Why Dogs Jump Up on People (and How to Get Them to Stop)
When a puppy jumps against your legs in excitement, it's cute. But it's a lot less cute when that puppy grows into a 50-pound pup and doesn't stop this behavior. Jumping dogs can knock people over, soil their clothes, or scratch their legs. So if your pooch has a problem keeping all four paws on the floor, here are some expert tips on how to stop a dog from jumping up.
Why Do Dogs Jump Up on People?
Simply put, dogs jump because they want attention. It's an effort to get people to engage with them or to do something for them, says Lisa Radosta, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist at Florida Veterinary Behavior Service and host for Vet Scoop. The dog may be seeking help because he's feeling scared or anxious, or he might be excited, happy, or bored and want to play with you.
"People aren't generally good at reading dog body language," Radosta says. "A dog's early signals often go unnoticed. So he turns to jumping up, and it works. It gets a response. The dog then realizes that jumping is the best way to get attention from people."
How to Stop a Dog From Jumping Up
There are multiple ways you can get your dog to stop jumping on you, guests, or strangers. From quick fixes to extensive training, here's how you can teach your pup to be more polite.
1. Understand Why Your Dog Is Jumping
The first step is to determine why your dog is seeking attention. Is he stressed and looking for your help? Or does he want some affection or playtime? The underlying cause can help determine the best strategy to eliminate the jumping behavior.
If your dog is happy and excited to see strangers, his body will be wiggly like a noodle. His whole butt will be wagging back and forth, too. A dog that's anxious will also have a wagging tail—however, says Radosta, it'll be held below his back with just the tip moving.
A nervous pup will also give off conflicting signals. He'll approach you but then back away when you reach for him. In this case, the dog may jump up, but then tuck his tail between his legs when you respond with attention.
The behavior of anxious dogs is like, "I want to interact with you, but oh my goodness, you're really scary. I had no idea you were so scary. I don't know what to do," Radosta explains.
2. Remove Him From the Situation
It's best to remove a nervous dog from a situation that's making him fearful, but this is also an effective way to control jumping behavior in any canine. When guests arrive at your home, simply move your dog to another room with a baby gate, put your pup in a crate, or let him into the backyard.
3. Throw Some Goodies
If you'd rather not sequester your pup, here's another easy strategy: Keep something that your dog likes by the door, Radosta says. For instance, have a jar of dog treats and ask visitors to throw a handful of them into your home as they enter. Your dog will run away from the door. While your furry pal is gobbling up the treats, have your guests come in and sit down. Your dog will see them there and, in effect, the excitement of the entrance is over.
If your dog loves to play fetch, you can do the same thing using balls or a favorite toy. Keep a bucket of balls right outside the front door. Ask visitors to grab two balls and throw one into your home. When your pooch brings the first ball back, the visitor throws the second ball.
"Over time, your dog will be conditioned to believe that people walking in the door immediately throw things away from the door," Radosta explains. "So instead of rushing the entrance, the dog now starts to hover and wait for the item to be thrown."
4. Don't Engage
If your people-loving pup is jumping because he wants scritches and play, don't give it to him. Let your guests know not to touch or talk to your dog if he's jumping. This teaches him that this in-your-face behavior isn't going to get him the love he's looking for. Instead, reward him with attention when he doesn't jump up.
5. Train Him to Sit
You can also train your dog to adopt an alternative behavior to get attention, such as sitting next to you. This kind of training is done in stages, Radosta says. "Think about the way teachers work with children. First the child learns how to identify numbers, then how to add them, then subtraction, and later division followed by algebra. A friendly dog that sits perfectly still when a person comes through the door is graduate-school work—it's a very high level of impulse control, and it takes a lot of effort to get there."
Radosta recommends getting the help of a positive reinforcement dog trainer to successfully teach your dog to not jump up. You can do one-on-one jump control training lessons, group classes, or online courses with a professional. But in general, these are the steps to train your dog not to jump up on people:
- Teach your dog to sit and stay while on a leash.
- Once he has that down, train your dog to sit and stay while your friend, partner, or child comes through the door or comes up to your pup. If he stays sitting, reward him with pets and treats.
- Next, have a stranger approach. Only let them give your dog love if he resists the urge to jump and remains sitting calmly.
6. Be Consistent
No matter what method you use—quick fixes or extensive training—consistently taking the same action is essential. This helps your dog learn fast, and (bonus!) when your pooch knows what to expect from you, it strengthens the bond between you. Through repeated behavior, you'll create a safer, calmer environment for people and your pooch.
A version of this article, written by Teoti Anderson, first appeared in Happy Paws Spring/Summer 2020.