Humans greet each other by making eye contact and shaking hands. That is what we are taught to do from childhood. Dogs are taught a greeting ritual also, but it is quite different from ours. An ancestral canine mother carried food in her mouth for her young pups that greeted her by licking bits of the food from her lips. As the pups grew older, they greeted another dog by looking him in the eye and touching noses or licking him around the mouth.
Wild and domesticated dogs today continue this greeting ritual. A pet dog desires to show his humans this friendly greeting to indicate his pleasure. Since we humans walk upright, a dog cannot look us in the eye or reach our nose or lips. Jumping up is his attempt to do just that in an effort to show his friendship.
It is important to understand why a dog jumps up in greeting, but allowing the behavior is not a good idea. You extend an open invitation to jump up and meet everyone if the behavior is condoned in a young dog. A small jumping puppy may seem cute, but he can still scratch you, damage clothes, or knock a child or elderly person to the floor. The puppy will grow and the problem will only become more serious.
A dog should be trained not to jump from puppyhood. It is important not to punish or scold him for jumping. Punishment for a behavior that he considers a friendly gesture only confuses and hurts a dog. There are options that can change his behavior, and leave both you and the pup happy. You can use management and training techniques.
If your dog jumps on visitors, start by managing or controlling the situation. Put the pup in his crate or another room before guests arrive. Alternatively, you may wish to put your pup on a leash so you are in control when friends are greeted. These techniques can prevent jumping for the short term while he is learning proper behavior.
It is best to teach a dog behavior other than jumping when he greets someone. There are several options, but asking him to sit and stay works well. He cannot jump if he is sitting. This is easy if your dog has already learned sit. It will take a bit more time if you need to teach that behavior first. It is relatively easy to teach sit, but you must be consistent and require him to perform the behavior often. Always reward a good sit with kind words, lots of pets, and a treat.
It is a different story if your dog jumps on you as you come through the door. He is only trying to show you friendship and gain your attention. Do not give him your attention. Instead ignore him. Turn your back on him or go back out the door. You may have to do this many times before he gets the idea. He needs to learn that all four feet must be on the floor before he gets your attention and a treat. It can be a somewhat slow process. Remain patient, positive, and consistent. He will figure it out.
A dog jumps up to greet you as a friendly gesture. It is up to you to teach an alternative greeting behavior that allows him to show his joy for life and affection for you. Respond in kind with your love.
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With a Ph.D. in Biological sciences from the University of Texas in Austin and a masters in Zoology from Southern Illinois University, Dr. Sue is devoted to the care and massaging of pets. Read her articles here.