As explained in this article about unwanted behaviour, if your dog is jumping up at you for attention, you should ignore him as rewarding him by giving him attention will increase the likelihood that he’ll jump up for attention again.  So, that will help to stop the behaviour getting worse, and ignoring the dog for jumping may even stop the jumping altogether, however what’s likely to happen is that if the dog is used to being rewarded in this situation and is now not being rewarded, he’s likely to try harder.  You’ll get frustrated and eventually give him the attention by telling him to get off.  What the dog has now learned is that he must try harder at jumping in order to get the attention he wants, so you’ve unintentionally made the jumping worse.

Another issue is that you are not always in control of the reward, if your dog jumps up at a stranger for example.  And the dog won’t necessarily care whether the attention is positive (‘what a cute pup!’) or negative (‘get that damn dog off me!’).  And what’s worse is not only is the dog getting rewarded, but he’s practicing the unwanted behaviour, and what does practice make?

There’s no point shouting ‘no’ at your dog if your pup doesn’t yet understand English or know the rules, or if  your dog understands the rules but doesn’t care and lacks impulse control.

If you can predict that your dog will jump at people, then stop it happening by distracting him with a noise to get his attention and asking him to do something more appropriate that you can then reward him for (known as ‘positive reinforcement’), like recall or sit.  These two behaviours are worth practicing a lot and rewarding highly.  

Ideally we want to use positive reinforcement to increase the likelihood of the preferred behaviour occurring, like a sit, by asking the dog to do it, then rewarding.  But what if your dog is too excited to hear or listen to you?  Then you can withhold what he wants until he’s behaving in a more appropriate manner.  This is known as ‘negative punishment’.  These are not emotive words.  Negative punishment sounds bad, as we consider both these words to be unfavourable, but if you’re going to punish, then negative punishment is the best.  In behavioural terms punishment decreases the likelihood of a behaviour recurring (whether you consider that behaviour to be good or bad) and negative is used in the mathematical sense, you’re taking something away.  Positive punishment therefore would be something like adding a knee to the dog’s chest to decrease the likelihood of him jumping, not something that we’d recommend.  

You’ll need to setup some practice sessions for this, as the first few sessions will probably take quite a long time, but once the dog gets the idea, you don’t need too many sessions and the sessions get shorter.

  1. Put your dog on the lead
  2. Have a willing participant that you dog would like to meet about 15m away
  3. If the dog lunges at the participant, then the participant takes one step away from the dog 
  4. Whilst your dog is excited the participant stays still
  5. Your dog will eventually get bored and calm down
  6. Your participant can advance ONE step
  7. Repeat from step 3

The calmer your dog is when you start the training session, the more successful the training session will be.  Your dog will learn that while he’s excited nothing happens.  His reward for being calm is that he gets to greet the guest.  It’s important that when the greeting finally happens, the dog is rewarded with calm praise.  If the dog jumps up during the greeting, the exercise starts again from step 1.  When your dog has got the hang of this, you can repeat the exercise but the participant only advances whilst the dog is sitting.  If you’re consistent with this training, then the sit would happen automatically before the greeting; the dog will be saying please to ask to be allowed to greet the guest.

In summary

  • Don’t reward the jumping with attention.
  • Anticipate when the behaviour is going to occur and don’t allow the pup to practice the behaviour.  You can do this in part by asking your guests to phone you at the front door (rather than knocking, which will predict to your dog that there’s a visitor, increasing his excitement before you even start the exercise) and giving you a chance to put your dog on a lead.
  • Find a more desirable behaviour, withhold reward until the more desirable behaviour is achieved.
  • After a few sessions, if you’re still punishing more than rewarding then this exercise isn’t working, so get in touch for help.

This method can be used to address many behaviours that you find undesirable.