Why does my dog jump on people?

Jumping is one of the most common dog behavior problems we address in our classes and private lessons. A dog who jumps up on people is rarely welcome at human social functions. Not only is it considered impolite, but jumping can be scary for people who are not comfortable with dogs.

There are many reasons why dogs jump up, and it’s helpful to know that this is a normal canine behavior. Dogs who are not actively taught not to jump will put their paws on people, not because they’re bad dogs, but simply because they don’t understand that there are other ways to greet people they are meeting.

Photo by Grace (FlyNutAA on flickr)

Photo by Grace (FlyNutAA on flickr)

For most dogs, jumping begins early in life. Tiny puppies jump up to lick and sniff at adult dogs’ faces. Jumping up on other dogs is a normal greeting ritual for puppies, and as the puppies mature they no longer need to jump to sniff noses and breath, and thus naturally stop doing this. Puppies who are well-socialized to adult dogs tend to grow out of this behavior quickly, and no longer jump on other dogs except in play by the time they’re 4-6 months old.

Of course, puppies don’t just jump on other dogs. They also jump on people. Unfortunately, most people then proceed to pet, talk to, or play with the puppy, thus reinforcing the jumping. It’s always a good rule not to encourage your puppy to do anything you don’t wish him to do as an adult.

If your dog jumps on people in a friendly way to greet them, there are three simple things that you can do to address this.

The first thing that you can do to address your dog’s jumping is to make sure that it doesn’t get rewarded. If you greet your dog happily when he jumps on you while you’re wearing jeans but get upset when he does the same thing while you’re wearing your dry-clean-only work clothes, that’s not fair. Behaviors that are rewarded tend to get repeated, so if you don’t want your dog to jump up sometimes make sure that you don’t ever encourage him to do so.

Sometimes we also unintentionally reward jumping. For many dogs, negative attention is still preferable to no attention at all, and these dogs will frequently learn that jumping up is a great way to earn the attention they seek. In this case, the more you yell at your dog and push him down, the more likely he is to jump up on you, because it’s earning him the attention he desires.

Once you’ve made sure that jumping isn’t being rewarded, it’s important to prevent your dog from practicing. Remember that practice makes perfect, so the more chances your dog gets to jump on people, the better he’s going to get at it.

Preventing your dog from jumping can take several forms. A leash can be one easy way to prevent your dog from jumping on visitors. Hang a spare leash right next to the door so that you can easily leash your dog up before opening the door for visitors. Then simply stand on the leash, allowing your dog enough slack to comfortably sit, stand, or lie down, but not to jump. You could also consider using a baby gate to keep your dog away from visitors until he calms down.

If your dog jumps on you, it’s helpful to prevent this as well. One easy way to do this is to use some of your dog’s daily food or some small training treats to give him something better to do than jumping. When you are about to greet your dog after an absence or when he’s very excited and likely to jump, arm yourself with the food or treats before you see your dog. This may mean that you need to keep some food or training treats outside your door or in your pocket. As soon as you enter the area where your dog is kept, toss the food or treats on the ground. Timing is important here – you want to have the first thing your dog notices be the fact that you’re tossing goodies on the ground, so that you catch him before he even begins jumping. As your dog vacuums up the treats, you can pet him and greet him, thereby reinforcing his four-on-the-floor behavior.

Once your dog is no longer getting rewarded for jumping or getting the chance to practice jumping, you can teach him what you’d like him to do instead. This is an important step, because dogs do best if we can tell them what to do rather than just what not to do. Many people teach their dogs to sit before greeting others, and this can be one great option. Active dogs may also do well if they’re taught to go fetch a toy or to perform some other behavior that allows them to release some of their excited energy.

Next week we’ll discuss some of the other, less common reasons why dogs jump on people. In the meantime, please share your training stories, successes, and woes in the comments section below.

13 responses to “Why does my dog jump on people?

  1. Kay Laurence has another good idea. When you’re coming home, the dog just wants to say hi to you. She suggests getting down to their level, gently hold the collar so they can’t jump & say hi & acknowledge them. You have to do this with empty arms to be successful. I’ve tried this & it really does help.

  2. Thank you. I’m going to bookmark this as my standard answer to “your dog is jumping on you because he wants to dominate you.”

  3. I tell my students not to let strangers reward the jumping when greeting your dog on a walk. There is nothing wrong with explaining to them that your pup is learning to sit for petting so please do not pet him until he is. If the jumping gets rewarded even just here and there, it will continue.

  4. Pingback: He has no manners… | All Because Two People Fell In Love

  5. My dog bounces like Zebedee when I get home!

  6. Darlene Georges

    great tips. I had a very large black lab/great dane that was a sweet heart, but loved people so much she would get excited and jump on them and knock them down. She wasn’t a chewer, so I would let her carry my gloves inside, I noticed when visitors came and she had the glove in her mouth she didn’t jump, so every time we had visitors I gave her my glove to carry. I guess that’s equal to giving them a toy, but she didn’t play with any toys, she just liked to carry things.

  7. I noticed that one of my dogs would always touch my hand with her nose when I came home. So I started offering her the palm of my hand when I would come home. she would touch it with her nose and then it became our greeting. I then started offering it to two of my other dogs and they immediately picked it up and became much more calm after giving me that greeting.

  8. Pingback: When Jumping isn’t Friendly | Paws Abilities

  9. Darlene and Melissa – I love your ideas :-). Thanks so much for sharing.

  10. Mine doesn’t jump when greeting me, but as a preface to performing other commands. If I ask her to come, she’s very likely to come running and then jump. I’ve had some success giving commands in quick succession, like “come-sit” by calling out the sit command before she has a chance to reach me, but she still manages to insert a jump in between. I have a signal to give her permission to jump up, and when she jumps otherwise, I calmly tell her “No. Off.” and reward her when she’s back to paws on the ground, but since I started teaching her jumps as part of other commands, she’s become much more jumpy in general, and she is starting to do it to strangers (and not just when they accidentally give her the “up” hand signal). I don’t want to mess with her good recall, but I’m getting sick of muddy little paws on me when I take her out before work. :-/

  11. Pingback: An Ounce of Prevention | Paws Abilities

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