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Training Blog

April 12, 2022

Feed What You Want to See Grow, Starve What You Want to See Fade

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Written by: Bob Guere

Donna C. Kentoffio writes,

What’s the best way to stop my small dog from jumping? And Amy Pitigliano writes, My dogs don’t see many visitors, and they jump and get very excited when they do. What is the proper way to introduce a visitor to them? 

As they say, “what you feed will grow”. What this means with regard to our dogs’ behavior is that we should reward behavior we like, and be careful not to reward behavior we don’t like. Chances are if your dog jumps on you and/or other people, you have been reinforcing his unwanted behavior without meaning to; without even knowing you’re doing it.

Sometimes you might yell and say NO! DOWN! OFF! Or — if you don’t make a loud verbal fuss – you may shove him off when he rears up. These are totally normal and instinctual reactions to a dog jumping on you. However, any of this behavior on your part unintentionally rewards your dog simply because it engageshim. To our dogs, any attention, positive or negative, feeds the behavior to which we are reacting. And whatever undesirable behavior we react to will become more obnoxious and unmanageable over time.

Think about it in terms of this analogy:

Your little sister is antagonizing you, calling you names and pulling your hair. Your instinctual reaction is to retaliate. Well, even though you may be returning her annoying behavior with jabs of your own, you are still engaging her, and this is what she wants. Now, imagine you completely ignore her the next several times she tries to get a rise out of you. After two or three efforts on her part that get her nothing at all, the activity will be no fun anymore, and she’ll try other ways of getting your attention.

If your dog is athletic, redirect his inappropriate “jumping energy” by throwing him a ball or frisbee to go after!

To take it a step beyond the “negative reinforcement” of ignoring bad behavior, also practice rewarding good behavior! In other words, say your bratty little sister is sitting nicely on the couch, not bothering you, letting you watch your favorite show. Throw her a compliment, or a piece of chocolate. Over time, you can “shape” her behavior to suit your needs and desires. Haha, I’m kind of kidding.But I’m serious about this when it comes to your dog!

So, next time your dog jumps on you:

Rather than look him in the eye, push him away or scold him, instead, trycompletely ignoring him. If you are on the move, keep walking, looking straight ahead without so much as a glance thrown your dog’s way. If you are sitting, stand up without a word or a look, and simply walk away. If you are engaged with your dog in appropriate play, but then he jumps, immediately remove your attention, turn and leave the area. If you are consistent about this, over time the behavior will be extinguished because your dog will learn that jumping gets himnothing except the removal of your attention. This is the exact opposite of what he wants.

If ignoring isn’t enough and your dog persists, you can quickly (and again without eye contact, touch, or verbal reprimand) stick a knee out in front of you to “bump” him. This is not to hurt him, only to be a physical deflection when it is necessary. You can also turn your body to one side and deflect with a bump of your hip.

A way of practicing this as part of a focused training exercise — in other words not waiting for it to happen in a moment of excitement — is as follows:

Get your dog really excited, pat your chest, entice him by saying Come on, boy, come on, JUMP!, and “invite” the dog to jump on you. When he does, give him a slight physical correction, like a flick on the nose (or the knee, as I mentioned before). Again, this is not meant to be painful, but irritating enough to make jumping on you an unpleasant experience rather than a fulfilling one. Some dogs are so (physically and/or emotionally) sensitive, all it will take is to do this exercise once or twice, and your dog will quickly learn that jumping on you is no fun. For this exercise, you should have treats on you (in a pocket, or somewhere out of the dog’s sight), so that you can reward desirable behavior as much as negatively reinforce jumping. After a few times of giving a slight physical correction (without any talking or eye contact), you’ll see your dog start to back away from you when you give her the “cue” to jump, rather than come toward you.As soon as this happens, give tons and tons of praise and treats! Again and as always, consistency is key!

With regard to properly introducing visitors…

Practice this same technique with a friend helping you. Have the friend stand outside the house and ring the doorbell or knock on the door. If your dog jumps on your friend once you’ve opened the door, have your friend correct the wrong behavior and/or reward the right one! As a side note, your dog shouldn’t even get far enough into a visitor’s personal space to have the opportunity to jump. But that is a whole different exercise, (which Lisa covered this week in her post addressing dogs that flip out when the doorbell rings).

I hope this helps! Thanks so much for the questions, and please feel free to message us and let us know how things are going!

- Liz


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