Help! My Dog Jumps (Part 2)
Thanksgiving is over. How did your dog do when greeting your guests? Last month, I talked about the reason dogs jump on people and why it is a hard habit to break. With Christmas and New Year’s around the corner, there will be more opportunities to prevent your GSP from tackling your guests.
As I pointed out last month, recurring behaviors are those that are reinforced. Often the reinforcement is unintentional. Habits are also self-reinforcing (they feel good). Although we humans have brains that give us awareness and logic, many of us face our own behavior challenges such as overeating, watching too much TV, addictions, biting our nails, you name it. Many of us know first-hand how hard it is to break a habit even when we understand why we should. Dogs don’t understand the reasoning behind our social rules. I’m sure our rules don’t make sense to them. One of the reasons dogs are so special is that they can be taught to follow them anyway!
In order to successfully stop our dog from jumping, we must first prevent the dog from doing it in the first place. Yes, I can hear your groans (mine included). “Just don’t let him do it in the first place” sounds so trite. Keep in mind that practice makes perfect, so preventing the practice of jumping does make sense. It’s just not easy to do consistently. I have had many dogs in my life, but my GSP is the only dog whose jumping has persisted well into adulthood. Six years ago I was looking for a people-loving dog, and I got what I wanted in spades.
Preventative strategies require some pre-planning. One option I use when I don’t want to deal with my dog’s craziness is confinement. When I host a book club meeting, Chase is downstairs in the man-cave with my husband. When my son’s friend comes over to play video games, I ask Chase to go into his crate. When the UPS man rings the doorbell, I quickly put Chase on a tether attached to heavy furniture near the door. A baby gate would work just as well. I don’t feel bad about it. It is better than scolding or being embarrassed.
On Thanksgiving Day, I put a body harness with a handle on Chase an hour before guests arrived. His first attempt to jump was quickly interrupted by my daughter. After the initial excitement was over, he was fine.
If I am walking Chase and I stop to talk to someone, I step on the leash. I position the leash so it hangs straight down from the collar and step on it where it touches the ground. That way, he can sit or stand comfortably but his paws can’t leave the ground. Clients love it when I show them this simple solution. If you keep a leash handy near the door you can do this with visitors, too.
The above techniques are examples of management, not training. When training, teach your dog what to do instead of jumping (like sitting). If you use management to limit his options while training, the dog will learn quicker than if he is allowed to jump whenever he wants.
What do you do if your dog tries to jump? Remove the reinforcer. If the dog is tethered, the person should quickly step back out of reach or turn and walk away. If the dog happens to be loose (not a good idea but it happens), the person should quickly turn away as soon as the paws leave the floor. This works best if the person acts quickly and turns away before the paws actually touch him. Greeting is resumed only when the dog is sitting. Every client for whom I demonstrate this is amazed at how quickly their dog learns to sit without being told. It is not magic. Greeting is the ultimate motivator for overly friendly dogs.
Training requires the cooperation and skill of the person being greeted. This is not always possible. If the person is unable to step away in a timely manner, you will need to move your dog away yourself. THE CONSEQUENCE FOR JUMPING IS IMMEDIATE REMOVAL (of the dog or person). IF HE SITS, HE IS ALLOWED TO GREET. Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse some more. Don’t expect stellar performance if you don’t practice. This is a difficult lesson for avid jumpers, which leads me to my next point – when real life interferes.
If your situation is anything like mine, it is very difficult to find enough opportunities to practice. We seldom have visitors. No one else in my family is interested in training. I had to constantly remind my husband to turn away when Chase was younger and crazier. Sometimes I am caught off guard and Chase sneaks a jump on an unsuspecting visitor before I can intervene. He knows not to put his paws on people, so he will stand on his hind legs to get closer to their faces. I don’t like that either. I admit I was lazy and did not teach him to sit to greet. The alternative behavior he chose for himself is to wiggle through the legs of the people he greets. You’ve got to pick your battles. Management works best for me with the jumping issue and I can live with that.
First determine why your dog is jumping, and figure out a way to meet that need in other ways. Does she need to go out? Is she bored? Does she need more exercise (if she ran in the morning and several hours has passed, then maybe yes). Rewards don’t have to be tangible to be powerful. Most problem behaviors are “self-reinforcing”: it feels good, it relieves stress, it’s fun, it gets a reaction (even a negative one). You could try hanging sticky contact paper or an X-Mat training mat on the door to make it less appealing to jump on. When getting rid of a nuisance behavior, I often find that the missing piece is teaching an acceptable alternative behavior (like sitting on a mat near the door) and rewarding the living daylights out of that for several weeks. Don’t eliminate the rewards completely or the old behavior will return. Think about the reward history of the jumping. How many total times has your dog jumped? Create a reward history for the new behavior that outweighs that, and AT THE SAME TIME prevent access to what she jumps on..
Living with a young GSP is not easy. Saying a GSP is energetic is like saying childbirth is uncomfortable. A GSP’s need for exercise is often magnitudes beyond what is enough for many other breeds. Look into getting a “flirt pole” for quick intensive bouts of exercise (there is a lot of info online if you Google it). Or you can make one. Mine was a life-saver for me and my GSP. And don’t forget mental stimulation in the form of food-filled puzzle toys (there are hundreds of them out there). Make your dog “work for meals; don’t feed your dog out of a bowl (I’ll be writing a future article about that). Consider getting help meeting your dog’s needs through doggie daycare or a dog walker. You have your hands full with 2 small children even without a crazed dog. Hire a positive reinforcement trainer in your area so you can observe what works. It can make a world of difference.
I have an 8.5 month old GSP who constantly jumps, we had to replace our back door with a metal door because she jumps on it so much, we’ve tried ignoring the behaviour but nothing we’ve tried seems to stop this, she also jumps on the kitchen bench – we make sure there is absolutely nothing for her to take off the bench so there’s no ‘reward’ but she continues to jump up on it and of course she jumps all over people too! Any tips to stop the bench jumping or jumping on the back door? Unfortunately the jumping is only the beginning of our problems, she goes on a 6 km run every day (running next to a bike) and comes home and is still hyper. We are tearing our hair out a hyper dog and 2 small children do not mix, any help would be appreciated.