How to Stop a Dog From Jumping Up

Teach your dog to sit quietly for greetings, rather than jump on people.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
4-minute read
Episode #9

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.

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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.

When you’re training your dog to greet politely and stop jumping up, it’s easiest to work with two people. One person will hold the dog’s leash. The dog should have plenty of room to sit, stand, or lie down comfortably, and to move within a radius of a couple of feet. The second person can be anyone your dog likes.

  1. With the dog’s human friend about a dozen feet away, the person holding the leash asks the dog to sit.
  2.  As soon as the dog does so, the dog’s friend starts to approach. Because the dog likes this person, the approach will reward the sit. And, because the dog likes this person, he’ll probably get up and move toward her.
  3.  At that moment, the approaching person stops dead, turns away from the dog, and retreats.
  4. The person holding the leash cues the dog to sit.
  5. As soon as the dog sits, the friend again approaches.
  6.  If the dog gets up, the friend stops and retreats again.

Usually, after two or three tries, the leash holder can stop giving the cue to sit. Instead, count to 5 slowly, in your head. Given a few moments to think, most dogs will experiment – what was it that got my friend to come closer? Eureka! That is the first step toward a dog who sits spontaneously in order to get people to approach.

More Jumping Training

The self-control problem isn’t solved yet -- the bouncier the dog, the more tries you’ll need. Once the dog holds his sit till his human friend has reached him, have a love party. The leash holder can tell the dog it’s okay to get up at this point. But if the dog begins to jump, the friend should instantly back away. Notice how simple and clear the communication is. The consequence of sitting politely is that someone you like comes closer. The consequence of jumping up is that she goes away.

Here’s a hot tip for bouncy dogs: keep the love party low-key, and drop a few treats on the ground – the dog can’t troll for smorgasbord and jump at the same time . Speaking of treats, the main reward for your dog in this training scenario is the chance to say hello. Feel free, though, to slip him treats as he holds his sit. You can phase out the treats over time. Also, any dog will find it easier to stay put if he’s had plenty of exercise that day. Finally, if your dog’s really having trouble, work on a sit-stay without the greeting component first.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice polite greetings with as many people as you can rustle up. Choose several locations where real greetings might happen. The more practice, the better. If visitors are the most frequent jumpees, your approaching person can enter the house as any guest would do. To up the ante, have the faux visitor make with the big “Hello! Haven’t seen you in aaaaaaaaaaaages!”

When your dog’s heinie is glued to the ground till you okay him to get up, start the whole process over again minus the leash. If the dog breaks his sit more than once or twice and goes over to the approaching person, go back and practice some more with the dog leashed.

Finally, while your dog is learning to sit patiently as fake guests come in, don’t set him up to practice exactly the opposite with real guests. Having company? Crate your dog, leash him, or put him behind a baby gate till everyone’s settled and he’s calmed down. Then bring him out, on leash, to say polite hellos.

Now that your dog constitutes the world’s most gracious welcome committee, please call me with your further questions at 206-600-5661. Or e-mail dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. I post training and behavior info on Facebook, too – click on the link on my page at quickanddirty tips.com. That’s all for today. Thanks for listening.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).