Most dogs will display a tendency to jump on people at times. How often will vary with breed and by individual. One theory suggests that dogs are trying to get close to the person’s face – not to attack, but to interact. Other dogs, especially of the same breed, have faces close to their level and the dog will use its nose and eyes to explore.
So, one way to deal with jumping is to give them no need to reach. Kneel down and interact with the dog at its level. Let it explore your face in a safe way, while keeping an eye out for excessive assertiveness. Very rarely will a dog bite its owner this way, especially if the human has taken the trouble to become the ‘alpha’ (leader of the pack).
Naturally, if you’ve only recently acquired an older dog, perhaps from a shelter, you should take proper precaution when using this technique. Put a collar on the dog and keep a thumb inserted under it behind the dog’s neck. Be prepared to jerk sideways, if necessary.
Sideways jerking is to be preferred to a sharp pull backwards, when possible. Dogs’ neck muscles are very strong, but throats can be too easily bruised. The movement is to protect the owner and inform the dog, not to punish.
Off-leash training to discourage jumping is also possible. Wear a pair of well-protecting pants and have the dog stand in front of you. Training a ‘sit’ is, of course, a very good defense against jumping. But they can’t sit all the time. Jumping usually follows standing or running. So, start the exercise with the dog standing.
Watch for the body tension that precedes jumping and when you see them about to jump order a ‘sit’. If the dog jumps anyway, lift your leg slightly and bump the dog’s chest with your knee or thigh. At the same time, thrust a palm near the dog’s face away from you. Issue a sharp command: ‘off!’. (‘Down’ is a separate behavior, requiring a different word.)
The idea isn’t to slam the dog in the chest, nor to push a hand into its face. The raised knee helps to keep the dog off and puts it off balance. The hand in the face both obscures its vision and discourages a repeat jump.
If you have a partner you can work with, leash training may be useful in more stubborn cases. As the dog starts to leap, have the partner jerk sideways as you issue the ‘off!’ command. You should issue the command, not the partner. You need the dog to focus on and obey you.
In the absence of a partner, and when working outside, it may be possible to wrap a long leash around a tree or post. The difficulty is that the jerk will then usually be more back than to the side.
Positive reinforcement techniques can be used, too. Take a treat or a favorite toy in one hand. As the dog starts to jump, hold out the treat or toy above and slightly behind the dog’s head. That distracts the dog and puts it slightly off balance. It also encourages a sit, just when the impulse was to jump.
Repetition and consistency are, as with any training, important when training ‘off’. Be patient and firm. With time, most dogs will learn to suppress this natural behavior until and unless they receive permission to jump.
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