Dogs learn through reinforcement, or in simpler language, dogs do what works for them. Rewarded behaviors will be repeated and repeated behaviors become habits. Good as well as bad habits are difficult to break! Whenever we are thinking about extinguishing unwanted behaviors we need to figure out what does the dog find rewarding about that behavior and remove the reward. There will be a period of “extinction burst” where efforts to make “what always worked before” become stronger before the behavior is extinguished. Consistency is key as there is always a chance of spontaneous recovery of the unwanted behavior. Behavior put on a random reinforcement schedule is always stronger so that is why consistency is so important. For example, dog jumps on you 10 times. Only 2 of those jumps are rewarded. It will take 200 reinforcements for “sitting for polite greeting” to override those 2 reinforced jumps. If you turn away from the dog when he jumps on you, you have not prevented the behavior. The dog has still been successful in jumping. The technique of putting your knee or foot in the dog’s chest does not prevent the behavior. We need to prevent the behavior from being successful so we can teach/train an alternative behavior incompatible with jumping.
Jumping is a normal canine greeting ritual which makes it difficult to extinguish. Dogs jump when excited to see you and jump for attention. If we speak to the dog, touch the dog or look at the dog, we’ve just rewarded jumping. To further challenge the issue jumping (like barking, digging, counter surfing, and pulling on lead) tend to be SELF REWARDING behaviors. A self -rewarding behavior is a behavior where simply engaging in the behavior produces the reward. For self-rewarding behaviors PREVENTION is the key. Practice makes perfect. The more opportunities the dog has to practice the behavior the better it works for him and the more likely he is going to repeat it.
CAUTION: never leave the room or area while your dog is tethered. Dogs that are tethered must be under direct supervision at all times.
Tethering the dog prevents the dog from being able to make contact with your body. Since jumping is fueled by arousal, start this exercise during a quiet time and don’t speak to the dog. Simply stand in front of the dog. If the dog jumps, move away from him preventing the jump. Wait for the dog to sit. When the dog sits, feed a cookie. Repeat 20 to 30 times. Now walk away from your dog about 10 feet. Return to the dog and using a very low, soft voice, say “Hi Dogs’ Name”. If the dog jumps, back up. Wait for the dog to sit. By this time your dog is starting to think and make choices. You will be able to see your dog make the choice to sit. When the dog sits, feed a cookie. Repeat 20 to 30 times. Walk away from the dog. Return to the dog and using a more excited voice, but not your most exciting voice, say “Hello Dog’s Name”. If the dog makes the choice to sit right away, feed 5 cookies, one at a time. This is a “jackpot reward”! If the dog jumps, move back and wait for the dog to sit. Repeat 20 to 30 times. You can feed out your dog’s meal doing this exercise. Gradually work up to using a more excited voice. Dogs tend to jump the louder and more exciting our voices become. We want to teach the dog to sit as a default behavior even during high excitement times but we have to work up this hierarchy SLOWLY, very gradually. Arms or hands in the air signal a dog to jump. In canine language arms uplifted are an invitation to jump up. Once you are successful in using a more animated voice, then move on to hands/arms in the air. When the dog makes the choice to sit, “jackpot” him by giving him 4 to 5 treats, one at a time for making the choice to sit.
Wearing a Leash
CAUTION: If your dog is dragging a leash in the house, always have direct supervision over the dog. You will be able to step on the leash to prevent the dog from being successful in jumping on you. Step on the leash close enough to thwart the dog from being able to jump. When the dog is unable to jump he will sit. Reward the sit.
Closing the Door
When your dog jumps on you go to a doorway and holding the leash in your hand, close the door between you and the dog. The dog will be on the other side of the door. Jumping has made a good thing, YOU, go away and because of the leash the dog can’t entertain himself on the other side of the door. Wait 30 seconds and open the door. If the dog jumps, close the door. If the dog makes the decision to sit, feed a cookie.
Guests in the Home
Your dog should be crated or gated when you know guests are expected. People at the door are highly exciting for dogs. Greet your guests and place them where you want them and “arm” them with cookies. Ask your guests to be very calm and boring when you bring in your dog. Have your dog on leash and being very calm and quiet, have your dog enter the room. Keep your leash short (not tight, but short) so the dog cannot move into the person’s space. If/when the dog sits the guests rewards the dog with a cookie. If the dog jumps, because you are holding the leash, the guest can move away thus thwarting the success of the jump. Wait for the dog to offer a sit and have your guest reward the dog. Keep the dog on lead while you interact with your guests until the dog settles and calms down.
Out on a walk or in public
Have your dog on a short (but not tight) leash. If a person comes up to greet your dog ask them to wait until the dog sits and then they can say hello. If possible, ask the person to give the dog a cookie when he sits. Always have cookies or kibble on you when you take your dog out in public or on walks.
In summation, it is almost impossible to teach a dog NOT to do something but it’s quite easy to teach a dog what to do. Teaching a dog to sit for polite greeting is incompatible with jumping so we replace the jumping with sitting. Remember it takes 30 to 40 rewarded repetitions for the light bulb to go off in the dog’s brain, “oh, that’s what she wanted”. It takes 4,000 to 5,000 rewarded repetitions for long term learning to take place so practice makes perfect!
Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants), Professional Member APDT, (Association of Pet Dog Trainers), AKC Canine Good Citizenship Evaluator, Animal Behavioral College Mentor