For dogs that jump-up to greet people, a variety of dog training texts recommend the owner: shout at the dog, squirt it in the face with water or lemon juice, swat it on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper, yank on the dog’s leash, hang the dog by its choke-collar, squeeze the dog’s front paws, tread on its hind paws, knee it in the chest or flip it over backwards. Surely, this is all a little excessive for a dog that’s only trying to say hello. Confucius once said, “There is no need to use an axe to remove a fly from the forehead of a friend.” Why not just train your dog to sit or lie down when greeting people?
Why dogs jump up
Dogs jump-up for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, most dogs have been trained to jump-up since puppyhood. When the young pup jumped and pawed, most people patted it on the head and scratched it behind the ear, because they were too lazy to bend down to puppy level. And then one day the dog dutifully jumps-up to greet its owner, who in turn greets the friendly furry with a whop on the bonce or a knee in the chest. The dog’s only crime? It grew!
Pawing, licking and jumping-up are all friendly appeasement gestures – the dog’s way of saying “Welcome home. Pleased to see you. Please accept my presence. Please don’t hurt me – I’m a lowly worm compared with you most honored human!” And so what does the most honored human do? But punish the dog for jumping up! Now, of course, the dog has two reasons to show deference – the initial reason and the fact it must now appease its angry owner. And how does it try to appease the owner? By pawing, licking and jumping-up! This is one of the many paradoxes in training – the more one punishes the dog, the more the behavior increases in frequency. Again, the ‘treatment’ is the cause.
Preventing a jumping problem
Right from the outset, reward-train your puppy to sit-stay when greeting people. Rather than trying to extinguish complicated social behaviors with punishment, it is easier to employ a simple counterconditioning procedure and train your pup to perform an alternative and acceptable greeting behavior – one which is mutually exclusive to the problem behavior, i.e., the puppy cannot sit and jump-up at the same time. If your pup sits and stays, you may praise it both for sitting and for not jumping-up. If your pup jumps-up however, you have yet to train it to sit-stay properly and so, back to step one.
Counterconditioning procedures sound like the symphony of simplicity. And they are – in theory. However, it can be a little more challenging to put theory to practice. For many dogs, the word ‘uncontrollable’ is a kindly euphemism for their behavior when greeting people. Many dogs are so excited and distracted that they fail to acknowledge their owner’s very existence, let alone respond obediently to any request to “Sit.” Counterconditioning is the theoretical answer, but troubleshooting is the practical solution.
Set aside time for training
With extreme behavior problems, it is next to impossible to train a dog during the course of everyday living. For example, it is difficult to train a puppy to sit, when returning home from a heavy, harried, hassled and otherwise quite horrible day at work. Similarly, it is a poor percentage procedure to try and train the dog to sit at the front door when a visitor arrives. When the owner is in a hurry to open the door and pays only marginal attention to the dog, the dog in turn pays less-than-marginal attention to its owner. However, by troubleshooting the problem, you may set aside a convenient and specific time to teach your puppy how it is expected to act when greeting people.
Teach your pup to sit, using a lure/reward training method and proof the pup’s response, especially in the front hallway and on-leash outdoors, i.e., in places where your dog normally greets people. Indoors, the dog may be additionally trained to sit in a specific place, e.g., on a mat in the front hall. With one owner watching the dog in a sit-stay on its mat, another owner may periodically open and close the front door and repeatedly ring the doorbell to get the dog used to distractions specifically associated with a visitor’s arrival. If we are going to expect the dog to sit when greeting people, we must make sure that the dog at least knows how to “Sit-stay” in similar but less distracting circumstances.
Training your dog to greet you politely
Firstly – the difficult part – on returning home, instruct your dog to sit (or lie down) on its mat, and delay greeting the dog until it does so. If good Rover sits, gently praise the dog to excess. If bad Rover does not sit, keep trying until he does so. Do what it takes – take hold of the dog’s collar and keep hold until the dog complies. This is no more difficult than routinely dealing with the dog in everyday distracting situations. Only this time, you shall persevere, and eventually, your dog will sit and be suitably praised for its trouble. Other reprimands and punishments are neither necessary nor advisable. Your dog will soon learn he has to sit before you will deign to say hello. Indeed, as soon as your dog sits, greet it with gentle stroking, calm but profuse praise and a couple of food treats.
Now comes the easy part. Once your dog’s exuberance has waned following the customary exultation of sniffs, licks, wags and wiggles, slip out of the house by the back door, ‘return home’ via the front door once more and request Rover to go to the appropriate place and assume the appropriate position, i.e., to sit on his mat. This time, however, it will be much, much easier to get Rover to sit. Rover is not nearly as excited by your return, because he has only just greeted you seconds beforehand. After greeting your dog for the second time, leave and repeat the procedure a third time, and then once more and so on. Rover’s performance will improve with each repeated re-entry.
With repeated exposures to the same stimulus complex (owner at front door), your dog will become less and less excited and therefore he will become progressively easier to control. It will become easier and easier to get your dog to sit with subsequent repetitions. Using troubleshooting procedures, the initial improvement is dramatic. Once Rover’s performance is impeccable, repeat the departure/arrival sequence another half a dozen or so times in order to leave an utterly indelible impression on your dog’s brain – that you are thoroughly pleased and overjoyed with your dog’s newly learned (newly taught) social etiquette and mannerly greetings.
Troubleshooting is especially important for dogs which are kept outside for any reason. An outdoors dog will generally go bonkers when it comes inside. This, of course, is often a primary reason why the dog was relegated outdoors in the first place. A vicious circle quickly develops. The more the dog is kept outside, the greater its exuberance and the worse its behavior whenever it comes indoors. Eventually, the dog will be kept outdoors permanently. Whether you want the dog to be able to come indoors in a mannerly fashion or whether you want to be able to venture into your own backyard without being blitzed by Bozo, the troubleshooting procedures are similar.
Invite your dog indoors and instruct him to “Settle Down and Shush.” Once the dog has calmed down, instruct him to go “Outside” again. Have the dog come inside and go outside several times in a row. Not only does this procedure improve the dog’s demeanor and deportment on each successive ingress, but also it increases the dog’s eagerness for each successive egress. The dog learns to come inside like a civilized canine, and it learns that having to go outside does not necessarily mean it will be left out in the cold ’till the ends of time. When your dog eventually enters in an impeccable, orderly fashion, let it stay awhile.
For dogs living permanently outdoors, go out to greet the dog several times in a row. The first visit will be a disaster. The second will be merely unpleasant. The third will be pretty good, and on the fourth and subsequent visits, the dog will be well behaved. So if the dog’s so perfect, why not bring him indoors for company, comfort and protection? Yea owner!
Training your dog to jump on request
Some owners feel there are times when it is both appropriate and enjoyable for their dog to greet them by jumping-up. To avoid confusion, always herald these occasions with a suitable request, e.g., “Give us a Hug.” Never allow the dog to jump-up unless on invitation. When returning home, first have the dog greet you in a calm, controlled stay, and then once you have closed the front door or changed into dog-jumping clothes, tell the dog to give you a hug. Thus, the previous problem – joyful jumping – becomes the reward for not jumping-up during the initial greeting.
Training your dog to greet visitors politely
Invite 20 friends over, ostensibly to watch a football game on the television but in reality, for a Rover-training extravaganza. When Patrick arrives, it is possible to direct 110% of your attention towards your dog, because there is no hurry to open the door – it’s a set-up, and anyway, it’s only Patrick! It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get your dog to sit or lie-down. Take encouragement. The first time will be the hardest, and from then on, it will be as easy as teaching a possum to play dead. Once the dog is sitting (or lying) on its mat, instruct Patrick to enter. (The door is closed but unlocked, and so there is no need to divert attention from your dog.) Continually praise your dog all the time it remains sitting on its mat. Pat may offer a hand for your dog to sniff and a food treat for your dog to eat. Tell Pat to go and sit down in the living room, and then, instruct Rover to say hello. Pat may pat the pooch and allow it to perform the requisite nose-scan of all the olfactory goodies that normally reside on visitors’ clothing (the intoxicating smell of Pat’s cute Pyrenees) and on the undersoles of their shoes (the remains of that otherwise mighty mound of Corgi copros, which Pat squished on the corner of Folker and 46th).
Once Rover has settled down and got used to Pat’s presence, Pat should make a surreptitious exit and then ring the doorbell once more. Characteristically, the dog will make a wild and woolly rush to the door with all the uncontrolled exuberance of before, only to calm down a mite when it realizes it is only Pat again. Since the dog is calmer, it is more easily and quickly controlled. Pat enters, gives the dog a treat and then sits down to allow the dog a cursory olfactory investigation. This time your dog will not be quite as intent on nose-vacuuming Pat’s pants and soles but will settle down more quickly. Exit Pat stage right, only to ring the doorbell again. A rapid rush by Rover, but then those familiar footsteps, the rhythm of the ring, the cadence of the clapper, a quick sniff at the bottom of the door, a glimpse of Pat’s ugly mug and the sober realization – “Pat! Are you coming or going?” Since Patrick’s presence is now no more distracting than a spare pair of mukluks, it is easy to control Rover and to get him to sit-stay on the mat. Rover gets it right, and so, Rover gets rewarded. Therefore Rover will be more likely to get it right in the future. Pat should leave and return a few more times for good luck, then settle down to warm up the TV and drink down some cold beers (to empty cans for booby traps). Have Pat perform a total of 10 re-entries during the course of the football game. (Keep the beers on the porch as an incentive for visitors to make repeated trips outdoors.)
Now it is time to call Susan and repeat the entire multiple-entry program. And then with Tammy, and then Stacie, et alia, until the whole crew is assembled to watch the game on the box. Within just a single session of concentrated greeting (some 200 greetings with 20 people in under four hours), Rover will learn how to greet visitors at the front door, and you will learn how to control your dog, such that things will be much easier on Monday morning with real visitors from back East. (Or from out West. It works just as well with visitors from all points of departure.) It may be necessary to occasionally touch-up training in the future. If your dog molests any visitors, just ask them to leave and come back in again.
Training game: Strangers on the street
A similar troubleshooting ploy may be designed to teach your dog how to appropriately greet strangers on the street. Again, it is difficult to train your dog effectively during the course of everyday living, e.g., when rushing to post a letter. Instead, at half-time in the ballgame, supply each of your 20 visitors with treats for the dog and then turf them out on the streets with instructions to space out and walk clockwise around the block. You and your dog can set off in a counter-clockwise direction. When meeting each person, request your dog to sit. If the dog sits, praise the good critter, and maybe offer a treat. Also, the ersatz strangers may praise your dog and gently pet it. If your dog jumps-up, instructively reprimand him – “SIT!” Your dog has a choice: 1) sit and receive praise, pats and treats or 2) jump-up and be reprimanded, yet have to sit anyway, i.e., Hobson’s choice. Your dog will happily elect to sit.
The first lap around the block often resembles a post-touchdown pantomime with the dog trying to high-five (or high-four-forepaw) each person it encounters. However, by only the second or third lap, your dog begins to get the idea how to greet people. By the fourth or fifth lap, the dog is perfect.
Try this exercise with a couple of groups of people. In this fashion, it is possible to practice a hundred or so street encounters within the half-hour. Your dog has been given the opportunity to master the required domestic social graces when meeting strangers, so that when on the way to post a letter, you will have better control when meeting real strangers.
Excerpted from How to Teach a New Dog Old Tricks, by Ian Dunbar.
Ian Dunbar is a veterinarian and animal behaviorist, founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and the author and star of numerous books and videos on dog behavior and training. He lives in Berkeley, California with his wife, trainer Kelly Dunbar, and their three dogs. The Dunbars are contributing editors to DogTime.