High on the common list of “behavior problems” is dogs jumping up when greeting guests. That’s usually the way it’s phrased, too; not jumping up on the immediate family, but on visitors or the grandkids or other folks. When most people pick up “Jack” from boarding or daycare and he all but knocks them over in an excess of welcome, invariably, the owner is delighted. So, I conclude that most people (though they might complain about it a bit) secretly like it when Jack plasters his paws on their pants because he is so happy to see them.
It is heart-warming, isn’t it? It makes us feel really good! It’s why a lot of us have pets in the first place — because SOMEBODY (some warm, loving body) is always there and happy to see us come home! From Jack’s point of view, he’s just doing what comes naturally!
In Jack’s eyes, his owner is the parent-dog, because dogs are perpetual puppies. Scientists label this “neoteny” — the Retention of juvenile characteristics in the adults of a species. So, jack is greeting his owner the way a wild dog would greet mama-dog coming back to the den.
When wild dogs return to their puppies from hunting, they carry food for them. However it’s not a carefully-saved deer haunch clutched in mama’s jaws. Mom carries the food in the most efficient and safest way — in her stomach — where it can’t attract and be stolen by another predator. Puppies lick mom’s mouth and face because it stimulates the instinct to regurgitate this food. Even though we don’t feed our dogs the same way, the instinct to lick mama’s face is transferred to us — and because we’re much taller than a four-legged mama, Jack has to jump up to do it.
So, we like it and it is natural behavior for the dog, but we aren’t very happy when Jack knocks down grandma or the neighborhood kids. Unfortunately, jumping Jack learned “at home” that people LIKE it when he’s so enthusiatic, so that has become his standard greeting. He doesn’t understand why other folks, including his family, aren’t happy when he uses it on everyone!
(NOTE: there are other reasons why a dog might jump on visitors that are not so friendly and this posting isn’t meant to address them. I’m talking about the loves-everybody, happy-go-lucky dog, here. If you suspect your dog is NOT friendly — plants paws on someone and stares and/or growls — PLEASE consult a behavior specialist.)
Dogs are very good about learning rules, but not so good about learning exceptions to rules. Jack will go with what has gotten him the most attention and gratification from his family in the past, even though it’s not so popular with everybody else. Unfortunately, the only way to stop a dog from jumping on guests is to stop him from jumping on family. The first step in stopping the jumping is to TAKE AWAY the attention and gratification Jack gets when he does it.
This means IGNORING that wonderful, wild welcome, and that really hurts. It seems like we’re being really hard on I’m-so-happy-I-really-missed-you Jack. It’s definitely being terribly hard on ourselves — denying us one of highlights of our day when we get showered with puppy-lovin’. But we must harden our hearts and IGNORE him unless Jack has ALL FOUR ON THE FLOOR.
It really helps if we make coming home a matter-of-fact occasion. When we get all excited and talk to Jack in a high-pitched, silly voice, that only fans the flames. I recommend saying “Hello” calmly and giving a pat or two, then going about our business until the first wildness has worn off. Then ask for a SIT and pet as long as Jack’s bottom stays on the ground. When it pops up, you should pop up and with eyes looking up and away, IGNORE again until he settles down.
The important thing is to NOT GIVE UP and finally pet Jack while he’s jumping. If you hold out for 10 minutes then give in, Jack has just learned that he needs to keep going for 10 minutes before he’ll get what he wants so he’ll be sure to keep going at least that long the next time! And remember IGNORING means NO looking, NO talking to, and NO touching. Jack will take any of the above, even “Get down! Off! Bad dog!” as the attention he craves. Just like breaking any bad habit, it will take weeks, maybe even months to convince Jack that the greeting ritual at home has changed for good. And, unfortunately, it will get worse before it gets better as Jack frantically tries harder and harder and spends longer and longer trying that jumping behavior that got him so much attention in the past.
I’m not saying we should deprive Jack (and ourselves) of puppy-loving sessions. I’m just saying that when we first come in the door is not the best time! I’ve said it before — dogs are very practical creatures. They take what they can get and are happy for it. Jack will be delighted for the usual hugs and kisses even if you postpone them a half hour or so after returning home.