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.