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Ask Nancy: Leap up and Lick Someone!

February 22, 2010

Ask Nancy is a weekly column of general pet advice. This column is not meant to replace  your veterinarian or animal emergency room.  If your pet is  sick we recommend that you seek professional advice immediately.

Question: My dog won’t stop jumping on me when I come home.  What can I do?

Answer: Leap up and Lick Someone!

Dogs jump up to greet us is they typically do greetings to the face area. As our face, unlike another dog’s, is way out of reach for most dogs, they try to get up to that area as best they can, thus the leaping is intended to get them closer to the greeting area.

Most cures for jumping up used to involve corrections using various methods to make the jumping behavior uncomfortable for the dog.

The problem is most corrections still give the dog what he or she is looking for, which is human attention for the greeting behavior. That knee clunk to the chest is still touching, pushing the dog away is still touching, commands are still interaction etc. As far as the dog is concerned attention is attention and even negative interaction is better than nothing.

Instead of interaction I’m going to suggest two training processes to help with the leaping issue:

One is the nothing in life is free program where you put yourself in the leader role simply by requiring your dog to do something before the gets something he or she wants. You can read about this here

http://www.paws.org/cas/resources/fact_sheets_dogs/nothingfree.php

The basic rule is to get what you want; you just do what I want. Dogs catch on pretty quickly particularly if you involve food as an incentive to learn. This is going to help set your dog up for considering a behavior change to get what the dog wants from you.

Second is you are going to want to ignore the wrong behavior giving the dog nothing, or less than nothing, by changing the passive ignoring to a more active and obvious ignoring. With this sort of training you start with youself and family members first and then work up to friends, strangers, and company.

For active ignoring you fold your arms, you turn your back, you give no commands, you just completely do not interact with the dog when she is leaping on you. You keep ignoring doing the same even if the dog claws or barks at you for attention when you do not respond as usual to the leaping.

If your dog comes around to where he or she can stare in your face, you just turn again, with arms still folded, and no eye contact. Wearing dog paw proof clothing can make this a lot easier on you.

Eventually the dog will stop leaping on you. An observer will often see a puzzled look on the dog’s face, though you might not. When the dog totally stops leaping is when you turn around and pet your dog in greeting with lots of affectionate talk etc. It’s even better if the dog is sitting when you do this but just having ‘four on the floor’ will work too.

If your dog puts feet up on you during this then stand up and turn away again.

What you are accomplishing with this is

  1. You are no longer giving her any attention as a ‘reward’ (real or accidental) in your reaction to her leaping and
  2. You are giving her a new behavior *that works* to gain your attention and response.

The new rule is that to get what you want you have to stand or sit.

This is not an instant cure. You will have to do this consistently until your dog figures out that the leaping is no longer the way to get what he or she wants. Be aware that your dog may even leap more extensively in a final attempt to get a response using the old behavior. Think of this as being a bit like the way someone might kick a soda machine that doesn’t give out what was paid for!

To continue this training you will have to manage her on leash when company comes in. Start with visitors who are willing to help you train, if you can, and have it all explained ahead of time how to ignore the dog.

This training does work if you are persistent (and we know you are, of course, smarter and more stubborn than your dog) but there is one more thing that should help your pet slow greeting enthusiasm and that is an increase in exercise and play.

This does not mean dumping the dog alone in the yard but instead means interactive social time with the both of you.

If you can play with your dog at least once a day to the point where the dog at the end is lying down flat out and panting from being tired, that should help your dog’s self control abilities a lot.

If your dog will chase a ball, but you are not so good at tossing one, you can hit one with a badminton or tennis racquet for her to chase.

I find my small dogs can be worn out using a sturdy cat fishing rod type toy with a toy on the end of the line to chase. The bigger dogs like this too but are quicker to sever the line to the toy! Time at a dog park playing with other dogs can also work.

Taking that ‘edge’ of energy off should make your dog much easier to live with and better able to focus on training time with you.

When you see your dog come to you and catch your eye and sit to ask for attention you’ll know the dog now has the concept so praise your dog greatly for saying ‘hello’ the right way!

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