When Jumping isn’t Friendly

In our last blog, we discussed how to deal with dogs who jump up in a friendly manner. Most dogs who jump up on people do so out of excitement or greeting. However, there are also other reasons why dogs may jump, and it’s helpful to be able to discriminate between friendly jumping and these other reasons. Let’s discuss some less common reasons that dogs may jump up on people.

While jumping is generally friendly, some dogs will also jump on people as a way to communicate. The character of this behavior is very different. Communication can have a couple different goals. Sometimes, dogs will jump as a way to communicate their discomfort with your proximity. Other times, dogs will jump up to ask you for help. So, how can you tell the difference between friendly jumping and jumping as communication? It’s all about context.

Friendly? Not in the least! Layla is uncomfortable and wants Crystal to move further away.

Friendly? Not in the least! Layla is uncomfortable and wants Crystal to move further away. Photo by Brian Thompson.

Distance-increasing jumping, also sometimes referred to as height seeking, is displayed when a dog is uncomfortable with you and wants you to give her space. This may initially appear friendly or may seem frantic, but ultimately it’s important to respect the dog’s discomfort and move away (or move the dog away from the other person if you’re her owner). Dogs who jump in this way may be more forceful in the way they bounce off your body than a dog who simply wants to be stroked or greeted. They will have a closed mouth and tight face. If you attempt to pet a dog who is jumping up in a distance-increasing manner, she may jump even more forcefully, perhaps even punching you with her muzzle, or may skitter away so that you can’t touch her.

Distance-increasing jumping is usually a sign of a dog who feels anxious or conflicted about your presence. Layla is a great example of a dog who jumps in this manner. While she enjoys meeting people, she does not like to be touched, and is often very anxious that new people will try to pet her. When she meets someone new, she will stress up, bouncing around with a high, quickly wagging tail. Her pupils dilate, and if the person attempts to pet her she will bounce off their belly forcefully (we jokingly call this the “double-ovary punch,” but it’s no joke to the person who’s on the receiving end of her punches).

If your dog jumps in a distance-increasing manner, it’s a clear plea for help. Jumping in this way means that your dog isn’t comfortable in the social situation she’s found herself in and needs your help getting out of that situation. In Layla’s case, I keep her on a leash or behind a gate when first introducing her to new people. Once she’s calmed down I allow her more freedom, but not until after instructing the new person not to pet her unless she requests that attention by sitting or lying down next to them and leaning in. Layla usually prefers to sniff new people with a low, softly wagging tail while they ignore her or verbally acknowledge her without trying to touch her in any way. After meeting them, she will relax and lie near them. Knowing that I will not let strangers touch her has gone a long way towards relieving Layla’s social anxiety and preventing her from bouncing off new people.

Other than distance-increasing jumping, some dogs will also jump up to ask their owner or another person they trust for help. This is most frequently seen at the dog park, vet clinic, or other unfamiliar social situations. If your dog jumps up on you in these situations and either paws at you, tries to climb your body to get in your arms, or stretches upwards and keeps their paws on your body while looking at your face, they are probably asking for help.

If your dog jumps on you to ask for help in a situation that makes him uncomfortable, it’s important to respond proactively to him. Ignoring his pleas for help will teach him that you are unreliable in those situations and that he has to take matters into his own paws, which often results in a dog who lunges, growls, snaps, or bites in situations that make him uncomfortable. Remember, dogs don’t just “get over” issues, and exposure alone is not the same as socialization. If you teach your dog that you will help him get out of uncomfortable situations he will be more likely to look to you for guidance in the future. Be a trustworthy presence in your dog’s life.

While less common than friendly jumping, height-seeking and pleas for help are both legitimate reasons for dogs to jump on people. Understanding your dog’s attempt at communication is one of the best ways to get control of this jumping, as training alone likely won’t resolve these kinds of jumping unless the underlying emotional insecurity is addressed at the same time.

Why does your dog jump up? Please share your experiences, tips, tricks, and questions in the comments section below.

14 responses to “When Jumping isn’t Friendly

  1. I really appreciate this post. After reading it, I realize that my big girl has jumped on me, asking for help, a couple of times. Thank you.

  2. My dog is only 8 months old and about 20 pounds. So a smaller and extremely friendly dog. I am still trying to get him to stop jumping on everyone when they walk in the door. While most of our company doesnt mind him doing so, I am the one telling to to get down and sometimes trying to hold him back, but he squirms through and goes jumping again until he finally calms down on his own. Plus, now that hes older (we got him at 3 months old), he also tries to pull me when walking and freaks out seeing other dogs. Got any good advice on a very active puppy? Thanks a head of time.

  3. We definitely have a height-seeking jumper on our hands! Edi doesn’t like visitors to the house. He makes it clear by jumping on them. We’ve tried putting him in his crate prior to the visitors coming in, but he barks like crazy at them. We’ve found putting him on a leash and waiting until he’s less interested sets us up for more success.

  4. When I come home sometimes my 20 lb dog jumps at my back and will nip at my shirt if I’m not facing her and paying attention. I can’t figure out what the reason for this is and whether I should be ignoring the behavior or trying to help her out.

  5. Great article! So glad to see this follow up. Lots and lots of resources out there on friendly jumping; really nice to see someone address the equally important and much less understood distance-increasing jumping!

  6. Thank you for this article! My pittie is scared To death of the neighbors boxer. When I go out to calm her down and get her in the house she starts jumping on me. I know now not to ignore or scold this behavior she is really trying to get attention for help.

  7. My 150lb mastiff is CGC certified and we were hanging out at the local Sr. Center where she was doing great, meeting people calmly and sitting just watching stuff… until one man stopped to pet her. THIS man she had to let out a bark at and immediately jump up to touch his nose with hers. We were ALL startled. The bark was just a notification sound from all I could tell… just one sharp, short bark. When I told her ‘no’ and had her lay ‘down’, she quickly did as asked all with a smile on he face…
    So… was she playing with him? I never considered that she was trying to get him to move away… he was about the 10th person she’d met during the visit… and she met a few after that with no excitement, too…
    I apparently missed her ques of discomfort if she was trying to get him to move away, he’s a nice man and was just as startled by her behavior as I was… these are the times I wish she could talk.

  8. Our four year old doesn’t just jump up she sometime pounds us on the chest when she wants to go for a walk or “have lunch”. Is this considered she wants our help? Great article. Thanks!

  9. Our beagle almost always jumps way up (he’ll put his paws on on my chest occasionally) when I go to get his food. This must be asking for help I.e. Help me get my food out of the cupboard. The only other time he does it is at the park when I have a stick and he wants me to throw it. He’s not an especially vocal dog.

  10. I have a young dog named Sadie, who we adopted last September. Sadie started out in a fear stage due to the circumstances she had come from. She went from a kill shelter, to a foster program to her first adopted home, then to us. She is doing a lot better now and is getting better socialized with every day I work with her. Recently she started exhibiting jumping behaviors, specifically with me. I will have to pay close attention to notice when she is communicating play vs. a plea for help. I did notice the other day when she was at work with me, one of my best customers came in with her dog Barney. Sadie LOVES Barney! However, Sadie jumped up about 3 feet in front of Lois as she approached the office area, which is Sadie’s safe zone. This was the first time I ever saw her jump up with another person besides myself, so I wonder if she was actually trying to communicate that she did not feel comfortable with Lois entering her space just yet. Lois thought she was greeting her, but I’m not so sure now. Any thoughts? Thanks!

  11. My 4 year old retriever mix jumps when he sees a squirrel. He doesn’t jump towards me or away from me. He actually will just jump straight up in the air where we are standing. He gets pretty high up too, close to 3-4 feet. He is on a leash, so he can’t chase them. I have tried distracting him with his favorite squeaky toy, treats, and even turn around and walk the other way with him. He stays focused on the squirrel until I drag him out of sight. Any suggestions on how to train him to not do this? I can get him to “watch me” at most other times, but if a squirrel is involved, I can just hang it up and resign myself to drag him back inside.

  12. My (late) fearful border collie would jump after something made her nervous. We called it “jumping her jitters out.” She also jumped when she was excited (in a good way). I also put having her stand up and place her paws on my chest on verbal cue, so if I thought she needed comfort or a sense of protection, I’d ask her to STRETCH (by tapping my chest). In many cases, it gave her something to do while coping with something in the environment (often that I could not control).

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