My 50-pound, 8-month-old pup jumps on us when we come in (and flat out loses it when guests come over). She's not malicious, but she could easily knock down someone my size. I assumed her behavior was because she was trying to be "the alpha," but according to our expert, that's just not the issue, which explains why my attempts at curbing the behavior weren't working — I was inadvertently giving her exactly what she wanted.
When you're training a dog to do (or not do) anything, understanding why it would want to do it is the key to getting it right. Many people, including many celebrity trainers (not naming any names), still cling to the theory that undesirable canine behavior has to do with its desire to be the alpha — to exert control over its humans. But this theory has been debunked.
According to dog trainer Tena Parker of Success Just Clicks, there are many reasons dogs may jump. In the wild, puppies would lick their parents' faces when they returned with food, and because humans are much taller (usually), they'd have to jump to do the same to us. They're excited to see us, so they want to get up close and personal. But perhaps most commonly, it's just to get attention. In these cases, it's usually a behavior that's been reinforced over time and now the dog knows that's how to get what it wants. Essentially, until they start getting in your face, they get no attention, so they've worked out a way to rectify that.
It's not that punishing your dog when it misbehaves is bad, it's that doing so without setting proper expectations is pointless. On her blog, Parker talks about a video of a dog she's seen in which the supposedly professional trainer uses a shock collar to correct walking behavior without first setting appropriate expectations. What happened? Eventually, the dog was so afraid of getting shocked, it just stopped walking altogether.
Once your dog has appropriate expectations, punishment may sometimes be in order, but you don't want to just teach it what not to do, you want to teach it what to do instead. Consider this: With the option of jumping for attention gone, it may turn to growling, barking or even playful nipping.
How confusing would it be to you if your boss praised you for taking initiative sometimes and wrote you up for it other times? Right. So if you don't want your dog to jump on guests, you can't let it when it suits you (like when you want to pet it without bending over) — and you certainly can't teach it to do it. If the rule is no jumping, that means no jumping for any reason!
But Parker says this applies to positive reinforcement, too. If you're training your dog not to jump — whether you use treats, a toy or a clicker — you can't do it half the time. "You've got to heavily and regularly reward the behavior you want so they learn exactly what is expected." As your dog gets better at it and actually knows the expectation, then you can wean it off rewards.
First, you'll want to teach your dog a desired alternative behavior to jumping (usually sit).
The key to teaching your dog not to jump is then twofold. Reward your dog for what Parker calls "four on the floor." It starts by simple positive reinforcement of the desired behavior. If it remains seated when you come in or when a guest arrives, reward it with a treat (or click if that's what you're doing) and a hearty "good girl!" You can even set up situations in which your dog would typically misbehave.
With your dog leashed or tethered, have someone approach, stopping a few feet away and telling the dog to sit. If it jumps or lunges, the person immediately turns around and walks away. This way, the undesirable behavior (jumping) isn't rewarded.
If it doesn't jump but doesn't sit, the person should stay put until the dog sits. If it does sit, you can have the person approach and give it lots of love and praise (and a treat), but if at any time during the encounter it jumps, the person again just turns around and walks away.
This applies to what happens when you come home, too. It doesn't get attention until it has four feet on the floor. Try not to touch the dog at all. Even holding it or pushing it could be taken as play behavior or attention (which is a reward).
It's probably not going to be resolved in one sitting (or even in one week unless you're really vigilant), so don't lose hope. If after a few weeks you don't start seeing results, it's time to bring in a pro.
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