Teach your dog not to jump up on people

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 1/15/12
By: Gail T. Fisher

January is National Train Your Dog Month, sponsored by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). One of the services on the TYDM website www.trainyourdogmonth.com is a series of free webinars, one of which I recorded on Polite Walking. Check it out, along with the variety of other educational offerings, articles, webinars, activities, and interactive chats that are available all this month and beyond.

In honor of TYDM, I thought a good topic to start with is to consider training your dog to behave better, eliminating some undesirable behavior your dog engages in. Awhile ago I put a poll on our website asking what behaviors owners disliked the most (you can still participate in this poll). So far the clear winner is “jumping up on people.” I found this particularly interesting because we are in the process of developing some shorter “focus” classes to address specific training behaviors, and one of the topics I’ll be teaching (starting February 7, 2012) is a focus on “polite greeting.” (Click here for more information).

To eliminate an unwanted behavior, my preferred approach it is to train the dog to perform an “incompatible” behavior. For example, a dog cannot stand still and jump up on people at the same time. Or he can’t be jumping on Grandma if he’s holding a sit or down-stay. These behaviors are “incompatible” with jumping on visitors or rushing the door to menace the UPS driver.

Most dog owners only think about fixing an undesirable behavior when the dog is actively doing it. We apologize to guests, embarrassed and guilty over the fact that we haven’t trained the dog, and resolve to do something about it ... someday. (You’re not alone in this! Most of us are guilty of training procrastination with our own dogs—me, too.).

So the first step in eliminating a behavior is to make a commitment to train. Start by training an incompatible behavior, such as sit or stand still. Train that behavior with positive reinforcement (food treats) to motivate your dog. Start your training away from the door, not trying to train when people are coming in (yet). You want to avoid saying “Don’t jump!” while the dog is, in fact, in mid-air jumping up on a guest. Rather you’re training the dog to remain stationary and gravity-bound in a quiet environment in which the dog can focus on learning.

While your dog is learning the incompatible behavior, it’s important to prevent him from “practicing” the behavior you want to replace. Many problem behaviors are resistant to improvement because they have been unintentionally reinforced over time, i.e., the dog gets something good out of the “bad” behavior. For example, jumping up gains attention. It often involves physically touching the dog, which is also pleasurable. Attention and stroking, even when trying to get the dog off, reinforces jumping, making it more difficult to eliminate.

So while teaching your dog the incompatible (new) behavior, prevent your dog from engaging in the undesirable (old) behavior with management. Simply put him in another room or crate him before you greet visitors.

When your dog responds to a cue for your new behavior, practice by the door. Once he’s performing well there, arrange for and set up a training session with a friend or family member. Have them come in while you work on the new behavior. If your dog jumps up, just have them turn away, ignore the dog, and leave, thereby eliminating the reinforcement. Set your dog up again, and have them come back in. Repeat this, working on the incompatible behavior until your dog performs it when that person comes in (jackpot treats!). Then do it with a new person, and continue this practice, while managing your dog’s access to the door when you’re not able to be “in training.” Your dog will soon get the idea.

By setting your dog up to train in a planned, controlled, positive lesson, rather than yelling at him when he’s bad, you’ll not only have a much more polite dog, you’ll have a better relationship, too.

Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2012. All rights reserved. http://www.alldogsgym.com For permission to reprint this article or suggestions for future topics, please contact us.