Talking Dogs: Tips for training a jumper to settle down

January 5, 2015 

Linda has written in with a question about her 5-month-old boxer puppy, "Alexa." It seems shes quite a jumper, and Linda has tried everything from scolding to spraying water to try to stop it, with little success. Ive addressed this behavior in this column in the past, but its been awhile, so Im happy to go over it again.

First, its a good idea to understand what Alexa wants when she jumps on you, Linda she wants your attention. Human attention, from the dogs perspective, comes in three forms: eye contact, voice (happy or scolding) and physical touch. So if Alexa jumps up on you, scolding in any form reinforces the behavior to some degree, which is why she continues to do it.

Now that you know what Alexa wants when she jumps on you, do your very best to withhold it when she exhibits the undesirable behavior. So instead of scolding her when she jumps on you, bring your arms into your chest and abruptly turn your back on her this is the exact opposite of giving her attention in any form. Of course you will need to repeat this message, but give Alexa time to figure out that jumping on you is no longer going to get attention from you, in any form.

Much more important than how to address the undesirable jumping behavior is you getting into the habit of reinforcing the more desirable behavior you are looking for. Although it probably seems like Alexa is jumping on you a lot, Im quite certain she spends a lot of time not jumping on you as well, and this is the behavior you want to encourage.

To do this, be vigilant about offering your praising voice, eye contact and touch when Alexa is in your space and choosing to stand or sit. If she begins to jump, just withdraw all of that good stuff. Dogs are experts at figuring out how to get what they desire out of the environment and the people in it. You can capitalize on that knowledge and show Alexa, via lots of praise and attention when she is not jumping, what it now takes to earn some of that special stuff from you.

Since Alexa is a young dog, Id also suggest taking preventative measures at the front door to make sure she doesnt get into the habit of jumping on visitors. Instead of setting her up to fail by letting her go to the door and jump on people, followed by you scolding her Id suggest attaching her to a leash and placing the handle under a heavy piece of furniture away from the front door before your guests arrive. This way they can enter your home without being jumped on, and you can focus your attention on them.

Alexa may be jumping up or barking at this exciting new development, but no one need pay any attention to, or reinforce, that. When some time goes by, and she has settled down, you can send your visitor into her space armed with the information of giving attention when Alexa is voluntarily standing or sitting, thereby reinforcing calm behavior. If she begins to jump up, your guest can simply turn and walk away, reinforcing your message.



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