TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. - We have a 2-year-old Chocolate Lab named Molly. She loves everyone and gets so excited when she sees a person that she literally launches herself at them. Molly has always been a jumper and it wasn't such a problem when she was little, but now she weighs 80 pounds! How can we teach her not to jump on people?
Jumping on people is a very common problem, especially with young dogs who are full of energy and exuberance. Dogs rear up to play with each other and unless we teach them it's an inappropriate behavior when greeting humans they see nothing wrong with it. Molly needs to learn that sitting when a human approaches will earn her a reward, but she also needs to learn to control her impulse to jump.
Start working with Molly on a regular 6-foot leash. Do not use flexi-leads for this exercise. Hold the end of the leash firmly against your stomach. Now have a helper who has treats approach Molly from several feet away. The moment Molly jumps, the helper needs to step back. The helper should approach and retreat again and again until Molly decides to sit. When she does sit, have the helper give her a treat. A timely retreat is the key to success. Molly needs to figure out that her behavior (jumping) makes the reward (helper with a treat) go away.
Conversely, she needs to learn that sitting earns her the treat. Note that the helper is not asking her to sit. The learned behavior will be stronger if she figures it out for herself. Practice this with as many different people and in as many locations as you can until sitting becomes her default behavior whenever a person approaches.
Visitors coming into the house are another common trigger for jumpers. I recommend leaving a leash tethered to a stationary object inside your house so you can hook Molly up before visitors come in. This allows you to stay in control and use your visitors as helper trainers. At some point, you will need to begin practicing with Molly off leash. If she does launch herself at someone, have them wrap their arms around their body, turn their back and stand completely still. I call this "being a tree." They shouldn't acknowledge her in any way. It typically doesn't take long for a dog to sit when they aren't getting any attention or feedback. At this point, pet her or give her a treat. If she starts to jump again, be a tree again until she stops.
If you are out in public with Molly off leash, you will need to manage her jumping behavior. Every time she jumps on someone and they use their hands to push her off, she is rewarded. As soon as you see someone approaching, call Molly back to you and leash her up. Once the person has passed take her off the leash. You will need to carry some good treats with you on walks as incentive for her to come to you instead of running up to a stranger. If you don't have a treat, say her name in a happy voice and run away from her. She will likely follow and you'll be able to leash her.
Jumping up is normal dog behavior, but it's not good manners in a human world. You are fortunate to have a dog who likes people. Molly just needs to learn the proper way to say hello.
- Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.