Q3 – My Chocolate Labrador is 3 years old and always jumps up when he meets people. It doesn’t seem to matter what I do. Do you have any suggestions as I feel really embarrassed that he does it, especially when we are out on a walk?
As I am sure you realise your dog is jumping up to get attention, and as far as he is concerned this has been working quite well for 3 years! Although it won’t be easy to convince him, retraining him requires that you show him a more successful strategy to get what he wants.
Firstly, try to make jumping up less appealing to your dog. Make sure that if he jumps up at you, you do your best to ignore him (assuming that you are not going to get hurt). This means trying not to touch, talk or even look at your dog. If you can, you may find it helpful to turn away. Do not tell your dog off. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, for some dog’s tone of voice is irrelevant and even a stern telling off counts as worthwhile attention. For dog’s who are sensitive to punishment, telling them off may backfire quite badly as you may cause your dog to be fearful of greeting people, and this may lead to aggression. It is enough to withdraw attention. Ask other people that your dog comes into contact with to do the same, bear in mind that this may be more difficult for them and you may need to have your dog on a lead out on walks so that you can control their over exuberance. You should also be aware that when you first start ignoring your dog, his behaviour may temporarily get worse. Think of this along the lines of us going to the cupboard for our favourite bar of chocolate. If it has mysteriously vanished, most of us don’t shrug our shoulders and just walk away. We start to look for it, searching through the cupboard, and increase our efforts to find it. We may well feel a little annoyed – this is much the same as the emotions your dog will be going through. He will initially try harder to get your attention, and will feel frustrated that he isn’t getting the expected response from you.
It will help with this a lot if you teach your dog an alternative, more acceptable behaviour for greeting people that he can receive a good reward for choosing. Most people find training a concrete ‘sit’ a sensible option for this as it is mutually exclusive to jumping up. As you have probably found out though, telling your dog to sit when he is hyped up at the sight of a new friend is unrealistic! You must start by asking your dog to sit in all sorts of situations at home, and making sure he gets rewarded for this. When he is happy to do this, and understands it is a good choice, you can ask him to sit when you enter a room, or return home. Over time, you should be able to set up situations where friends and family visit, or meet you out on a walk, and your dog is happy to sit in anticipation of this behaviour earning him food or the attention he deserves. Initially, you may need to practice this with the other person at a distance and gradually allow them to get closer as your dog understands what is being asked of him and believes it is worth his while. It may be useful to use food – ideally thrown onto the floor – instead of praise or fuss to start with, as reward coming directly from you may get your dog over excited and direct his attention back onto you, thus encouraging him to return to jumping up. On no account allow the other person to feed your dog as this will increase his excitement at meeting them and make it harder for him to listen to what you want.