If you have a new puppy, you are probably enjoying the enthusiastic kisses that come when your canine friend jumps up on you in greeting. Few things are as endearing as a puppy welcome when you come home from a long day at work. It’s like getting a hug from someone you love – which, of course, you are.
But what’s endearing in a puppy can become annoying or even dangerous when the pup has doubled or tripled in size. In some breeds, that growth can occur in a period of weeks. A dog who hasn’t learned not to jump up on people can easily knock over an unsteady toddler or senior citizen, or make a mess of the expensive new outfit you just bought.
Dogs who jump up on people are seeking attention, but not in a good way. Well, it’s not good for us when they snag our clothes or scratch our skin. But for dogs, jumping up for attention almost always works. Often, we respond with a laugh because it seems like cute behavior. It’s all too easy to encourage jumping up from small puppies or dogs by scooping them up for love and kisses. Even if we scold, our dog has achieved her objective: attention from her favorite person.
Instead of having to “unteach” this rambunctious behavior when your puppy is older and larger, begin on Day 1 by substituting a more acceptable greeting behavior. Show your puppy that sitting gets attention and rewards, while jumping up doesn’t.
Teaching “sit” is easy. Grab a handful of small, stinky treats. Hold one in front of your pup’s nose, and slowly move your hand upward. His nose will follow, and his rear will naturally move into a sit position. Say “yes,” so he knows you like what he did, and give a treat or praise (“Good sit!”). Practice this for a couple of minutes several times a day, and gradually add the word “sit” so he has a name for the action.
Once your puppy knows the cue “sit,” use it any time he is likely to jump up, such as greeting you when you come home, greeting other people at the door or watching you prepare his food (or yours). Ask him to sit while you put on his leash for a walk or at the corner before you cross the street. Sit is a good cue to practice anywhere – in different rooms of your home, at the veterinary clinic, at an outdoor table at your local coffee shop or any time a person is approaching.
As you teach your puppy to sit for attention, turn your back on any attempts to jump up. Literally. Don’t yell “no” – don’t say anything – and don’t look at him. Removing your attention, including verbal communication and eye contact, sends the message that there’s no reward for jumping up. Give attention, praise and rewards only when he has all four paws on the ground.
Teach friends and family members to use this technique as well. Everyone should know how to respond so that they don’t inadvertently reinforce unwanted behavior. If strangers seem willing to let your dog jump on them, explain that you’re training him, and you’d appreciate their help. When you can get everyone to cooperate, your dog will learn quickly to offer a sit for attention.
All puppies need to learn self-control, and teaching them to sit instead of jumping up helps provide this training. Even better, everyone who meets your dog will be impressed by a puppy who greets them in a polite sit.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com.