Let’s start this with a confession. I’m a dog trainer and my dog jumps on me when I come home. Until recently this really hasn’t bothered me, I’m happy to see him, he’s happy to see me, what’s the harm? Jumping up just wasn’t a behaviour I was focused on reducing.
Until of course, my older dogs started coping the fallout as an excited young whippet bounces around and sometimes lands on their heads or shoves them out the way. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but let me just say this – jumping up is now a behaviour I’m focused on reducing!
So, let’s go through my options for teaching Dart an alternate way to behave when I arrive home. How hard can this be, I’m a dog trainer...
1. Ignore the jumping. Nope, not going to work. In fact I didn’t even try this one. He finds the very act of jumping up fun whether I give attention to him or not and in the meantime, the seniors are still suffering!
2. Sit to say hello. Also a no. Sit is just not a behaviour I’ve done much of with Dart so it doesn’t have a strong reinforcement history for him. His gangly whippet body makes it an uncomfortable position for him and he’s also more likely to explode into a jump once he’s been rewarded for the sit. Lastly, he’s excited so expecting a calm sit just isn’t realistic - it does nothing to dissipate his energy and if anything creates anticipation to jump.
3. Punishment in the form of yelling 'No!'...'Stop it!'...‘GET OFF ME!’ and shoving him away. Ha ha, this is guaranteed to get a dog like Dart so super pumped that the jumping escalates, probably with some barking and biting. He lives for this game. On another note, if I had a very sensitive dog, I wouldn’t want to associate my arrival with punishment for the dog – I’m trying to build a relationship here, not break it.
4. Get your toy. Now we’re talking! Dart loves his toys and will relentlessly bring toys to visitors in the hopes that they will engage with him. He knows the phrase ‘Where's your toy’ and it’s an activity that he can channel some of that excitement into. Added bonus – if I arrive home with my hands full of shopping then I can give him this verbal cue easily.
5. Food scatters. As a trainer I’m usually arriving back home with a treat bag containing at least a handful of treats let over from my last client. So, throwing a handful of food on the ground as I enter the house is any easy option for me. This helps to reduce arousal as the dog’s sniff out the treats and also reinforces ‘four paws on the floor’. Side note – I know my dogs aren’t going to get into a fight over scattered food, this may not be the case for all multiple dog households so proceed with caution if necessary.
6. Ask for ‘Middle’. What was I teaching Dart to do if it wasn’t sit? Cool behaviours like ‘Middle’! In fact, I think this was one of the first behaviours he learnt at about 12 weeks of age so it’s got a long reinforcement history. This behaviour of asking the dog to stand between your legs is a nice way to give them the attention that they crave without jumping. They can be close to you, you can reward four on the floor and they have to engage their brain into doing a behaviour that is incompatible with jumping.
So, which did I choose? Well, I'm using option 4 (Get your toy) if I don't have treats or have my hands full as I arrive, and option 5 (Food Scatters) followed immediately by option 6 (Middle) for the other times.
Do I wish I didn't have to do this? Yep. Is it working perfectly? Nope.
But here's the thing - Dart has a three year history of being allowed to jump on me so this is going to take a consistent effort from me to start to see a change in his behaviour. After several weeks I am seeing a marked improvement in his greetings, we still have the occasional jumps, especially if it's been a long day home alone but that's OK. In a perfect world I would practice lots of home comings by repeatedly coming in and out the front door over several sessions but, like most people, life is busy and this isn't always easy to fit in.
Old habits die hard but this one is on it's way out!