“Help, My Dog Jumps On People! What Do I Do?”
A dog often jumps on people because they want to show their affection by licking faces and mouths. Although this can be considered a sign of their playfulness, they may get too excited and jump even on strangers and little kids. To avoid causing serious injuries, Doug Poynter discusses how clicker training can help manage this behavior without taking the dog’s action as negative. He explains the best click-and-treat approach for a dog who loves to jump on people, making the training engaging and enjoyable for them.
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“Help, My Dog Jumps On People! What Do I Do?”
Welcome to another session. I’m the Owner of Better Dog Behavior Now, my business in Richmond, Virginia, where I work in helping dogs, helping people train dogs and training people. I specialize in canine or dog behavior problems, and dogs with behavior problems. I work with positive reinforcement. I use marker training or clicker training. When I say marker training, I primarily use a clicker, but sometimes dogs are not happy with the sound of the clicker. In that case, I would use a verbal mark.
If you’re interested in what that means if you’re not familiar with that, then go to my previous episode called The Magic of Markers. You can learn about marker training, specifically clicker training. It’s cool. There are some good books out there as well if you want to learn about them. I would highly recommend that you start with a book by Karen Pryor. She is the person who introduced clicker training to the world at large.
Her book called Don’t Shoot the Dog is a great book to learn about the principles of marker training or clicker training. The way she got involved with it was by working with dolphins at SeaWorld, and because dolphins are underwater and the mark is noise, they couldn’t hear a click or a verbal mark, so they used whistles. That’s how it started. At any rate, Don’t Shoot the Dog is a great reference or a great start if you’re interested in clicker training.
This technology is by far the best that you can find for training your dog. You can train cats with clickers. You can train wild animals and zoo animals. There’s a guy named Ken Ramirez. He is an expert in positive reinforcement training. He is one of the go-to folks in the world for this type of training. He’s got a thing that he runs called The Ranch. It’s affiliated with Karen Pryor. Ken Ramirez has done some remarkable things. There’s a project he’s working on with conservation and wild animals, and teaching elephants to stay away from poachers in Africa by altering where they traverse and migrate. He’s using remote positive reinforcement training to do that.
Remote does not mean electric collar. Remote means we figure out different ways to reward behavior from afar because we can’t be out there with the elephants. It is very interesting stuff. You hear a lot of folks take shots at positive reinforcement training like, “It’s sissy. It’s not realistic. You can’t get a well-trained dog.” It’s BS, folks because you can. I encourage you. If you’re a trainer who hasn’t gotten involved with that type of training, marker training or clicker training and want to see what it’s about, get the book Don’t Shoot the Dog.
Take a day for your training even if it’s your personal dog and decide, “I’m going to do training with no corrections. I’m going to change behavior with no corrections. What I’m going to do is I’m going to reward the behavior that I want and teach my dog to perform behaviors that I want the dog to perform. If there’s a behavior I don’t want the dog to perform, I’m either going to ignore it and only reward the behavior that I want or if I want to stop a behavior, I’m going to teach a competing behavior. That means the dog can’t perform the behavior that I don’t like.”
I’ll give you an example. I mentioned it in one of my previous podcasts. It’s the easiest example I can think of. Everybody wants to do something to the dog that jumps on people. Knee him in the chest, hold his paw, stand on his back paws, and turn your back. None of that works. What works is to teach a competing behavior. If you are a dog owner who wants a more polite dog that doesn’t jump on people, or you’re a trainer who thinks that the only way to do this is to correct that behavior, I’m going to ask you to open your mind and think in a different way.
“What behavior could I teach that would keep the dog from jumping? Can I make that behavior so much fun for the dog that the dog would rather perform that behavior than perform the bad behavior of jumping?” I do this all the time with folks. They hire me and say, “My dog is crazy. He jumps all over everybody. I want to stop that.” I ask them what they have done to work on that. They invariably tell me one of those “solutions.”
“I knee him in the chest. I turn my back on him. I step on his back paws. I’ll hold him by the front paws, just stand there, and hold him until he gets uncomfortable.” None of it works. If it does work because it’s punishment, you’re creating a negative association. A lot of people aren’t thinking about that. We’re not dealing with a human. We’re dealing with an animal. If the animal is wanting to get close to you and jump on you for affection purposes, and you create a negative association, it can harm the relationship with your dog.
Everybody wants to look at this like the dog is trying to be impolite. They’re not. One of the things that dogs do when they want to greet their leaders is they like to lick around the mouth. You can see that in wolf packs when mom and dad come back to the pack. If you’re wanting to know what I mean by mom and dad, go back to my very first episode, What’s the Deal with Alpha? It will make sense.
When mom and dad come back to the pack, all the lower wolves and the kids come running up to them. They’re wagging their tails, wiggling, whining, running around in circles, and also licking the face and the mouth of mom and dad. It’s a way of saying, “You’re my leader. I love you.” One of the reasons dogs like to jump is to get close to your face for the very same reason. When we’ve got the dominant theory of dogs trying to take over and trying to dominate us and we’ve got to correct all this behavior, then we don’t look at it that way. We do things that are way over the top and damage the relationship with our dogs. I highly encourage you to think of another way.
I’ll give you an example of how easy this can be. I have clients with dogs that want to jump. I’m thinking of a client that I had this summer who has a little Pit Bull named Lily. She is the cutest dog you ever saw in your life. She probably weighs 25 pounds. She loves people and kids. The way she expresses that affection is she comes running up. She jumps on them and puts her paws on their legs or on the kid’s hips if it’s a little kid. She can knock kids down even though she’s not big. If you’ve got a little kid, the affection that Lily displays can knock a child down.
The reason I got hired is my client is a cool guy. He’s like me. I’m a long-distance athlete. It’s one of my hobbies. I’m a cyclist. He’s a triathlete. I can’t remember how he got my name but he found me, hired me, and told me, “This is what his problem was.” His girlfriend was going to move in with him. She had two young children, a boy and a girl. They were 8 and 10 or something like that. Her ex-husband got wind of the fact that her new boyfriend had a Pit Bull, “We’re all going to die. That dog is going to kill my kids.”
The reality of it was he was giving his ex a hard time for being with another guy. That’s what it was because he had seen Lily before and he knew how sweet she was. The problem was if Lily jumped on the kids, knocked them down, and hurt them even though she was trying to be affectionate, then he had a little bit of leverage in the divorce proceedings. They were concerned because my client’s girlfriend was going to move in, and she was bringing her two kids with her. She was very concerned about this whole scenario.
My client knew his dog wouldn’t hurt anybody but he was concerned because he wanted to make sure this worked out. He said, “I don’t want to give Lily up.” I went, “You’re not giving Lily up. I’m not going to let that happen. This is the sweetest dog on the planet. I’m going to show you how we’re going to do this.”
He had taken her to other training. He had taken her to train with an eCollar. It didn’t work. It can create some negative associations if it’s done improperly. I said, “We’re not going to use the eCollar. I don’t do that. We’re not going to do anything that’s going to create any negative experience for this dog. There will be no pain, punishment or correction. She won’t jump on your girlfriend’s kids.”
He was very interested as to how we were going to do that. I said, “The first thing that we’re going to do is we’re going to teach her to sit in front of me.” We went out into the yard. He brought Lily out into the yard. She was all excited to see me. She was wiggly and waggy. That’s the way Pit Bulls are. Unless someone abused them, they’re the goofiest dogs with people you could ever find. They’re the most people-friendly dogs on the planet unless somebody has done something bad to them and created some negative experiences for them. I’m not suggesting there aren’t those dogs out there. There are, but there had been bad stuff done to them that has made that happen. I may do an episode about that in the future because what has been done to Pit Bulls has been a terrible thing.Pit bulls are the goofiest dogs with people and the friendliest canines on the planet unless something bad has been done to them. Click To Tweet
Lily came running out all waggy and wiggly. She ran up to me, put her front paw up on my legs, stood right up, and stood against me. My client said, “That’s exactly what I don’t want to have to happen.” I said, “We’re going to show her a better way and more fun way.” I taught her to sit. She sat in front of me. I clicked and treated her when her butt hit the ground in a sit. It was a very high-value food treat. I backed up and called her to me again. She ran to me again. It’s not really running because I only backed up about 10 feet. I backed up and asked her to come to me again. She came to me again and started to jump. As she started to jump, I went, “Sit.” She hesitated and then sat. As soon as her butt hit the ground, I clicked and treat her again.
I did that a bunch of times. I got to the point where I could back up with her and call her to me, and she would run 10 to 15 feet to me and then sit. I would click and treat. When you start marker training or clicker training, you’ve got to do what’s called Charge the Mark or Load the Clicker, meaning you’ve got to create the association with the dog. That sound of the marker is going to mean that something good is going to happen.
Before my client even brought Lily outside to meet me, I handed him about seven high-value food treats and a clicker. I said, “I want you to walk inside the house, walk up to her, click and then give her a food treat.” Sometimes I find that people get concerned about the timing of that. You’ve heard me mention a trainer named Emily Larlham. Her site on YouTube is called Kikopup. It’s a great site. Go check Emily out. Emily has got a great way to describe this to people.
She says, “The process is to click, pause, and food treats.” When you get the behavior that you want in the instant that you’re getting it, you click, pause, reach in, and give the dog a food treat. We don’t attach the click with the treat. The treat comes after the click. I had my client walk in and do that with his dog Lily about seven times, and then bring her outside. She ran out and jumped on me. When I asked her to sit and her butt hit, I clicked and then gave her a food treat.
She had already learned that when she hears that sound, something good is going to happen, “I’m going to get a high-value food treat.” It didn’t take me but about two minutes to have her come to me and sit instead of jumping because now, sitting is a whole lot more fun than jumping. My client was excited. I said, “We’re not anywhere near done yet. That’s just her walking up to somebody. We’ve got to put her in the excited state that she’s in when she sees new people and teach her to sit in that state as well.” My client said, “How are we going to do that?”
I handed him another handful of food treats. I had given him a clicker. It’s part of equipping my clients. I bring them a clicker. I said, “I want you to go to the other end of the yard.” I had Lily on a leash. I said, “Go to the middle of your yard and face her. I want you to call her. As you call her, I want you to back up.” You can extend your hand with the food treat. Normally, you don’t present the food first. Here, we were doing some luring because we wanted to get her all excited. Normally, they don’t see the food until after the click. I said, “You can hold the food out as you back up.”
He’s an athlete, so I’m not worried about him falling on himself. I said, “Back up with a little bit of speed as you call her. Your backing up will encourage her to run to you. Say ‘come’ as you back up.” We did that. He ran away, turned around, faced her, started backing up, and called her name. I let her go and she hauled across the yard. When she got right in front of my client before she could jump, he said, “Sit.” She halfway jumped, stopped herself and sat. He clicked and treated.
I said, “Did you notice how she stopped herself?” He said, “That was pretty cool.” I called her back to me, and she ran back to the other side of the yard. She’s running now a good 50 to 70 feet and going as fast as she can run. As she gets to me, I go, “Sit.” She sits. I clicked and treated, and then I had my client call her again. We had her going back and forth, and having her sit each time as she ran up to us.
In an excited state, she was learning how to sit and get something good. She had an enthusiasm for this. She wanted to do this. This is what I asked my client, “Would you rather have a dog who’s forced to do something it doesn’t want to do? Would you rather teach it to do what you want and have your dog love doing it?” He said, “The second one.” That’s what we did.
We did multiple sessions that way before we brought the kids to the backyard. We did the same thing with the kids. We taught Lily over time that anytime she was in front of the kids, and they were standing, she needed to sit. We did it in the house. We did some other behavioral things as well to take her excitement down with the kids in the house. She loved the kids so much that when she would see them, she would get excited.
We had them go into the house and pay no attention to Lily until she settled down. We worked on both of those scenarios. Where she’s settled is when she got a little bit of very calm attention in the house. When she was excited because people were in the house, they ignored her. If she ran up to them in that excited state and acted like she wanted to jump, they just said, “Sit.” When she sat, she got a click and a treat.
I did 3 or 4 sessions with them. About a month and a half or two months after our last session is when the girlfriend had moved in completely. They had to have a test. My client sent me a couple of texts that showed Lily with the kids. He said, “When she gets around the kids now, she calms down. She lies on the floor. If the kids are on the floor watching TV, she will put her head on their leg or their arm and lie calmly. Her excitement and wanting to jump has pretty much gone away.”
“She jumped on one of the kids one time, caught herself doing it and sat. Other than that, the problem has been solved. There are no corrections.” If you’re a trainer who believes in corrections, that’s fine if that’s what you want to do but this works better. Whenever you hear somebody say, “You can’t stop the behavior if you don’t correct it,” that is patently not true. I’ve had a lot of experience doing this. I don’t correct dogs’ “poor behavior.” I teach dogs to do something different.
I would like to ask you to begin to think about this and ask yourself, “How can I teach my dog something different? If my dog is behaving in a way I don’t want, how can I teach my dog to do something different that would be more fun for the dog and that would preclude the dog from behaving in a way I don’t want him or her to behave?” That’s our short session. Look at my episode, The Magic of Markers. Check out Emily’s Kikopup page. If you’re new to clicker training and marker training, before you do any of that, go ahead and order Karen Pryor’s book Don’t Shoot the Dog. Have fun. Keep training. I will talk to you next time.
- The Magic of Markers – Previous episode
- Don’t Shoot the Dog
- Ken Ramirez
- The Ranch
- What’s the Deal with Alpha? – Previous episode
- Kikopup – YouTube