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Puppy Jumping – Why Dog Trainers Tend to Ignore

I have the good fortune of interacting with lots of puppies and puppy owners every week. I’ve noticed that pet owners sometimes become quite stern when their puppy jumps on people. I’ve also noticed that for the most part, dog trainers don’t get too excited about puppy jumping and tend to simply ignore it. What gives?

In dog training there are two types of problems:

1. dogs who don’t like people

2. everything else

Dogs who don’t like people, who are afraid of them, or aggressive toward them cost the most resources, cause the most grief, and are at the greatest risk of behavioral euthanasia. As a dog trainer, I see many such unfortunate situations.

On the other hand, puppies jumping up on people is a “pro-social” behavior – presumably, the joyful little puppy just wants to get closer to the stranger’s face. When I see puppy jumping my first thought is usually “aww, what a sweety!” Granted, we are all aware that puppies grow up and nobody wants an adolescent or grown dog jumping on them – more on this below.

Consider this paragraph I came across recently in a book titled “Barking” by Turid Rugaas (page 58).

I recently witnessed how a four-month-old puppy on her first walk in the village learned to be afraid of people in just seven seconds. A person came walking toward her, and the puppy, in puppy fashion, jumped happily toward the person. The owner pulled the puppy back – saying “No!” in a loud voice. The puppy looked a little bewildered. When another person approached, the puppy tried again to jump up and greet the person, a little more reluctantly this time. Same thing happened. The dog was pulled back harshly accompanied by a stern “No!” when a third person approached, this time the puppy hid behind her owner, tail between her legs.

This is essentially how dogs are often taught to be fearful of other dogs and people, especially kids. The owner thought she was saying essentially don’t jump up on people. The dog learned that people were something to be afraid of and would likely become a fear barker over time.

The story has a bit of a “just so” quality but nevertheless makes a good point. Most puppy jumping will diminish in time. Ignoring, turning away, disengaging, and otherwise not rewarding the jumping is typically enough to reduce the behavior over time. Punishing this pro-social behavior in young puppies isn’t necessary and can bring about unintended associations as in the story above.

In a similar vein, here at Seven Cedars, I encourage people attending Social Hours to bring tasty tidbits for their own and other puppies who approach. Ideally, we stretch our hands toward the pup as they run toward us and offer a tasty treat, low to the ground, before they jump up (and before a crowd gathers). It’s enough that the young pup has bounded toward you in a friendly manner – you don’t need to ask them to “sit” or give them any type of command. You are simply associating yourself, a “stranger”, with food. That’s the lesson! If a pup is jumping on your legs, I advise people to ignore (meaning look away, turn your body away, no need to say anything) until all four paws hit the ground, then either move along or feed a tidbit immediately while all four paws are on the ground.

Some owners feel inclined to forbid others from feeding treats to their puppy for fear of diarrhea, or that the dog might beg, or be too interested in that person. Please weigh these concerns against the vital lesson your pup could learn if they are allowed to take the treat: people are good (or in dog thought: “people give me good yummies, praise, and pats”).

As your puppy develops and grows into an adult dog, things change. If puppy jumping hasn’t extinguished on its own by the time the dog approaches adolescence, it’s time to teach an alternate behavior like a polite sit-for-greeting. Likewise, by this time, we hope the puppy has learned that strangers are good, and we no longer need to be quite so diligent in associating new people with treats -although one could argue it’s never a bad idea. Some dogs, especially of certain breeds, require ongoing convincing that strangers are OK!

So, remember each time you greet a puppy you are teaching him about strangers. Try not to make his first impression a scolding. During our Social Hours I encourage a yummy tidbit fed low to the ground, before he jumps, and then move along. Such a beautiful, easy lesson for that pup.

If a young puppy jumps on you, smile inwardly at this eager, pro-social little angel, but say nothing and turn away. Disengagement and ignoring = not rewarding. Avoid getting excited and shouting “off!” as this could be interpreted as a fun game to the pup or alternatively could negatively affect his emotions about strangers.

When we all interact like this consistently, the jumping up behavior will fade before 6 months of age. If your dog is older than 6 months and still jumping on people let’s make a training plan together.

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