Help! My Dog Jumps (Part 1)
With the holidays quickly approaching, many of you will be having more visitors to your home than usual. That means you will be busy, and training will not be high on your priority list. If your GSP is anything like mine, times like this is when bad manners shine.
The most common complaint I hear from clients is that their dog jumps on visitors. Why is this? They claim that nothing they have tried works.
Whenever you want to get rid of a nuisance behavior like jumping, the first thing to ask yourself is why the dog does it. What purpose does jumping serve, and what is the dog getting out of it? It may be more complex than you think.
Very young puppies nudge their mom’s muzzle, triggering her reflex to regurgitate. That is their introduction to solid food. Older puppies continue to greet with their nose. It is a natural behavior. Scent is the primary way for a dog to gather information. Our faces, namely our mouths, are a gold mine of information (as is a dog’s butt, but we won’t go there). I believe jumping is a way to get closer to our mouths, whether it is to smell what we had for lunch or just to say hi.
Who can resist a cute little puppy whose paws are on your shins, looking up at you with pleading eyes? No one with half a heart. Therefore puppies quickly learn that jumping gets attention.
Fast forward to adolescence (6 months old and up). Puppy is bigger now. Toenails scraping your arm or dirty paw prints on your shirt no longer trigger an “Aww, how cute” reaction. Instead, the dog is told “Off”, “No”, pushed away or even kneed in the chest. I don’t recommend scaring or hurting the dog, even if it sometimes works to stop the jumping. Use of force or intimidation can cause fear, which is a bigger problem. I do urge people to stop doing what doesn’t work, though. If the dog is continuing to jump, he is getting something out of it.
Keep this Golden Rule of Behavior in mind: Behaviors that are reinforced are repeated. The reinforcement (reward) might be obvious, like attention (good or bad). For some dogs, getting some kind of reaction is better than being ignored. Reinforcement can also be more subtle, even internal. The paws have landed on the person and the nose got closer to the face, even if only for a second. The greeting sequence has been executed; a natural need fulfilled. And jumping is fun for an over-excited dog.
So now we understand why a dog jumps and what can keep the habit strong. Next month I’ll talk about what can be done using humane methods. Hint: it’s not just about training the dog!