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Jumping Revisited: Why Isn’t Turning My Back Working?

August 21, 2012

Jumping Revisited: Why Isn’t Turning My Back Working?

There are a few issues in dog training that niggle at me (is that a word?).  No matter who I ask or what I read I get the same answers.  And they never seem to be enough.  Clients come back to class week after week and I can see that the issue just continues to plague them despite their best efforts and despite mine.  I hate that.  My profession is based on results.  I can’t help but feel that if I’m not seeing results then we must be missing something right?

Jumping is one of those issues.

Just like nipping, jumping is one of those behaviours that SUPPOSED to have an easy solution.  We’ve all heard it before, “if you don’t reward it, then it will go away on its own”.  So the usual advice would be to turn your back.  Keep turning your back.  As soon as your dog puts “all four on the floor”, then you can turn around and give the attention he’s so desperately craving.  I’m of course not going to tell you that’s incorrect advice.  It’s just incomplete advice.  Before you drive yourself insane and end up with a closet full of ripped shirts let’s just fill in the some of blanks here…plug up the holes, if you will.

You’re Not Always the Desired Reward:

Here’s the reality.  While most dogs are jumping up to get at your mouth to greet (that’s how dogs greet each other), some dogs really just enjoy the act of jumping.  It’s like how I enjoy the act of dancing in my living room.  It’s part of something much bigger happening at the moment.  In my case, the dancing is usually the result of the fact that I’m either having a seriously good day or a seriously bad day.  For your dog, the jumping might be a result of his favourite person coming home, or maybe he just has the zoomies (translation: running around really fast).  So while you may THINK that turning your back on your dog is enough to deter him, I’ve got news for you-he couldn’t care less.  He hasn’t even noticed that you’ve turned your back because he’s just really enjoying the moment.  And here we thought it was all about us…silly owners.

Your Timing Might Be Off:

This is something that I see more often than not when it comes to jumpers.  People come to class determined to do everything exactly as they’re told (we love you), so they dutifully turn their backs every single time their dog jumps.  Then they immediately turn around and reward their dog with love when he sits down.  There’s a bit of a problem here.  If you time this incorrectly, you’re actually teaching your dog to jump, then sit.  It’s called a BEHAVIOUR CHAIN.  In your dog’s mind he thinks, “all I’ve got to do is jump on mom, then put my bum on the ground and she’ll give me love”.  Oh darn.  There’s a solution to this.  Only reward your dog for sitting when he DOESN’T jump first.  That means he’s got to come skidding up to you with his bum planted before he even thinks about ruining your white pants.  If he jumps first, no dice.  The other solution would be that he has to STAY sitting for a certain amount of time before you turn around to pet him.  If you reward him with love too quickly after he sits you’ll have made your own doggie bed.  And unfortunately you’ll have to lie in it for a long time.

Teach Him What you Want:

For a lot of dogs, removing the reinforcement (your attention) simply won’t cut it.  I’m not saying you should stop turning your back-that should always be your default around a jumping dog.  However, you need to also teach your dog an appropriate way to obtain that same reinforcement.  Here’s an idea…teach him that as long as he stays sitting, he’ll continue to get two things; your attention and yummy treats.  I don’t know any dog that would turn that down.  You’ve got to make sure you beat him to the punch and don’t even give him a chance to jump up. When you come in the door, immediately bend over and put a treat on the ground by your feet.  If you use a clicker, then click first.  Continue to place treats on the floor by your feet as long as your dog isn’t jumping on you.  A couple of magical things are happening here.  Your dog is learning to orient his gaze DOWN and away from your face when he sees you and he’s also learning that he’ll be rewarded for staying down, not just be ignored for jumping.  Gradually build in more movement and if you’re consistent with this, you’ll end up with a dog that sits or stands politely in front of new people while you reward him for behaving.  I don’t just make this stuff up people. I’ve actually seen it work.

I’m hoping this will help shed a little light on a problem that seems to leave most of my clients at a total loss.  If it can help with some of the dogs I’ve met, then friends, it can help with yours.

Written By

Danielle Hodges, CPDT-KA

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