It's the rare and fortunate person who adopts a puppy that doesn't jump up to greet everyone within a two-mile radius! Unless a puppy is particularly shy, there is nothing more exciting than meeting people or, better yet, greeting people she already loves. Jumping to greet is a very logical behavior for puppies. It gets them closer to our faces and it elicits our attention. It is our job to help puppies understand that we would prefer that they keep their little paws on the floor.
As with extinguishing any undesirable behavior, curbing jumping is a two-part process:
- Don't allow the unwanted behavior to pay off; and
- Be sure that you reward a desirable behavior that is incompatible with the undesirable behavior.
Keep in mind that your definition of a payoff may not be the same as your puppy's. The intention of jumping is to get our attention; therefore, just looking at a jumping puppy is a payoff in her mind. Shouting or pushing away is also a form of attention and, as we know, bad attention is often better than no attention at all! The more excited you get, the more excited your puppy becomes.
Many people teach a beautiful "off" behavior where the puppy jumps, the person says "off," the puppy goes to the floor, and then the puppy is praised or rewarded in some way for getting off. Mission accomplished—the puppy has received attention for jumping! Soon you will find yourself with a puppy that jumps so that you'll say "off" and reward that beautiful off. You still have a jumping puppy in the end. To satisfy the first part of the process of eliminating the reward for jumping, puppies need to be ignored each time they jump. No shouting, no pushing, and no looking = no attention. Turn away and ignore your little kangaroo.
For most puppies, ignoring the jumping is not enough. Because we tend to focus on what our puppies are doing wrong, we forget to let them know what they are doing right. Puppies need something else to do in place of the jumping, something that will get them the attention they so desperately crave. They need extra information to overcome the thrill of wildly greeting the approaching person.
Sometimes it's possible to teach a puppy to sit in order to receive attention, but this is asking a lot of an excited ball of fur that can barely contain herself! Even if we drop our expectations a bit, it is still possible to be successful in teaching a puppy to greet politely. Having four paws on the floor is entirely incompatible with jumping, so why not reward that?
The key is to reward four paws on the floor before the jump actually takes place. Once your puppy has jumped, she has practiced the undesirable behavior (practice makes perfect!) and you are no closer to your goal. In the sidebar video, we work with Emma, a black English Lab puppy that adores everyone she meets. As soon as someone approaches your puppy, start clicking and treating your puppy for being on the floor, just as we do with Emma in the video. Start out with her on a leash so that she can't get away and jump accidentally. At the start of the interaction, click and treat frequently, but as your puppy gains some semblance of self-control, you may slow down the rewards.
Next: master timing, increase difficulty
Emma learns how to greet politely.
It's essential to begin rewarding before the approaching person is too close to your puppy, otherwise the puppy will jump before you have a chance to click and treat. Ask the visitor to kneel down with your puppy and interact with her quietly, as shown in the video. As the person kneels, you may discover, as we did with Emma, that it helps to continue clicking and treating until the puppy is calm, even with a person on the ground much closer to her. After you've practiced for a while, you will be able to watch for your puppy's body to tense up in anticipation of jumping. Be sure to click and treat before she launches herself into the air!
In the video, you can see Emma respond to this training technique quickly. She is soon choosing to sit. Shortly after that, she begins to catch herself just as she is about to jump. Keep pre-empting that jump with clicks and treats for four paws on the floor. Always place the treats on the floor. It's important that your puppy learn that all good things come from down low. With a little practice, you'll find that you have to go out of your way to approach excitedly in order to create a situation that is likely to result in a jump. What a great problem to have!
In training, keep making the task more difficult, little by little, by making the situation more and more exciting. Soon your puppy will have those paws on the floor all of the time. If at any point your puppy manages to jump, simply turn away and ignore her, then start over, making it a little easier for her to succeed. Gradually build the level of excitement.
One of the challenges that puppy parents face is an approaching person who loves having an adorable little puppy jump on him. Let's face it, when you are walking a puppy you are a magnet for people who want to interact with your adorable pet! We all hear: "That's OK, I'm a dog person. I don't mind." Rather than trying to address this claim, ask your puppy's new friend to help you train her. It's easier to get the necessary buy-in if the person you encounter feels that he is being included in the training process rather than restricted from interacting with your irresistible puppy. If he complies, he receives the reward of playing with your puppy. Positive reinforcement works on people, too!
Remember to reward your puppy for not jumping on you or other members of your family, too. Consistency is the key to your success. Be sure that every greeting is treated as a learning opportunity. Entering a room where a puppy is waiting, there is often a flurry of happy activity—as though your puppy has been alone for the past three days instead of only three minutes! Whenever you enter a space where your puppy is waiting for you excitedly, be ready to click and treat for those paws on the floor. If your puppy is behind a baby gate, click and treat paws on the floor until your puppy is calm enough for you to enter. Practice going in and out of the room, clicking and treating for paws on the floor over and over again so that your puppy can practice offering you this good behavior. If you reward her each and every time for staying down, your puppy will eventually choose not to jump at all.
Puppies that are crated will usually zoom out of the crate as if making a jail break. Jumping soon follows. Help her to exit calmly. Click and treat your puppy for sitting in the crate before you let her out. When you open the door, immediately click and treat for all four paws on the floor. Do the same in any situation that is likely to cause your puppy to jump. The better you are at clicking and treating before a jump has occurred, the faster your puppy will learn.
Practice creates progress
There is one other exercise that you can do with your puppy that can help her stay calm enough to remain on the floor in an exciting situation. Practice moving around quickly so that your puppy is excited enough to jump on you. Just as she is about to jump, stop moving and click and treat before she jumps. Start out moving slowly, and gradually increase the level of excitement until you are able to run around the room with your puppy without her jumping on you when you stop. You now have a puppy that can go from 100 mph to 0 mph in one second flat!
By keeping her paws on the floor throughout all these exercises, your puppy will not only be rewarded with treats, but she'll get the attention she craves. Staying on the ground calmly will soon be her default position. With time and practice, the treats will no longer be necessary every single time your puppy (soon-to-be larger dog!) greets someone. In fact, staying on the floor will become her first choice. Give it a try. It's a win-win for everyone.