Help, my dog jumps when greeting people!

Dogs greet one another at nose level, that is what is polite in dog culture. Unfortunately, human faces usually sit quite a bit higher than a dog’s and thus dogs often jump when greeting humans. The dog is not trying to misbehave, it simply doesn’t know how to differentiate what is polite in dog culture vs. human culture. The goal is to provide the dog with a repertoire of appropriate behaviors to prevent and manage impolite greetings.

Sit is a great incompatible behavior for combating jumping because it is challenging for the dog to leap up from the position. To get started we are going to use the method of luring to guide the dog through the motion of the sit.

Sit Position:

1. Place a smelly and attractive treat in front of the dog’s nose while the dog is standing, and move it upwards and backwards in a diagonal motion. As their head moves up to follow the treat, their rear will go down.
2. When the dog reaches the sit position, punctuate that moment with a verbal “yes!” or click, and feed a treat.

Now that your dog is getting used to the motion, we are going to remove the food lure from the context, and start to create a hand signal for sit. Now before repeating the exercise, take your treat, and put it into the opposite hand. Pretend that your hand still has the treat in it, and perform the same “lure” motion you just did. When your dog’s rear hits the ground, punctuate the moment with a “yes!” or a click and feed them the treat from your other hand. Repeat each time moving your hand a little faster, this is now your hand signal for sit.

Now that your dog is making a habit of sitting, we are going to take this opportunity to teach sit as a default behavior. A default behavior differs from a normal behavior in that it is performed when any other cue is absent. The dog is expected to offer this behavior by default, as a reflex and a habit. By teaching your dog to think independently and anticipate your expectations, we can free you from having to always tell your pup what to do in every situation. In this case the cue for the behavior will be contextual, a person approaching means sit because sit is incompatible with impolite greeting behaviors such as jumping.

Default Sit:

  1. Take a step in any direction, then stand still and quietly wait for your dog to think through the pattern of behavior which has previously made a reward appear. Make sure to ignore your dog while you wait, so that they learn effectively to get your attention using polite behavior rather than jumping.

  2. After a few moments your dog will hesitantly sit, as this has worked just a few moments ago.

  3. Mark the moment they hit the correct position with a verbal “yes!” Or click, and praise and reward with a treat.

  4. Take another step and repeat approximately 5 times until the sit becomes the immediate response when the dog approaches you.

Your dog will become physically tired from the sit that we have been asking them to repeat over and over as it is similar to performing squats, not only is this a great way to burn mental and physical energy when you have a few moments, but the physical tiredness will help to prevent jumping. If you know a guest is coming over, take your dog through some practice exercises prior to their arrival.

Targeting is another great tool to teach your dog to aim low while greeting, rather than going for the face. Since many people greet by bending down and trying to pet your cute fuzzy dog, we can capitalize on their natural inclination to offer a hand target, and teach the dogs what to do when they see it.

Targeting is a simple skill that involves the animal placing a part of their body on an object. You have probably seen this in action when you see dolphins flying out of the water to touch a ball on the end of a stick. Targeting is used in zoos and aquariums to lead and move animals that can’t otherwise be caught and touched. This simple practice has been adapted to dogs, and can be useful for a variety of skills. For our dogs, the body part we want them to use is their nose, and the “object” we would like them to touch is our hand when it is in a certain position, you can choose either an open flat hand, or a closed fist. You may need to experiment and see which hand signal your dog is more excited by. Now the process of teaching the dog to touch the target looks like this:

1. Start by placing your empty hand near to your dog (within 6 inches), at this point your hand likely smells of treats which will help to lead your dog to investigate it.
2. When they curiously sniff at your hand, click or mark with a verbal “yes!”.
3. Feed them a treat from your OTHER hand and repeat, each time moving your hand to a different location.
4. As your dog becomes more confident about pressing their nose into your hand, move your hand farther and farther away.

Finally, using all of these foundational skills we have just taught your dog, we are going to set up a greeting routine to help ensure that your dog practices appropriate behavior to earn a chance to greet, and decreases the reinforcement opportunities for inappropriate behavior such as jumping. The routine looks like this:

Go Greet:

1. When a person approaches, instruct your dog to sit, and shorten the leash so that your dog cannot run up to the person. (While practicing, the person approaching should stop and back up when the dog lifts from the sit).
2. Instruct the person your dog would like to greet to present the hand target to your dog at nose level.
3. When your dog is calm cue your him or to “go greet” and direct him/her to the greeter’s hand.

4. Mark with a “yes!” or click as soon as their nose touches the greeter’s hand and call the dog back to you for a treat. When your dog turns around to eat the treat, you can instruct the greeter to pet the dogs rear or back. This is a great place to pet to discourage jumping. Petting on the head, shoulders or chest often encourages the dog to jump.
5. Reset & Repeat!

Take Home Points:

  • Your dog will make mistakes, if your dog jumps gently remove him or her from the social situation. We want to think about why the dog is performing the behavior, to ensure that we do not accidentally reinforce it. Because jumping is an attention- seeking behavior be careful not to reward it with attention, even negative attention. Instead if your dog jumps, simply turn your back and walk away. If the dog does not calm down immediately, quietly and calmly put them in a brief time-out so that they learn sitting and calm behavior earns attention and social interaction, while jumping either leads to being ignored or taken further away from the social interaction.

  • Use your greeting routine to set-up positive interactions and prevent mistakes. Get in the habit of crating or otherwise securing your dog while guests enter, then take your dog out to practice the routine when calm.

  • If you know guests will be coming, leash up your dog before they arrive.

  • If you catch your dog in the process of making a mistake, use a cue like “off” to interrupt the behavior and reward as soon as their paws are back on the floor. This teaches the dog what to do the next time they hear that cue. If they are too excited to acknowledge you, put the dog away to calm down before trying again.

  • Freedom to greet is a privilege earned by good behavior, your dog will learn to perform desired behaviors more quickly with consistency and management.

Need more help? Join a greeting people politely class or consult with one of our trainers!