Frankie is a great dog. He adores small children and is gentle with smaller animals. In fact, he is well known in our neighborhood for “flattening” himself on the ground when a child or a small animal approaches him. It is his way of saying, “I’m not a threat to you. Come and pet me!”
But when a visitor comes into our house, it is another story. Whether it is an adult, a child or another dog, Frankie is so caught up in the joy of having a visitor that he forgets all about the fine art of entertaining etiquette. The moment the visitor steps across the threshold, Frankie is on his hind legs, jumping all over our guest.
Not only is it embarrassing for his otherwise adoring humans, it can also be a safety issue, particularly if the visitor is a child or a person with health issues. After all, Frankie is 80 pounds of canine. He is a year-and-a-half-old cross between a black Labrador Retriever and a Boxer who apparently sometimes thinks his boxing skills are his most charming trait. If he injures someone, I could be liable for those injuries even though they didn’t necessarily involve aggressive behavior.
Why do Dogs Jump on Visitors?
Author Jana Murphy explains in her book, The Secret Lives of Dogs, that when dogs jump on people, they actually think they are being polite. In the canine universe, dogs greet each other by sniffing and licking. They start the greeting ritual by sniffing each others’ mouths and licking each others’ faces, and then move to the other end and sniff each others’ bottoms. This is considered polite behavior between dogs, and to greet each other in a different way would be considered bad manners at best.
Dogs expect to be able to greet human visitors in the same way. The problem for the dog is that humans are usually too tall for the dog to get a good mouth sniff. Couple that fact with the fact that dogs are often very excited and happy about having visitors (or are overjoyed about their human returning home from work), and you have the perfect recipe for the jumping behavior that dog owners dread, says Murphy.
Dog Training Secrets – Train the Humans First
Talk to your visitors in advance, if possible, and explain your dog’s tendency to want to greet them with a full-body doggie hug. Discuss the fact that you are in the process of trying dog training methods and ask for their help.
This approach fulfills three objectives. First, it gives you an opportunity to warn your visitor that they might be greeted with a little too much exuberance when they arrive. Second, your visitor will know that you are working on training your dog to avoid this behavior. It has been my experience that fellow dog lovers are too ready to dismiss misbehavior in other people’s dogs by saying, “Oh, it’s okay. I have dogs and I know they behave this way.” They’re trying to be nice, but it is not okay and it helps if your visitor knows your dog training goal in advance.
Finally, this method gives you a chance to educate you visitor about things they can do to keep from being lovingly assaulted when they enter your door. Here are some suggestions for ways you can enlist your visitor’s help:
- Turn the greeting into a meeting. Assuming your dog is already familiar with some basic obedience commands, ask your visitor to turn the first few minutes of the visit into a mini-training session. Have the dog’s leash and some reward treats ready, and have your visitor walk in and immediately practice some obedience drills. It will be important to do these drills even before any greetings take place between the humans. A few minutes of “sits” and “downs” and “stays” will focus your dog’s attention on the commands and away from the thrill of having a new person in the house. After the dog is settled and focused, he can be rewarded with a scratch behind the ear.
- Ignore the dog altogether. If your dog gets extremely excited about greeting visitors, this one might be a little difficult for the first couple of minutes. The idea here is to avoid the appearance of rewarding the jumping behavior. If the dog jumps and the visitor reacts in any manner – either with affection or with trying to push the dog away – the dog will interpret this as a reward. Have your visitor cross his or her arms and turn completely away from the dog. After the dog has settled down, only then should she be rewarded with affection. Your dog will learn that she only receives attention of any kind from the visitor when she is calm and cool.
- Invest in a head collar for your dog. A head collar such as the Gentle Leader is a wonderful, cruelty-free dog training tool that works by allowing you to control your dog by gently pulling down on his snout when he gets out of line. Dogs dislike the sensation of having their snout pulled down and will tend to do what it takes to avoid that sensation. Have the head collar on the dog before the doorbell rings, and snap the leash on immediately before greeting your visitor. When your dog starts to jump, quickly but gently tug down on the head collar to discourage the behavior and make him sit to greet. Ask your visitor not to pet or acknowledge your dog until the dog is sitting.
We have tried these techniques with some success. Of course, Frankie is a work in progress. He is still very young and does not always understand that guests in our home do not wish to be tackled. But as long as we can get our friends to help us by discouraging the behavior in positive ways that reinforce and reward only good conduct, I think we have a pretty good shot of turning him into a model citizen.
Resource: Murphy, Jana. The Secret Lives of Dogs: The Real Reasons Behind 52 Mysterious Canine Behaviors. Rodale, 2000.