The doorbell rings, DING DONG. Your dog zooms through your living room, couch cushions fall onto the floor, and you brace your knees while he’s exuberantly running around to let you know SOMEONE’S HERE! Or, on a walk, a lovely lady approaches you and asks to pet your dog. “Sure, he’s friendly,” you say but your dog leaps and bounces with such fervor that his front paws barely touch the ground. Some people laugh and pet him, while others are annoyed, even scared.
Here’s a simple, fun exercise to train your dog not to jump, even in exciting situations.
The key to training your dog to listen when he’s excited is train him when he’s excited. You may be thinking my dog is always excited, that’s the problem. Most dogs listen when you’re standing in your kitchen, alone, holding a handful of treats saying “sit, sit, sit.” However, the key to training your exuberant dog or puppy not to jump when he’s excited is practice when he’s excited.
If you try this exercise the instant you arrive home (after a long day at work) your dog will be so thrilled to see you that he’ll jump. Unfortunately, you’ll waste your time because your dog will practice jumping—the behavior you’re trying to stop.
For now, create a bit of excitement in your dog, not full blown crazy-zooming-pogo-stick commotion.
Now that I’ve established the rules let’s start the training game that will teach your dog to calm himself even when SOMEONE IS NEAR. Like most training, your dog will enjoy learning and practicing “settle” MUCH more than being pushed off your guests and neighbors while you shout “OFF! OFF! OFF!”
STEP ONE: Move around a bit, so your dog follows you. Wave your arms, make silly noises, or jump around, so your dog becomes a tad bouncy (if he’s jumping on you, move slower or make less noise.) Then, stop moving and cross your arms over your chest while you say “settle.” Nicely, please. There’s no need to scare your dog by shouting. If your dog settles down by placing all four paws on the ground, say “yes” and reinforce him. If he doesn’t calm down, simply take a step away from him and say “yes” when he does settle himself.
Did you notice I didn’t say “sit?” Good human, we’re training your dog not to jump, “sit” isn’t the only route to prevent your dog from jumping.
STEP TWO: Repeat the exercise three more times. On the fourth repetition, say “yes” but only reinforce your dog if his paws never make contact with any part of you. Otherwise, you’re training your dog to jump then stop jumping (rather than not jump at all.)
If you play tug, fetch, or other games where your dog jumps around, that’s totally fine—provided his paws don’t touch you. If your rules are consistent, your pup will learn faster. Your dog will figure out that he’s rewarded when his paws don’t touch you but he’s not rewarded if his paws do touch you. Practice this game five times a day, that’s it. If you practice too much, your dog will become too aroused and may struggle to calm himself down again.
Include Dog Lovers
Maybe your dog has figured out not to jump on you. However, when he hears DING DONG, he races to the door so quickly that he slides into your guests then immediately pounces and bounces while you utter “sorry, sorry, sorry.” Or, perhaps, he pulls so hard on leash when there’s a person ahead of you that you’re afraid he’s going to choke himself.
Once you’ve practiced in your living room, include other people so he learns to listen in the presence of other people.
STEP THREE: Repeat the above exercise with every dog-loving friend and family member. Before your guest arrives, tell her that you’re training your dog not to jump so you can reinforce him for every good choice, every step of the way—DING DING, you open the door, your friend walks in, takes off her shoes, and walks to your sofa. Humans like to lump activities together but every small movement and sound is an opportunity to reward your dog for calm behavior.
Use the most amazing treats ever (save special treats for training, so they’re more valuable). EVERY time your dog’s paws (all of them) touch the ground, say “yes” and reinforce him. If the weather is nice, you may be able to persuade your friend to leave your house and return a few times, giving your dog more opportunities to practice good behavior in real-life settings. During every repetition, say “yes” and reward for all good behavior which includes not jumping, not pawing, and not nipping. Too often, people shout “sit” over and over again, but if your dog can’t calm himself enough to keep his paws on the ground, he won’t succeed at “sitting.”
EXTRA POINTS: Practice with sounds that elicit your dog’s enthusiasm. Have your friend take your dog outside and ring your doorbell while you record your doorbell’s DING DONG on your smartphone. If you play the sound a few times a day and reward your dog for calm behavior, he’ll learn faster.
STEP FOUR: If you live in a busy neighborhood or walk your dog where there’s a lot of people traffic, use every greeting as a training opportunity. The instant your dog starts walking towards any dog-loving stranger, say “yes” and reward for the absence of jumping. People may be confused, why are you treating your dog? However, it’s way better for a dog-loving stranger to think you’re a bit weird because you’re treating your dog for nothing than to apologize when your dog knocks her to the ground or ruins her work pants with his muddy paw prints.
Even if people are passing you but not interested in greeting your dog, you can still practice calm behavior around other people. If you see an exciting person across or down the street, even if you do not think your dog sees her, say “person,” “yes” and reward. Your dog’s sense of smell is so unbelievably powerful. He knows a person is present, even if he’s not bouncing around in anticipation that SOMEONE MIGHT SAY HI. Cue your dog from further away than you think, even a block or two. If your dog REALLY loves people, speed up your reinforcement as the person walks closer to you and your dog. Please don’t use food near another dog. If either dog has food aggression someone could get hurt while you’re treating your pup. Continue saying “yes” for all calm behavior, even if you stop delivering food rewards.
The more you practice rewarding your dog for calm behavior, the easier it will be for him to “settle” down when someone super fun comes to your door or wants to say hello to your dog.
Thanks, Jill Liebhaber of jookie, a portrait boutique, inc. for the great photo of Jimmy!