Say “yes” and reach down to give your dog a special and tasty treat. Praise the dog while you feed him (even if he then tries to jump up on you, just remind him to sit). If the dog does not sit but instead, launches at you, say “off” in a clear voice. The helper should grasp the leash and apply pressure down toward the floor at the same time as the dog is jumping up. Tuck your hands up tight by your chest. Both you and the helper should repeat “off” as the dog is pulled downward. Ask the dog to “sit”. If he does, say “yes”, praise and reach down to give the dog a treat. If he does not, apply the downward pressure again. If you do not have a helper, you can step on the dog’s leash just prior to the dog jumping up on you, but this technique is difficult to coordinate.
Option 5: Despite all your best efforts, some dogs are simply too excited when greeting people to ever be able to hold a sit. For these dogs, the best bet is to redirect the dog to grab a toy. Keep a favorite toy by the door at all times. As the dog comes running toward you, say, “get the toy” and point to it. Pick it up and wiggle it if necessary. If the dog runs around, shaking the toy, praise him. Once the dog has dropped the toy and calmed down, cue the dog to sit and pat him so that he remains calm. Eventually, the dog will just automatically run around and find a toy before coming to the door to greet you!
Generalize the Training
Once the dog learns to sit to greet you, make sure you teach the dog the same lesson with family members, regular friends, and strangers. Teach your dog at the front door, at other doors, on the street, at the dog park, and anywhere else your dog meets people.
A dog-training party at your home is the best way to accomplish a lot of training with other people. Invite people to arrive at 15-minute intervals. Advise people on how they should behave with the dog before they arrive. Spend 15 minutes working with one guest at the door, until the next one arrives. By the end of the day, your dog will have received plenty of repetitions with a variety of people. The first few guests might be challenging but by the time the 5th or 6th guest arrives, the dog should be catching on to the idea of sitting to greet!
There are other approaches for discouraging jumping up that I consider unwarranted and inhumane. These include kneeing the dog in the chest, knocking him over, stepping on his hind feet, or pinching his front feet as he jumps up. These procedures are meant to inflict pain and are likely to teach the dog to fear people.