Taming the Inner Kangeroo

Do you have a dog that jumps, leaps and mouths and nearly knocks your company flat in his exuberance to say hello ? This week I am minding a 14 wk old puppy at our house who has no clue that there are other options to leaping at people. Even a puppy this young can hurt you with sharp nails and teeth in her exuberance to be loved. In the first hour that I had her I knew that this would be my focus for the week, it’s a behavior that just has to go !

No one likes a dog that jumps on them, tears their clothing and mouths their hands. Even a very exuberant puppy can learn to inhibit his enthusiasm and sit instead of jump on people. The behavior most commonly used to replace jumping is “Sit” and for my purposes I usually require a built in stay as well. The stay helps maintain the sit so that the dog doesn’t just sit for a few seconds and then launch himself again as soon as he’s been rewarded.

Teaching Sit

Using a treat held in your fingers lure your dogs nose up and wait for his rear to hit the floor, click and treat. If he’s very bouncy and is standing on his hind legs alot, put a leash on him and put your foot on it. By stepping on the leash you will limit his options and though he will attempt to jump he won’t be successful at it. It will also make it easier to go through his options and choose sit more quickly. By limiting his options with your foot on the leash you are teaching him which behavior pays off more quickly. If you don’t have your leash with you you can ignore the jumping but it will take him longer to figure out which behavior is paying off better.  Many dogs are self reinforced with jumping and will continue to jump for quite some time before they give it up.  A foot on the leash will shorten the time he takes to figure out that it’s the sit that pays.

Building in the “Stay”

Once your dog is starting to understand and offer “Sit” instead of jump you can begin to delay the click for a few seconds once he is sitting. By making him wait a few seconds at first and gradually longer before you click and treat you will be teaching him that sometimes he must freeze in position before he gets paid.  You should mix this up a bit, sometimes clicking and treating him very closely together for holding the sit and other times delaying the click and treat by a few more seconds so that he never knows how long he must hold the sit  in order to get you to pay him.  Remember dogs are gamblers at heart and if you layer this into your sessions it will make the game more interesting and easier for him to figure out.

Using “Sit “in real life

Dogs don’t generalize well and so though they may understand a behavior in one context they can’t always compare it to another context and be as good at performing the behavior. This means that though your dog may have mastered “Sit” to say hello around the house he may not be very good at it outside on walks, at the pet store or when new people come to the house. The way to work with this is to bring him new places and around new people so that he can learn that no matter who he is greeting and where he must perform the “Sit” quickly in order to get paid.  One way I help dogs learn this concept is through a process I call “teaching your dog to think”.  First I give the verbal cue “Sit”, then I wait 10 seconds with my foot on the leash for  him to figure out what I want. If there are a lot of distractions I might start a good distance away at first and then gradually move closer as he is able to perform the behavior quickly.  If he responds correctly in 10 seconds or less I click and reward him, if he doesn’t I use a hand gesture or a treat in my hand to lure him into position.  This “teaching a dog to think” lesson will help your dog learn to filter distractions and hone in on what’s important YOU !  You won’t beg or nag him to sit, you’ll say it once and wait. If he can’t do it because he’s too distracted you’ll give him 10 seconds to figure it out and then help him with a treat. Over time you will have to help less and less and he will learn what parts of his environment are important and which can be ignored.

Remember it’s a Work in Progress

Dogs that have been jumping and acting out of control won’t give up that behavior overnight. It’s been working for them for a long time and it ‘s going to take quite a bit of repetition to convince them that there is an alternate behavior that pays better.  Be patient, set your dog up for success by having your foot on the leash and making sure that he can’t reward himself for jumping more than you can reward him for sitting and soon you will see how brilliantly he replaces all that jumping with sitting calmly.

Well I’m off to train our guest puppy to sit so we can surprise her Mom when she comes to pick her up on Sunday !

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