One of the most common goals of dog training clients is to teach their dogs to greet people politely. If you have a dog that loves to meet people and shows this love by leaping all over your guests, this advice is for you!
First, let’s briefly discuss why dogs do this. Basically, there are two factors: They want to greet us face to face, and they’ve been accidentally rewarded for this with attention. Think about when a tiny puppy reaches out to us. Very few of us are willing (or able) to bend down to the puppy’s level, and they’re so small and harmless that we don’t even notice that they’re jumping as we give them exactly what they want—greetings and attention. Over time, that attention might have become more “negative” as you or others might have scolded the dog, but in the dog’s mind it was still attention. Keep this in mind as you train—you are working against a history of habit that paid off.
Most of my clients say
they’ve been told to turn their back on their dog when he jumps on them, and that this merely results in the dog jumping on their backs. The logic behind this advice is good, because the dog is jumping on you to get attention from you, and when you turn your back, you remove this attention. However, they’re still practicing the jumping, and they’re not learning an alternative. So here are two pieces of advice that I give to help.
First, I recommend that you step forward as you turn your face away. You just take a small step, preventing the dog from launching into you. You are not trying to slam into the dog or even push the dog off with your body; you’re just claiming your space. At the same time, you look away, maybe even with your arms folded across your body.
Second, teach the dog to hold a “sit.” This means the dog needs to know to respond to the cue to “sit” even when excited, and that “sit” does not just mean briefly touch the tail-end on the ground, but also that front feet are touching are grounded as well. When you walk in, cue the dog to sit, and reward that sit with greetings and attention. If the dog jumps up, turn away (but step in). You can reinforce with with food treats as well. Remember the rule “four on the floor gets you more.” That is, if the dog keeps all feet on the ground, she will get more attention as well as food treats.
A few other hints: For short dogs that you’d like to greet more easily, cue them to jump onto a platform, step, couch, ottoman, or other raised space so that you two can greet each other without your having to lean or bend down too much and your dog not having to jump up.
Use a leash to prevent your dog from practicing jumping up during the learning process. You can attach the leash to a sturdy banister or piece of furniture as you let guests in, or hold the handle while you stand firmly on the leash with just enough slack to let the dog sit comfortably but not jump.
The hardest time to practice this is when you’ve actually been absent, so start by just practicing sit-for-attention by the front door after you’ve been home a while. Then step out for a moment, walk in, and cue “sit.” If a few repetitions of this go well, the next time you leave, you can practice shortly after you arrive.
Keep in mind that when your dog is greeting you, he wants to reconnect with you. If you live with a dog, you should recognize that this is a real need of social group-living animals (like dogs and humans), and you need to give it an outlet, just like you give outlets to their need to potty, chew, and exercise. So as long as your dog is behaving in a way that you consider acceptable (sitting, standing calmly, etc.), be sure to actually greet your dog. Your dog wants face-to-face contact, and you can decide what you’re most comfortable with.
Stacy Braslau-Schneck is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer based in San Jose. She is the owner of Stacy’s Wag’N’Train, a Beast of the Bay Award Winner in 2016, celebrating 20 years of providing private lessons and day training for puppies and dogs in Santa Clara County. Whether it’s teaching a new puppy basic manners or solving problem behaviors like barking, lunging, aggression, food-stealing, destruction, or jumping up, she would be happy to help you “love your well-trained dog.” Now offering SF-recognized certification for professional dog walkers through the Silicon Valley Dog Walking Academy, July 27-30.
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Main article photo by: Dennis Brekke-Creative Commons