Teach your dog to sit quietly for greetings, rather than jump on people.
This week’s episode is on how to teach your dog to stop jumping up and instead greet people politely. Jack writes that he and his wife have taught their young dog that he gets attention only when all four paws are on the floor. But the dog jumps up on guests. His exuberant greetings are hard on children and old people. Today I’ll explain how to teach your dog that the best way to get people to say hi is just to sit there and not jump up.
Why Do Dogs Jump Up?
Why do dogs jump up? A plausible explanation arises from their ways of communicating with each other. A puppy greeting an adult dog often licks the adult’s muzzle -- a polite, deferential behavior. Dogs, of course, descend from wolves, among whom muzzle-licking is how pups get the grownups to regurgitate food for them. Domestic dogs rarely nourish puppies this way, but muzzle-licking has survived, maybe because deferential behaviors are handy for a social animal. Think of humans saying “No, after you.” Muzzle-licking is also an appeasement behavior -- something you trot out to de-escalate a fight. A human might lift up his hands, palms toward the person he’s arguing with.
Puppies in human households try to lick the weird, flat, usually bald body part we have instead of a muzzle. When a cute little puppy jumps up to lick face, many people can only say “Awwww!” Hey presto! Jumping up has been rewarded. The puppy’s natural inclination is now a learned behavior. Too bad for the dog when he’s nine months old, bigger and less cute, muddying the pinstripes and knocking Granny to the ground.
Paying attention to a dog only when all four paws are on the floor can work well, if jumping isn’t well entrenched and if everybody who deals with the dog follows the rules. Unfortunately, much of humanity will get busy undermining you. “I don’t mind your puppy jumping up,” they say, while you tear your hair out. Or they get all disciplinarian, maybe kneeing the dog in the chest. That is not only mean but counterproductive, because dogs often respond by trying to appease. Since humans are usually taller than dogs, reaching our muzzles to lick them involves jumping up.
Train Your Dog to Stop Jumping Up
Fortunately, polite greetings are easily taught – most easily, of course, if you start out early so you aren’t trying to undo a well-practiced habit. For simplicity I’ll just speak of dogs, but the training tips here apply to puppies too.