This article appears in Pets 2018 magazine.
When a dog is young almost all of its behaviors are adorable. As a pet ages, what was considered cute can become less so.
“Dogs jumping up on people, especially when they enter someone’s home, is a fairly common problem,” said Bonnie Beaver, professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
A dog leaping on guests, pawing at their clothes and possibly knocking them off their feet is not the dog’s fault, but the owner’s for not training the pet properly.
“Dogs want to be as close to a person’s face as possible. It goes back to puppyhood and even farther back into their ancestors — wolves,” Beaver said.
Wolf puppies lick their mother’s mouth to encourage her to regurgitate food.
“It triggers a response. Fast-forward and a dog is semi-trapped as a juvenile wolf. The young wolf behavior has been retained and occasionally expressed by the dog now. The behavior is meant to trigger a response from the higher-ranking individual,” which is not its mother but a human, Beaver said.
It’s easier for a dog to get close to a person’s face by jumping, but is it an unhealthy behavior?
“Not unless the dog has hip problems. If they don’t there’s nothing adverse about jumping. It’s just a behavior that people don’t want,” Beaver said.
It’s also not that difficult to stop the behavior, Beaver said. People often inadvertantly send dogs the wrong message.
“What’s the first thing a person does when a dog jumps? You give it attention,” Beaver said. You push it away. You talk to it and say “stop.”
“Anything like that is rewarding to the dog. That’s what they want — attention — from the higher-ranking animal — you,” Beaver said.
What you should do if a dog jumps up on you is turn around, Beaver said. Stand facing the wall for a short time, at least 30 seconds.
“I can’t say how long because every dog is different. Turn around immediately,” Beaver said.
Then, when you face the dog again, immediately give it a command, she said. Ask it to do something like “sit.” When it complies, give it a reward, Beaver said.
“Do not reward bad behavior. Petting, looking, talking and touching are all rewards,” Beaver said.
If you have a problem with jumping, be sure to tell your guests and ask them to help manage the dog’s behavior by following simple directions, Beaver said.
“If you know your dog is going to jump on a guest, put a leash on it so you can give the ‘sit’ or ‘down’ command. Don’t give it a chance to jump,” she said.
Once a dog relaxes, you can release it from the leash, Beaver said.
Training a dog not to jump starts when it’s a puppy, Beaver said.
“It’s easier to teach commands when the dog is young than to try and break a bad habit,” she said.