Jumping up is a normal and common behaviour puppies display. It certainly isn’t unusual to be greeted by a puppy with paws all over your legs. Largely, this occurs because it has been reinforced from the very beginning. The first time your pup does this, he will likely be extremely young and extremely small!! The recipient of the ‘jump’ will likely put their hands down, stroke, and say how cute your puppy is. This isn’t unusual, I think we are all guilty of a little bit of ‘over-tolerance’ when it comes to puppy jumping, however this serves to reinforce the behaviour. So, what can we do about it? And how can we teach our pups NOT to jump up?
I have briefly touched on jumping up before, but not in too much depth and if we’re honest I think most puppy owners will face this issue at some point. I do offer advice regarding jumping up, beyond what is covered here, in my 1-2-1’s so if you ARE struggling just get in touch.
Firstly, it is important to say that as mentioned above, this is not an unusual behaviour. Not only does a behaviour such as jumping up get reinforced from the beginning, it is also a natural behaviour for puppies to perform. Their first inclination is to get nearer to either our hands, our faces, or our treats!! All of which are out of reach if ‘all 4 are on the floor’. If you watch puppy play, it is largely unregulated in those early weeks and manners are often somewhat lacking! Pups will leap, jump, bundle, bat, and mouth……all in the name of play. So it is of little surprise they see fit to treat us in much the same way until shown different. As stated above, jumping up works, it results in a rewarding response (our attention), so we can see how it then develops into a behaviour which is performed whenever a person approaches.
It is important to mention not ALL dogs are ‘jumpers’, breed differences, personality, genetic predisposition and reinforcement history will all play a part. However I would hazard a guess that at some stage, most pups due to their opportunistic tendencies, will have a go at jumping up. This may seem all very sweet when we have a tiny little puppy, and indeed if you have a small breed again it may not seem like a big issue. However, if you have a larger breed of dog, or quite simply would like to instil some self control into your puppy regardless of breed, it needs to be under control from as early an age as possible. I should also add, some people don’t actually mind their dogs jumping up at people they know. As long as they are not causing distress, concern or worry in any way to the public (ie. jumping at strangers etc) then I am a firm believer in each to their own. What works for you and your dog is what is best.
So, what can we do about jumping up??
We have a few things we can do, ideally all in conjunction with one another.
Firstly, before our pup even starts to jump up or display the behaviour, we’re going to show our pups what we WANT them to do. This isn’t something we start doing AFTER our pup has started leaping at every person it passes in the street, this is something to be doing from the very beginning. If, each time your pup jumps up at you, you say ‘off’ or ‘down’, your pup may well comply and he may put all 4 feet on the floor. HOWEVER, be mindful of just how clever our pups are. They will very quickly learn that when they jump up, you say ‘off’, they then get off and get a reward. They ARE that clever. So, when you come home, or when you walk into the room etc, as your pup starts running towards you (or the second you get in the door) immediately mark (ie. YES, or clicker) and put a treat on the floor for your pup, before his feet even leave the ground. Your pup will then look up at you again as you’re walking through, immediately mark and put a treat on the floor. Keep repeating every single time you come through the door. We are not ‘asking’ our pup to do anything, but we are marking and rewarding an offered behaviour of ‘all 4 on the floor’. If you find you weren’t quick enough, and your pup has leapt at you, step to the side to get the paws off and completely ignore. Try and remember that interaction isn’t simply ‘talking’ to our pups, it’s touching, it’s eye contact, it’s verbal (even a firm voice!). If you are not quick enough with your marker and reward, walk away.
Secondly, we’re going to start working on our ‘settle’. Encouraging our pup to ‘settle’ is hugely beneficial, not only will this be incredibly useful throughout your pups life in varying situations, it will really help to improve your pups ‘self-calming’ skills.
Thirdly, we are going to work on impulse control and general self control exercises. Leaving food/toys of high value when asked, offering eye contact, stay exercises, and proofing these. Practicing and proofing a solid sit/stay or down/stay will be very helpful, it can be used as an incompatible behaviour to jumping up. I would be cautious of attempting this with visitors when your pup is very small, it’s highly unlikely a young pup will have the patience or reserve to perform a stay when a guest arrives! A stay is a ‘passive’ behaviour and whilst we aim to encourage these, we need to be realistic in our training goals and possibly think of an ‘active behaviour’ for our pups early on. However, start practicing these, it will pay dividends in the long run and serve to keep arousal levels low generally. Try practicing ‘fast movements’ and click and put a treat on the floor when your pup keeps ‘all 4 on the floor’. Rush about, run up and down, jump around, WATCH your puppy, you will see when they are about to jump, get in before they take any feet off the floor, click and drop a treat down. Use a high rate of reinforcement to start off with, make slight movements at first, and build it up. Remember this isn’t something we are ‘correcting’ once it has started, it’s something we are showing prior to any jumping starting.
Fourthly, use reward stations! I wrote a blog post about reward stations the other day, have a look back! Maybe your front door would be an ideal place for a reward station?
Lastly, ask people to ignore your pup until you have done what you need to do. People WILL understand. I know I certainly would and I would be pleased someone has the good sense to ask me to wait before approaching their pup. Interestingly, nobody ever has, and I have met a LOT of puppies. Also, if somebody is keen to cuddle your pup (as most people will be!) try asking them to help you, ask them to approach slowly whilst you ‘click and drop treats’ etc. If your pup gets too excited ask them to take a step back and work up slowly again. People will like helping a little puppy in their training! I know we are all guilty of cuddling puppies when they approach but there are a few ways we can stop a pup jumping on us even if they don’t belong to us. Whilst we are saying hello we can put a finger in the collar to limit any feet coming off the floor. We can also get a treat out (if we have one!) and immediately throw it on the floor, or lastly ask for a sit when we approach a pup or they approach us. We can also completely ignore/turn our backs if any feet come off the floor. Or, quite simply, we can ask the owner if it’s OK to say hello! Something I am sure we could all do more of.
So, whilst jumping up is a normal behaviour for a puppy to display, it is one that continues because it is reinforced. Show our pups how to behave upon greeting before jumping even STARTS to become the ‘norm’ and we may set our pups up for success. Teach incompatible behaviours, teach self-calming behaviours and focus exercises and teach our pups to control their impulses!
This is a normal and common behaviour as I said, and I do cover this in my 1-2-1’s so do get in touch if you need more information.