Teach your Dog how to “Get Down” this Holiday Season!
By Julie Roller, WRT Trainer
It's the holiday season! Commence celebrations with family and friends, lots of yummy food, presents, and lots of frustration if you do not have a well-behaved pooch! The holidays are rough on everyone, your pets included, and the stress of many visitors in the home can highlight undesirable behaviors. How many of us have gone to visit family for friends on the holidays and have experienced an improper greeting – a dog that jumps up over and over trying to get attention? Are they big enough to knock you or your children to the ground while trying to say hello? Maybe you have to lock your own dogs away because you are embarrassed how they act when you have company? This creates added stress on you and your dogs, and it never really fixes the problem. Your dog stresses because he is locked away from the people that he loves, and you stress because you feel guilty locking him away.
If you are like me, your dogs are part of your family too!! I don't know what I would do without my “furry” kids. It is perfectly normal to want to include them in the festivities. It is important, however, that your dogs understand how to properly greet visitors and listen to your commands.
Something that most people don't realize about jumping up, is that it is a learned behavior. No one teaches it to their dog on purpose, so don't beat yourself up!! Picture this – you just brought home your adorable 8-week-old lab mix. The puppy comes up to you, looking very cute. You pat your legs or your lap, inviting them up and giving them attention. Pretty soon, the puppy is twice that size, but still really cute. So you still pat your legs and the puppy jumps up, getting love and attention. A little later, your puppy is no longer a puppy, but an 80 pound dog, jumping up and demanding attention from everyone that comes through the door. In your dog's mind, they are still that 8-week-old puppy trying to get attention. Unfortunately in this scenario, an owner has innocently conditioned their dog to greet improperly. On the flip side, there are some dogs that don't need ANY help in this department; some dogs naturally jump up to get attention.
So, what do you do to fix it? There are lots of schools of thought on this topic. Here are some tactics that everyone has heard of, but in my opinion should NOT be used.
Do Not: Knee your dog in the chest or kick them to knock them down
Grab your dog's feet and squeeze the pads
Yell and scream at your dog
Causing physical pain to your dog to get them to stop jumping is an old tactic, often resulting in injury or further behavioral issues such as mouthing or biting. Yelling and screaming at your dog is not going to work because you are still giving the dog what they want most.....ATTENTION! The best situation is to prevent the jumping from starting in the first place (which we will talk about), but in most cases, owners are simply looking for help!
The key to fixing jumping is to ignore the bad behavior and then give your dog positive feedback for what they are doing right, keeping all 4 paws on the ground! The best method to try first is to ignore the dog. Simply remove all attention while the dog is jumping up. Turn your back on the dog, make no eye contact, don't reach down to pet him, don't holler, just totally turn into a tree and ignore him. Watch closely with your peripheral vision, and the MOMENT your dog puts 4 paws on the floor, give him what he wants....attention! Verbally praise him, pet him, maybe give him a treat. Be sure to deliver the treat while the dog has his paws on the floor; don't let him jump up on you to get the treat.
Another really great technique is to ground them! Literally! With your dog on a flat buckle collar, stand on the leash so that it is taught enough that they cannot jump up, but loose enough that they aren’t uncomfortable. Make sure you are wearing sturdy shoes when you use this technique, and you have a leash long enough that you can hold the other end in one of your hands (6 feet works well). The dog will jump up – and give himself a slight collar correction. You do not have to do anything. The dog may try a few times, but most dogs will eventually sit and look up to you – waiting for attention. At that point, you can gently praise and give the dog attention. This technique is great for answering the door, greeting unfamiliar people that the dog may jump on, etc. You can still have a hand free while your dog is learning that it is inappropriate to jump up. Most owners working on this technique leave a leash hanging near their front door that they can access quickly if needed. This allows you to take a package, greet a guest, etc. AND teach your dog that they are not able to jump in these situations.
A spray bottle with plain water can also work well for dogs that have started to learn to stay off of people, but sometimes just can’t help themselves! When the dog approaches and starts to jump up, squirt the spray bottle and say “off” or “no jump”. When the dog has 4 paws on the floor – reward with gentle praise.
Remember like anything else, the problem will not be fixed overnight. If you have been consistently working at these methods for weeks and you are not seeing results, STOP and schedule a consult. I can help you troubleshoot and figure out what is going on.
So how do you prevent having to fix the problem in the first place? Training, training, training!! Giving your dog a good foundation as soon as you get him, even if you are adopting an older dog, is the key to gaining control during greetings. Take a basic obedience class or schedule some private training (with me of course if you can!). Teaching your dog commands will make him better-behaved from the start, and he may never develop the habit of jumping in the first place. Incorporate a command, such as “off!” into his training, so that if he does jump up you can correct it.
Socialization to all types of people is very important. Providing that your dog is friendly, introduce him to as many different types of people as possible, in as many different settings and situations as possible. This will teach your dog that greetings are no big deal and he will get attention if he behaves. A note on your dog's temperament: If your dog is terribly shy or shows signs of aggression or anxiety, please seek out professional help to deal with these problems before teaching a proper greeting.
The rule when you get a new dog is that they should never, never, never be allowed to jump up!! When you are first teaching a proper greeting, have your guests hide a treat in their hand. If your dog is too excited, have them sit down. Let your dog calm down before introducing him. Once everyone is calm and settled, give your dog a command, such as “go say hello!” and send them over. The person can pat them and give them a treat, but make sure that your dog is not overly intrusive or rude. If they are too enthusiastic, tell the person to put their hands at their side or in their lap and ignore the dog. Call the dog back to you, let him calm down, and then try again. Repeat this until the dog remains calm and is greeting nicely. Don't forget to praise him when he remains calm for the entire greeting. This training should take place PRIOR to the holidays, with good friends who understand that they are part of your dog's training. This way, the dog understands the rules before you have lots of people in your home that may not be as dog-friendly.
Hope your holidays are filled with joy and the company of good company, good food, and GOOD DOGS! : o )