(my Hyde Park Living column)
I was talking with a friend the other day about a very large ten month old puppy she was visiting. The minute Linda walked into the house 60 pounds of pure love was on top of her. A habit that was started months earlier when little Henry was a small, cute bundle of fur has now become a mass force that greets friends with one leap after another. Unfortunately, the sheer force of large dog is enough to knock down many people.
The reinforcement Henry gets from jumping – humans shrieking, arms flailing, bodies moving, attention – was clearly more valuable to him than the value of doing anything else to get her owner to stop yelling.
Does this scenario sound familiar to you? Here is the very important thing for you to remember. Animals are going to keep doing behaviors that they have learned from past experience get them something of value. At this point, Henry has absolutely no reason (from his standpoint) to change the way he greets humans. After all, it’s pretty fun to watch how jumping gets humans to move and shriek.
What is a dog owner to do? Once you understand the basic science behind repeated behavior, then it is time to begin thinking not in terms of simply stopping the jumping behavior but in terms of what you would like your dog to do INSTEAD of jumping. Your dog is excited to see such friendly faces. He just needs to learn how humans like to be appropriately greeted. It was not something he was born knowing.
Here are a few options of skills you can teach your dog that will help him AND you succeed in this situation: sit, down, go to your mat, have all four feet on the ground, impulse control.
Those skills should be taught using positive reinforcement strategies separate from around the door. They should be given great value for your dog to do. At the same time, it’s important to prevent as much as possible continued practice of the jumping behavior you do not like because your dog has such a long history of reinforcement from jumping.
Once your dog has learned those alternative behaviors, then you have given him something else he can do to get him the same value or greater that he would receive from jumping on people. Then you can begin to ask him to sit or lay down or go to his mat, and teach him that he holds all the cards in this situation. *If* he sits or lays down or goes to his mat, *only then* will great people walk in; and *only* if he can remain in that position will human give him attention. While teaching this, you have also got to teach the contingency that *if* he gets up, the human goes out of range. *If* he was close enough and jumps, *then* the person needs to become a tree (stand completely still and not have any eye contact with him) so as to not accidentally reinforce the jumping behavior.
Always keep in mind that your dog does not do things to intentionally be ‘bad’. He is simply doing what works to get his needs met and get him something of value. As his owner, caregiver and teacher, it is up to you to teach him how he can get those needs met in acceptable ways.
And while you are doing it, remember to have fun. Learning and teaching are two powerful words that can do so much to strengthen relationships.