Dog jumping on people is a common behaviour that many pet owners struggle with. Who doesn't love seeing their dog showing affection? But jumping can be a nuisance and even dangerous, especially for small children or elderly individuals. Why do dogs jump in the first place?
According to biologists, dog jumping is a greeting style that dogs have evolved specifically for humans. Unlike other dogs, who rely on specific physical attributes such as sniffing or licking to initiate social interactions, humans lack these attributes. As a result, dogs have developed the behaviour of jumping as a way to initiate contact and greet their human companions.
In a study published in 2017 by Rezac, P et al. "Factors affecting dog jumping on people", they found that dogs are more likely to jump on people who they perceive as friendly and approachable, such as family members or familiar people.
So a dog jumping up on a person is a natural behaviour, and it is often a way for them to show affection to familiar people. For some dogs, uncertainty and anxiety can be contributing factors, particularly when they show this behaviour towards strangers. Jumping is, therefore, not something your dog intentionally does to be naughty.
Then how do we prevent this behaviour? Firstly, never punish (yelling, hitting or any other aversive methods) your dog. These methods damage your relationships, period. What about ignoring your dog? How would you feel when you come home, try to hug your loved ones and they turn around and ignore you? It also can damage your relationships.
My few tips are:
Reduce the need for your dog jumping up. Bend down and reach your hand out so your dog can have physical contact without needing to jump up. Pet and talk to them when all four feet are on the ground. This is important for your guest to do this too, when it is safe to do so.
When visitors walk into the door, it triggers excitement and greeting behaviour too. Visitors may also bring in novel objects, smell and other sensations. It can be very stimulating for your dog. An alternative is to get your dog to do some enrichment behaviour in a different room or outside. Then allow them in after your guests settle down.
Reinforce more appropriate behaviour. Think about what behaviour you want your dog to do instead. When you see the desirable behaviour, reward your dog straight away.
Timing for the reinforcement is critical. Not rewarding quickly enough is when positive reinforcement doesn't work. As soon as your dog has four paws on the ground, please give them a lot of praise and attention.
Be consistent in your signals and rewards. Forming new habits needs a lot of motivation and practice.
Be kind. No punishment is ever needed. Your dog is just being a dog. Using positive reinforcement will help them to learn quickly to make the right decision.
Horwitz, D.F., Ciribassi, J. & Dale, S.(Eds.). (2014). Decoding Your Dog. American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, New York.
Rezac, P., Koru, E., Havlicek, Z., & Pospisilova, D. (2017). Factors affecting dog jumping on people. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 197, 40-44.