Ask Crystal: Jumpy Puppy

black and white puppy sits on the floor

Welcome to “Ask Crystal,” where you can ask your pet behavior questions! You can submit your question for Crystal at the bottom of the page!

Dear Crystal,

My 4 month old Labrador puppy keeps jumping on people as they walk by and wants to play. I want this to stop. When I say off she gets down but always does it again.


Jumpy Puppy

Dear Jumpy,

Jumping is the most common problem that owners report. Labs are in general a very friendly and social breed. They also take longer to mature and are quite playful. It is great that you are trying to work on this now before she becomes a large dog. There are a few reasons why dogs jumps up. In the wild, a puppy might jump up on its mother to stimulate regurgitation. It can be a submissive greeting for a puppy to jump up and lick your face. It can also be a way to initiate play. Puppies are especially prone to jumping up because they are just so excited about life and meeting new people. They also have no self-control in the same way a human baby has no self-control. It doesn’t help that the majority of people don’t mind a puppy jumping on them so they will pet the puppy when it jumps on them, thereby reinforcing the behavior. Attention to a dog is being looked at, talked to or touched. Even if our intentions are meant to be negative, the dog is still being reinforced from that interaction. Even if you say, “off”, that is attention to her and she likely doesn’t understand the meaning of the word. When we are working on behavior problems, there are two components which are training and management which we need to consider.

The first thing to work on is managing her behavior. The more she is allowed to perform the behavior, the more ingrained the behavior will become. If you are out on a walk and someone is approaching, if there is room you can step off to the side so she can’t reach the people. If there is no room to step off, you can step on the leash so that she is unable to jump up. You could hold her collar with your palm facing downward to keep her from jumping up. If the behavior continues when she is a larger dog, you may want to use a head halter or body harness to get have better control over her physically. I would assume that if she is jumping up on people walking by, she is also jumping in other situations. If she is jumping up when people come into your house, I would suggest that you have her confined in some way. You may want to keep her behind a baby gate to let her calm down for a few minutes before attempting to allow her to greet visitors. You could put her in a crate or in a room with the door closed. When you do bring her out, have her on a leash so that you can employ your management techniques like stepping on the leash. I love to have guests scatter treats on the ground as soon as they approach the dog or you can do this yourself. This keeps the dog down and teaches them to look down when they meet new people. Or if she likes toys, toss a toy right before they approach her so she has a toy to carry around and show off instead.

Tan dog stands will all four feet on the floorIt is much easier to teach your dog to do something rather than to teach them not to do something. We are going to focus on incompatible behaviors with jumping. These are behaviors that the dog cannot do at the same time as the jumping behavior. It is important to pay attention and reinforce when your dog is offering better behaviors. Any training should first be done at home with family members so that the dog will be less distracted. It is too much to ask the dog to be able to learn new things in the presence of strangers and in new locations or even outside. The most basic behavior you could start with is what we call four on the floor. This means exactly what it sounds like. If the dog has all four feet on the floor, they can’t also be jumping up. If your dog jumps up on you, turn away and wait for that moment that the feet hit the floor. The second the feet are on the floor, say “yes” toss the dog a treat on the ground. Sit is always a great default behavior to teach a dog for a variety of situations. If your dog knows sit you can teach a sit for greeting behavior. A person approaching becomes a cue to sit down. Start by training with yourself and family members. Have the dog on a leash and attach the leash to a piece of furniture. Approach the dog, if they look like they are about to jump, turn and walk away. If the dog keeps all four on the floor, approach and wait for that sit. When they sit, give a treat and walk away and repeat. Practice enough so that the dog quickly sits every time you approach. Once the dog is getting really good at that game, you can have guests practice with the dog in the home and then outside. As you practice the training, hopefully your dog will begin to calm down more and you can start working on practicing with people on walks. If someone looks like they are walking over to say hello, hold up your hand and ask if they would help you train your dog. If they want to help, give them a treat and ask them to wait until the dog sits to feed the treat. You may ask the people to drop a treat on the ground as they approach the dog so the dog looks down as new people approach. Target is a really great cue to teach for dogs that jump. If you teach the dog to touch his nose to your forefinger and index finger, you can ask people approaching to hold their fingers out down low so the dog will go low to touch the person’s fingers.

It will take time for her behavior to change but it is important that everyone is consistent with her. If you have friends that say, “Oh, I don’t mind.” I would suggest you let them know that you are trying to teach them not to jump up on kids and elderly people. That usually gets to most people. The majority of people don’t want Timmy or Grandma knocked down. The plan is to keep her from practicing the behavior in situations where she cannot yet control herself and teach her alternative behaviors that are more appropriate. I am sure with time, her behavior will improve with these techniques.

Until next time,


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