Jumping up can seem cute when the dog doing the jumping weighs less than 10lb. But three months, muddy paws, and 25lbs later your dog jumping up is not cute at all!
I’ll share some training instructions below. These will help you retrain your dog using positive methods. If your dog has ever embarrassed you by jumping on people they meet at the dog park or jumping up at visitors to your home the dog training below is for you.
Jumping up is not too difficult to cure. In many ways training your dog is the easy part, but visitors and family members may accidentally reward the dog for jumping up so I’ll give you some tips to help train the humans in the family too.
Why do dogs jump up?
Dogs jump up for two main reasons: to solicit food and in play.
The dog doing the jumping is often trying to reach a person’s face. Adult dogs will regurgitate food for puppies when the puppy licks the corners of the dog’s mouth. And your dog will lick your mouth in the same way if you let them! This is how jumping up begins in young puppies
Sometimes, the dog doing the jumping is trying to play. It is completely normal for your dog to attempt to do this to people while they are still learning the rules of polite behavior.
Jumping up becomes a problem as dogs grow bigger and stronger. Many dogs naturally jump less once they are mature, but sometimes we prolong or worsen the jumping up stage by inadvertently rewarding the dog for jumping up when they are small.
Do Labradors jump up more than other dogs?
Labradors are friendly, sociable dogs. They take a long time to reach maturity emotionally. And are often very playful for several years. All Labs are energetic, and some Labradors are also quite excitable.
This means that jumping up is often worse in Labradors than in some other breeds.
When Jumping Up Gets Worse
Jumping behavior typically sneaks up on you. A three month old Labrador puppy is simply cute when he stands on his little hind legs and puts his paws on your knee.
The problems begin to arise when your leaping Lab reaches six or seven months old. By now your dog weighs enough for you to really feel it when his paws hit the center of your chest.
If the dog doesn’t stop at this point the problem is likely to get worse. It often peaks at about one year old when your dog is still puppyish, playful, and very boisterous. They are reaching independence and are less likely to be concerned if people shout or get angry. Jumping up is just a bit of fun to the dog.
What’s the problem?
I know quite a few people that don’t mind their dogs jumping up at all. To them, it isn’t a problem. But for most of us, it is. An adult Labrador can weigh seventy to eighty pounds or more. Even if you don’t much mind your best friend resting his paws on your shoulders so that he can greet you when you return home, the chances are, your friends and relatives may be less enthusiastic.
“He’s just playing” will wear thin as he gets bigger. So why do so many Labrador owners let their dogs carry on leaping all over visitors, scratching their bare arms, knocking over their toddlers, and ruining their clothes?
While there are a few thoughtless dog owners that are happy to let their dogs leap all over people, most do so for the simple reason that they cannot stop them. And indeed, it can be very difficult to stop your dog jumping up using the traditional methods that are so often recommended.
Bad ways to stop your dog jumping up
Traditional methods to stop dogs from jumping are often ineffective. That’s because these methods rely on an action from the person being jumped on. They also fail to take into account how dogs play and interact.
The ‘knee in the chest’ approach
A traditional method to stop your dog jumping up requires you to lift your knee. This means that the jumping dog meets a pointy object instead of your nice soft tummy when he hurtles toward you.
For most people it is a natural reaction not just to raise the knee, but to use momentum to push the dog in the chest with it. In a smaller dog this can actually cause injury. With a larger one it can also hurt your knee!
Standing on one leg will unbalance you. So if the dog approaches you at speed, you are more likely to fall over when the dog collides with your knee. This method is far from ideal.
Let’s not get physical
Kneeing your dog in the chest actually encourages them to repeat the jumping, unless you do it hard enough to risk injury. Remember that pushing is a normal part of dog play. And your dog will simply think this is all a bit of fun.
Training a dog not to jump on people won’t be successful if it relies on a reaction from the person on the receiving end. Is your two year old nephew going to oblige your dog with a knee in the chest, or will he simply fall flat on his face? What about your granny who thinks that getting up close and personal with your Labrador balanced on her chest is the best fun she has had all week?
A ‘no jumping’ training method that puts people in hospital, or that relies on everyone who comes in contact with the dog to do the ‘right thing’ is not much very much use.
What about ignoring the dog?
Some trainers will recommend that you ignore the dog when he jumps up. It is true to say, that the jumping will stop if it is completely unrewarded. If you simply fold your arms and turn your back on your dog, they won’t receive any reinforcement for the jumping up. In theory this means the jumping will naturally die out. And sometimes this works, especially to prevent the dog leaping on his owner. But usually, ignoring the dog is a part of the solution, rather than a solution in itself. You will need to incorporate some training techniques as well.
In practice there are three problems with ignoring the dog:
- Some dogs find the act of jumping up and down and bashing into your back quite rewarding in itself, even if you ignore them completely.
- It is actually quite difficult to ignore 80lbs of Labrador when he greets you after a swim
- It is impossible to ensure that everyone he does it to will ignore him. Is the toddler you just picked up off the floor going to turn his back and ignore the dog? Is Granny?
- You may be able to control this situation at home, with baby gates or barriers, but outdoors it’s another matter.
And, just as with the knee in the chest method, not everyone will follow your advice. For some reason best known to themselves, there are people out there who enjoy being embraced by a large wet dog, and will make a big fuss of him when he jumps up, no matter what you say.
Where do we go from here?
So once again, you are in the difficult situation of having a technique that relies on every potential victim / visitor carrying out your instructions. And the simple fact is, most of them are simply not going to do that. We need something more. We need a method you can control, which prevents the dog being rewarded for jumping up, but which also offers him another more acceptable way of greeting people.
The best way to stop your dog jumping up
The answer is a two pronged approach:
- Management – physically preventing the jumping
- Training – teaching him not to jump
We need to first manage the jumping up to stop the dog being reinforced for it and to protect visitors and vulnerable family members. And then we need to teach the dog a polite way to greet guests. Or people he meets in the street. Used together these two strategies form a winning combination So the first step is prevention.
How to prevent your dog jumping up
Jumping up is one of the many behaviors dogs indulge in, that are ‘self-rewarding’. In other words just the very act of jumping up makes the dog happy. So the more he does it, the more he wants to do it. We need to break that cycle and make sure that he is no longer rewarded by being permitted to do this. Large dogs need to be physically prevented from jumping at people. Outdoors, you must prevent your dog jumping up using his leash.
If you can’t control him with his collar and lead you need to try a body harness, or as a last resort a head collar. This will help you control your dog until you have trained him. Many Labradors are at their worst indoors, when visitors arrive. To avoid this, and give you back some control, you need to have your dog trail a house-line
The house line is simply a short training lead that ‘his bounciness’ wears everywhere he goes whilst indoors. It’s best to attach the house line to a body harness, so that you have control over the dog without yanking on his neck. Every time visitors arrive, before the dog attempts to jumps up, the houseline can be grasped firmly to enable you to detach him from your visitor, or preferably to prevent him getting near enough to jump up in the first place.
It is much easier to manipulate a wriggling dog wearing a house-line than one wearing just a collar. Of course harnesses, collars, and the house line is however simply a management tool. It doesn’t teach your dog how to behave.
How to train a dog never to jump up
Once you have your dog under control using a house-line, or leash, you can train him to greet people politely. What you need to do next is to choose an alternative behavior to the jumping. And then reward the dog for that behavior.
Step by Step
You need a little preparation in order to succeed. Before you begin get your treats ready. You are then going to distract the dog, mark the behavior you like and follow it with a reward.
A lot of people fail because they don’t take the simple step of making sure they have something to reward the dog with when he gets it right. You need to be very generous at the beginning of training a new skill.
To start with make sure there is always a pot of training treats handy in your home. If you are out on a walk, make sure you have training treats in a treat bag clipped on to your belt, or in an easily accessible pocket.
Choose a quiet room, with no toys on the floor or other family members or pets around. Stand in the middle of the room with your clicker in one hand and some treats in the other. Wait for your dog to stop jumping up at you.
You want to look for the moment they are still, with all four paws on the floor. As soon as this happens click, then drop five treats between his paws in quick succession. Then throw a sixth and final treat a small distance away.
Your dog will probably run back to you and jump up again, looking for the treats he now knows you have. Wait again, motionless. As soon as he tires and gets down on the floor, click and drop five treats in quick succession again, but this time with a short gap (a count of one) between them. Throw the sixth and final treat a small distance away.
REPEAT – carry out this step until your dog pauses on their return to you and doesn’t jump up. Then move onto Step Three.
Wait again, motionless, for your dog to return to you. As soon as he has stopped on the way and has all four paws on the floor, click and drop five treats in a row. This time with a count of two between them. Throw the sixth and final treat a small distance away.
Wait again, motionless, for your dog to return to you. As soon as he has stopped on the way and has all four paws on the floor, click and drop five treats in a row. This time with a count of three between them. Throw the sixth and final treat a small distance away.
This technique uses something we call ‘treat streaming’. The reason we give multiple treats to avoid what is known as a behavior chain. When the dog links two activities together. So, they believe that the act of jumping up and getting down again is what is getting the reward. Therefore in order to get the reward they need to jump up. Treat streaming creates a gap which prevents this from happening.
Now when visitors come, you can prevent your dog jumping using your houseline, then wait for your dog to sit, or to keep all four paws on the floor, say ‘GOOD’ and then put a treat on the ground for him.
Feeding on the ground is better than from the hand because it reduces the chance of him jumping up for food. This isn’t necessary with all dogs, but if your dog is very excited it can help to distract him from your visitor by scattering some treats on the floor as they arrive.
This helps to break his focus on the visitors and get his attention on you as the source of all good things. Which is especially important if your visitors are people that have previously rewarded your dog for jumping up by petting him and making a fuss of him.
From now on, the rewards come from you, and only when all four feet are firmly on the ground. The more often your reinforce these polite behaviors while preventing him practising the rude ones, the better he will get at being polite.
Tips for training a dog to greet visitors politely
- Prevent jumping and lunging using restraint or barriers
- Distract the dog from visitors and refocus his attention by scattering food on the ground
- Reward polite behaviors using the mark and reward techniques outlined above
Advanced polite greetings!
As your dog becomes calmer and more manageable around visitors or passing strangers out on walks, you can teach him to take rewards politely from other people.
As him to sit as the visitor approaches and if he remains calm, give the visitor a treat to feed him with. Use the houseline or lead to control the situation and make sure he is unable to jump on people.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website