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Jumping for Joy and Other Reasons

Spring has nearly sprung, and I have a house full of poodles. Those two events, happening simultaneously, mean I have bouncing on the brain. The daylight savings mantra “spring forward” is partially responsible for obvious reasons and the poodles? Well, let’s just say they give Tigger the Tiger a real run for his money in the bouncing department. 

When it comes to dogs, jumping up is so often considered “bad.” One of the top concerns our students voice when signing up for SIRIUS Puppy Training classes is that their dog jumps up on people and things. Many people don’t like it when dogs jump up to greet, and they certainly don’t want dogs to jump up on counters or coffee tables. Some folks don’t even want their dogs jumping on the couch or bed. 

“Bouncing bad” is an excellent example of the culture clash that occurs between species when humans invite dogs into their lives and homes. Because, dogs jump. They put their paws up on things. It’s a completely normal, adaptive, and even social canine behavior. But we humans don’t love it. We find it rude, annoying. We get upset because wet, muddy paws messy-up our clothes or furniture. Some people are actually a bit intimated when a dog climbs up to try to reach up to greet, fearing the pup is being pushy or even trying to “dominate.” And everyone thinks that a dog putting paws on a kitchen counter is just plain naughty behavior. 

I don’t look at paws up that way. If we take a moment to look at this common canine behavior from the dog’s perspective, perhaps you’ll understand why. 

Take jumping up to greet people, for example … Dogs are highly social creatures, and one of the ways they show appeasement or friendliness is by licking the mouths of other dogs, especially upon greeting. Puppies lick their mums’ mouth to initiate regurgitation for feeding in the early weeks. Dogs also lick to groom and of course to taste food and our yummy salty skin. They must jump up to reach our faces to complete the greeting ritual. So a jumping dog is most likely not being bad, but rather, is not only very happy to see you, but also considers you as a part of his or her social group. 

Now of course that doesn’t mean you have to accept their social advances. Instead, actively teach your dog a new, more desirable way to say hello. You can teach your dog to sit and shake when a person approaches or teach that the word “hello” is a cue to sit politely and wait to be petted or showered with treats. The bad news here is that dogs’ idea of a fabulous greeting is very different from our own, but the good news is dogs are pretty easy to train if you are just clear and consistent about what you want them to learn and then reward the new behavior heavily. And keep in mind, not all reward need be food. Use life rewards such as walks, belly rubs, and throwing the ball to reinforce your pup’s new mannerly ways. 

As for dogs who jump on furniture, well, who wouldn’t? We sure get up on all the comfy surfaces. Our dogs enjoy comfort, too. Plus we are on the furniture, and our dogs like to be near us. Again, they are social creatures; many dogs snuggle up together for sleeping or just chilling out. It’s another behavior that begins in puppyhood when pups sleep in big piles to keep warm and safe. Also, our dogs don’t know our human household etiquette rules automatically any better than they know our greeting rituals. So once again, if we would like to see a different behavior, we need to provide a comfortable bed or mat for our dog to sit and sleep on that is “legal” and then also teach him or her to go to the place and stay until released. Join your dog sometimes to enhance the new spot. Sit with him or her and give a bit of a massage if he or she enjoys such things. Or give your dog his or her favorite chew to protect only when he or she is on his or her bed. Once your dog understands he or she has a cool place of his or her own to chill, and he or she also gets rewarded by staying there, you’ll find he or she will gravitate to the spot naturally. 

Finally, dogs put their paws up on counters and walls, doors, fences, etc., to reach better with their sniffers. Smelling is how dogs explore the world. They are quite literally following their noses like you see in the cartoons. I’d argue that when dogs put paws up on surfaces above their heads, they are not even consciously aware that they are doing so much of the time. So be gentle with your pup when you remind him or her to keep four on the floor, and as always, reward him or her for making good choices when she or he does. Don’t just point out the undesirable behavior. Notice and celebrate the good. If you follow these tips consistently, it will be you jumping for joy celebrating your good dog in no time.

Kelly Gorman Dunbar is director of the Center for Applied Animal Behavior, where she recruits and trains for SIRIUS Puppy & Training, SIRIUSPup.com, the family business.

Main article photo by: Photo by Kirkikis