This is such a common problem, and it’s one of those that is much, much easier to prevent than to repair!
Why do dogs jump on people?
- Dogs naturally greet those they love face to face, then nose to rear. Your face is up high. When the dog is a tiny puppy, we love this – think of how many people enjoy having a puppy lick their face. The only problem? Dogs get bigger, and by the time they do, they’ve learned that jumping up is the way to greet a human.
- Dogs do what works to get what they want. When dogs jump they are not being dominant or rude – they simply want to greet you. Specifically, they want eye contact, words, and some touch. When a dog jumps up, often he gets just those things – no matter if a person is saying, “down boy” or “it’s OK, I like dogs,” and pushing them off. Dogs don’t speak English – that counts as touching and talking and attention to a dog. To the dog, jumping up works like a charm because it always gets a reaction from the human!
- Dogs love to gamble, and they’re really good at it. If sometimes jumping up works (the person pays attention to them) and sometimes it doesn’t, to the dog, this becomes a game of “ooo, maybe this time they’ll pet me!! Maybe THIS is the day!” This makes the problem incredibly hard to get rid of once it’s established, because dogs know they’re bound to win some time!
How do we teach them not to jump up?
Luckily for us, our brains are bigger and we can outsmart them. Instruct your guests to IGNORE your dog until he sits, then enforce that rule. Be very, very consistent so that your dog doesn’t learn to gamble. Keep your dog on a leash, even in the house, during times in which he’s likely to jump so that you can make sure he’s never reinforced for doing so. If you need to, walk him away from the people to give him a chance to calm down before allowing him to greet. Reward any calm behavior with food or calm attention. If your dog chooses to sit, lie down, get a toy, or other appropriate behavior OTHER than jumping up, reward profusely, and encourage your guests to do the same! Dogs have a long memory for this sort of thing, so if you’re trying to break a long-standing habit, this is going to take a while. There are some exercises we tend to do in Basic Manners and Puppy Kindergarten classes that speed up this process dramatically. But keep at it! There’s nothing like watching your dog run up to a person and sit politely for attention to make your training worthwhile.