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Teaching Your Dog Not to Jump

By: Dr. Ilana Reisner

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When good behavior is consistently rewarded and jumping is ignored, dogs can quickly learn that keeping four feet on the ground is a preferable posture.

No Rewards Allowed

Training books and videos offer a number of creative methods for teaching a jumping dog to stop. Why, then, do so many dog owners continue to be subjected to this often unwelcome advance. The most important reason lies in the way that dogs learn.

Any behavior that results in a reward is likely to be repeated. Rewards may be obvious or may be quite subtle. When dogs are excited, they naturally jump up onto their "target." Over the course of time they are met with hands petting them or pushing them away – with voices sometimes warm, at other times stern or surprised. All of these responses can be rewarding – and, therefore, all of them may reinforce jumping up behavior. When such rewards are scarce and intermittent – they are even more powerful reinforcers. So even if the family is working hard to ignore jumping up, the occasional reward supplied by a long-lost, third cousin can undo all the good work.

Take Action

What can be done to plant those four feet firmly on the ground? First, inform all family members and visitors that, from this day forward, jumping of any kind is banned. Peoples' only reaction to jumping should be no reaction. Everyone should remain utterly silent, averting their gaze and adopting an indifferent posture.

Enlist the help of a neighbor or friend who can knock and enter repeatedly. Leash your dog and arm yourself with small food treats (perhaps placing a jar of treats near the door for visitors to dispense) Tell your dog to sit before he jumps up, while he's still calm enough to comply. Reward non-jumping behavior with food treats.

Persistent attempts to jump can be corrected by saying, "OFF," walking your dog briskly in a circle, then telling him to sit (followed by a reward). Repeat the exercise as needed. Unlike pushing, petting or begging your dog to "get down," this exercise is unambiguous and rewards an alternative behavior – sitting. Your chances of success will be far greater if you work with others who can "provoke" your dog by entering the house or passing you on the street, time and time again. You should set up the training.

At each pass, tell your dog to sit and reward this preferred behavior. In time, shift the control from yourself to the "visitor," who supplies attention only when your dog sits. Before you know it your dog will earn your heartfelt praise by sitting calmly instead of jumping up.

A properly fitted head halter, such as the Gentle Leader, can be an invaluable tool for facilitating this type of retraining. All that is required is to pull forward and up to position the dog in a "sit" position. Then immediately release tension on the lead and praise the dog lavishly for sitting.

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