Put the kybosh on jumping up


Last issue, we discussed how to establish polite greetings between your pooch and other dogs, by reinforcing relaxed interactions. When travelling on the road, this process is even more important between dogs and people. Whether your dog exudes overexcitement on meeting new people, or whether he is nervous – even snappy with fear – when strangers are near, we can train him to relax and behave more appropriately, through the positive reinforcement of calm, confident behaviour. We’ll cover aggression in a later column as it deserves a discussion all of its own. For now, let’s calm our pooches down.

Dogs invariably learn to exhibit overexcitement at a very young age. As little puppies, these cute, pint-sized missiles of adoration are absolutely irresistible, so we tend to indulge their frenzied greetings, and (often inadvertently) encourage them to jump up. When little, this is not so difficult to deal with… and it makes them easier to reach! But as the puppy grows, exuberance from a 30+ kg maniac is difficult to withstand. Even thigh-high attention from small dogs can become suddenly unwelcome, if muddy paws are thrown into the mix.

Having allowed – or encouraged – the puppy to jump up for cuddles for all of its young life, imagine how confusing it is when we suddenly turn around and start giving sharp reprimands for exactly the same behaviour when it grows up? Once entrenched, this behaviour is much harder to re-train.

Dogs can’t automatically distinguish between who they are allowed to jump up onto and who they are not, so from the day they come home as tiny puppies, they must not be allowed to jump up on anyone – not you, visitors to your camp, or passing children.

Homecomings are always charged with happy energy. If you have been out touring all day, everyone looks forward to the reunion - which is lovely! But we humans can also get over-excited, and our exuberance inadvertently incites our dogs to riot. Over time, they gradually become more and more uncontrollable. This is when we trainers get calls about ‘bad’ behaviour. It’s not really ‘bad’ behaviour - the dog has simply never been consistently taught not to jump up! Our homecoming manner should always be gentle and hushed: save frisky rumbles for outdoor playtime.

When preparing to greet your dog, have a batch of tasty treats ready, but remember that reinforcement can take many forms - your dog may not want a food treat as much as she wants your attention. When she sits beautifully with that tail thumping in anticipation of a cuddle, keep your reinforcement calm and quiet, reaching under her chest and belly for a lavish scratch, rather than reaching over the top of the dog, which is more arousing.

If the dog is over-excited and will not sit, ignore her completely – without any eye contact – for ten or twenty minutes (or more) until she calms down, and then reward quiet sits with calm attention. Don’t yell and send her to bed: just ignore her, because yelling and looking at her is giving her the attention she craves. If she immediately over-reacts to your attention when you do give it, ignore her again until she calms down, then reward quiet, respectful behaviour.

Your responses must be consistent! Every time she jumps up and receives attention, you are rapidly de-training her. This applies to when your dog jumps up and receives attention from other people, so step in quickly and let visitors know that your dog is not allowed to jump up on people, and ask them to completely ignore her until she sits quietly.

If visitors are due to arrive and you know your dog is likely to jump up, keep her away from the entry point and do not introduce her until the visitors have settled in, then follow all the same protocols. Put a lead on her for better control, and ask your visitors give the dog treats when she sits calmly. If the dog remains impossibly excitable or jumps persistently, we have one more tool in our training kit.

Just as we reinforce desirable behaviour with positive consequences (rewards), we can also discourage undesirable behaviour with negative consequences, but this is only used as a last resort. At no stage – ever - should any form of physical punishment be condoned! Never! Physical punishment creates fear and anxiety, so is unproductive and cruel. However, use of the timeout pattern as a negative consequence is a harmless and very effective training tool, when implemented correctly.

The timeout pattern will be discussed in our next issue, since it requires a detailed explanation to be fully understood. In the meantime, work with positive reinforcement to encourage your dog to greet you and your visitors in a calm and polite manner.