Get Down!

By Valerie Barry, KPA-CTP

In Partnership With Dogs

What happy, polite greetings!

Ups and Downs!

I sometimes wonder why our dogs don’t just pack up their little bags and head off into the sunset leaving all of us humans behind.  We are so confusing to live with!

One of the things that most people really hate is a dog jumping up on them. For dogs, I think this must be one of their most confusing interactions with us.  

What exactly do we want??  The only consistent thing I see about how people handle this behaviour is that they are consistently unclear!

If you and your dog stop to chat with someone and then your dog jumps up on that person, how do you handle it?  Are you a . . .

1. Reactive Screamer: Yell at your dog to “Get Off!”

2. Military Commander: Sternly cue your dog to get “Down!”

3. Apologetic Yanker: Yank your dog back by the leash/collar/harness apologizing profusely (“Oh my gosh, he never does that!” Hmmm – really?)

4. Late Trainer: Frantically cue your dog to “Sit, Sit, Sit, Sit, NO! Sit, Sit, Sit, SIT!”

5. Friendly By-Stander: Cheerily carol out the ever popular “It’s OK – he’s friendly!”

6. Blame Passer: Complain with annoyance “Oh you have treats in your pocket!” (My fault your dog jumped on me – SO sorry.)

Chances are you do at least one of those things – because I’ve been jumped on by a lot of dogs and I’ve seen and heard it all!Beautiful greeting. Good thing because she has just rolled in goose poo!

Why do dogs jump up in the first place?  That’s always the first question I’m asked.  The answer: who knows?  We will never know why that particular dog chose that particular person and that particular time to jump up.  Luckily we can make some educated guesses and come up with a training plan to solve the problem.

1. Fearful or anxious dogs.

I do think that there are some dogs who jump up on people as a way to deflect or ward off unwanted attention.  I’ve met some dogs who give every appearance of being uncomfortable around people, clearly dislike being touched and handled by strangers and yet will jump up on them at any opportunity.  Actually, I think it’s a particularly clever tactic, as it does tend to get people to back (or stumble) away from you.  It’s a much more peaceful gesture than barking and lunging and yet accomplishes the same thing for the dog – distance. 

2. Youthful Reinforcement.

Most dogs get a lot of reinforcement during early puppyhood for jumping up on people, and I think this is where it starts for a lot of them.  Everybody loves a puppy!  There aren’t many people who mind soft little puppy paws landing on their shins as they ruffle baby-soft fur and exchange adoring gazes.  You can tell everyone you meet to “please ignore my puppy until he sits” and not a single person will comply – trust me, I know! The reinforcement puppy gets from happy, high-pitched voices exclaiming over his cuteness isn’t matched by many things at that age – unless of course he’s a fearful puppy (see paragraph above).

3. It just feels good.

I think that friendly dogs just like to jump up on us – to engage us, get some attention from us, get closer to us – who knows why, but they just like to do it.  And because they like to do it, they’re going to continue to do it unless someone gives them a better alternative.

Dogs don’t speak English – really, they don’t.IMG_2367

Once puppyhood has passed or at least once puppy more closely resembles a full-grown adult dog, there is no longer any appreciation for exuberant, jumping-up types of greetings.  At this point, many owners immediately revert to their native tongue and expect dogs to clearly understand that “Get Down” means to take their paws off that person’s pant legs and put them back on the ground.  Many people seem to think dogs should just “get” this without any training.

Have you actually tried to do some training with your dog? 

If you have, this is where things start to get even more confusing . . .

What word have you taught and are you using it consistently?

Many of us teach our dogs to lie down using the cue “Down”.  And, yet, the most common thing that pops out of many human mouths when a dog jump up is “Down”!  Unless you’ve spent a lot of time “proofing” your Down cue, I doubt they’re going to sink into a down right at this moment – and I’m guessing that’s not what you were meaning anyway – right?    

I had a friend who insisted that she used “Lie Down” for her Down cue and when she said “Down!” she meant for her dog to get down from the human they were jumping on.  Again – unless you’ve worked very hard on training this AND are really consistent with the use of both things, that’s a tough one for any dog.  Frankly, most dog owners aren’t that dedicated to everyday training to accomplish this level of precision – that requires hundreds of hours of practice.

What do you actually mean and what are you actually asking?

Let’s say that instead of polluting your Down cue, you choose to use “Off” instead.  Makes sense, right?  “Get Off” is a common turn of phrase so our dogs should understand that easily.  Well, see above…“Dogs don’t speak English”…!  

Even more confusing than what cue is most appropriate to train and use, is what you actually want your dog to do in the first place.  Do you want your dog to get down after he jumps up OR do you want your dog to stop jumping up on humans in the first place?  I would imagine that everyone really wants no jumping in the first place – but they really haven’t thought through that question.  If you don’t want the jumping at all, why not train your dog to something other than jump up instead of spending all that time trying to “train” “Get Off”?!  See – it’s confusing even for us to understand – imagine how our dogs feel!

Are you creating a behaviour chain?

Even if you’re very successful with your training – your dog understands “Off” and is happily getting down off the humans he jumps on when you give your cue – what are you really training?  

Would it surprise you to know that you’ve actually just very successfully taught your dog TO jump on humans!  

What you’ve unknowingly done is create a Behaviour Chain.  In order for your dog to get the “Good Boy” and/or Treat that follows the “Off” cue, your dog must first jump on the human.  If he wants the “Good Boy” / Treat / or simply the happier vibes he gets from all surrounding humans, this is the chain that you are building:  Jump Up, Get Off, Get Reinforced.  For some particularly “friendly” dogs this chain evolves to: Launch at High Speed, Jump Up (On), “Get Off!”, Get Reinforced.  The “Get Off” is what your dog thinks is causing the reinforcement and in order to get that, he must first do the initial step(s).FullSizeRender

Training, training, training!

Here are 2 phrases that set most trainer’s teeth on edge – kind of like biting into tinfoil with a metal filling:

  1. My dog “knows” what to do, he’s just (pick one): (a) ignoring me, (b) being stubborn, (c) mad at me, (d) being spiteful, etc.
  2. Dogs want to “please us”.  I guess what follows is that they will, therefore, eventually figure out what to do in their desire to make us happy.

Because we cannot interview our dogs with any degree of confidence, there is no evidence to show that dogs “just want to please”.  And, there is a lot of evidence to support that if a dog “knows what to do” (i.e. the training has been consistent, thorough and there is a history of appropriate reinforcement for the dog), he will just do it when he’s asked to. 

Not jumping up on people is actually one of the easiest things to teach your dog – in terms of skills and equipment involved.  There’s really not much to it – BUT – you have to put in the time to practice.  If your dog has already developed a habit of jumping up, you will have to work a little bit harder.

If you don’t want your dog to jump up on people at all, then that’s what you have to reinforce.  The training challenge here relies on 2 things that are not easy:

  1. Controlling people’s access to your dog; and
  2. Controlling your dog’s access to people.IMG_2240


Like any training, when you are trying to change behaviour, management is critical. You simply cannot allow people to get into your dog’s jumping range (or vice versa) without some plan to control the outcome (no jumping).  

Every un-managed incident of jumping up ultimately reinforces the behaviour of jumping up.  Science has taught us that once behaviour has been acquired, it is strengthened by a schedule of random reinforcement – think slot machines and how people continue to play despite rarely winning.

Management can be the hardest part of the training – it’s really hard to control people!  

  • Stop at a good distance from people – be well aware of the range of your dog’s leash. 
  • Ask people not to approach you too closely.  
  • Be prepared to just walk away if someone is not willing to comply with your request – your dog’s training depends on it.

It should go without saying that your dog must be on leash when outside with you and maybe even on leash (or confined) when guests come over to your house.  If there’s any chance that your dog is going to jump on someone, they simply cannot be free to do so if you ever hope to successfully “un-train” this behaviour.  This is really hard for people to do too!  

What about off leash activities?  Again, you need to be in a position to control the outcome if you want Jumping Up to disappear.  If your dog is off leash in an area where people are, he simply cannot be free until his training is really good and you are in control of his behaviour.  Recall training is important here – if he has a fantastic Recall, then Jumping Up can be potentially controlled on leash if he will come when called and you’re carefully watching the trail.  

The Training: 4-On-The-Floor.

As I said, the training is simple!

With your dog on leash and tons of fantastic treats on hand:

  • Click or Mark and treat your dog as people are approaching for keeping all 4 of his feet on the ground.
  • The Clicking and treating should be rapid fire.  Do this as fast as your dog can chew and you can Click.  We need to plug a ton of information in his brain as quickly as possible – “keeping your feet on the ground pays off in BIG ways!”
  • Tossing your treats on the ground closer to you than the oncoming human can help by keeping eye contact between dog and visitor to a minimum and keeping your dog closer to you as he collects his treat.
  • Stop well beyond the range of his leash and continue to Click “4-on-the-floor”.
  • Discourage people from coming closer, turn and leave or move off to the side of the trail if close contact appears likely.
  • Hundreds of repetitions of your dog practicing Not Jumping Up is required before your dog will naturally look to you for reinforcement rather look to the oncoming human as an opportunity to Jump Up.
  • It seems like everyone is an expert! Don’t get into a discussion with anyone you meet about better ways to do things – you have your training plan, stick to it! IMG_5500

Training an Alternate Behaviour.

The exercise above trains an alternate behaviour of Keeping Feet on the Ground vs. Jumping Up.

Some people prefer to have their dogs Sit when they meet people.  This is fine too – but I would still do the exercise noted above for a long time before I started asking for a Sit and then Clicking and treating the Sit.  Working on the exercise above will help get that initial excitement under some level of control so that a Sit is more likely to be successful.

Once your dog is used to the pattern of seeing a human and looking to you for reinforcement, it will be far easier to start adding in the Sit cue.  

In the meantime, make sure you practice your Sit cue all by itself in many, many different contexts so your dog gets really good at it.  When you start adding it in, it should then be very easy for your dog to Sit.

It’s OK to Walk Away.

By the way, if you have a fearful dog who jumps up, consider being content with him keeping 4 paws on the ground vs. asking for a Sit.  If your dog is worried about people, it may be hard for him to be “trapped” in a Sit cue – feeling unable to get up and leave if he needs to.  It’s not fair to expect a fearful dog to just Sit and potentially be handled by someone he finds scary.  Teaching that particular dog that he can just walk away is important.  In this case, follow the Click and treat for keeping his feet on the ground by a Recall back to you so he can learn the “walk away” behaviour.  If he is fearful, the relief he feels by walking away will be highly reinforcing.

The Family Dynamics

This could be an entire training article all by itself.  Our families aren’t always helpful when it comes to training (or un-training) our dogs!  If you have a dog who is super excited about people coming home (or even just coming out of the bathroom!) and you don’t live alone, then I’m guessing your dog is practicing all his people jumping, at home, on a regular basis.

If you let all this jumping continue at home, no matter how much training you do outside your home will ultimately be compromised as your dog struggles to understand the difference between greeting strangers and greeting family.  

The good news is that your family is pretty much a group of “captive” training partners – they can help you!  Practice the “4-on-the-floor” exercise with your dog on leash and your family coming and going from the house.  If you can spend 10 minutes each day training by having someone come in and out of the door repetitively – you can accomplish a lot in a short time.  Ask family members to send you a text or a quick call when they are about to arrive at home so you can get organized and begin training as soon as they walk through the door.

Ensure that your dog is confined if you’re not able to train during home arrival times so you’re not, once again, compromising your training.

If you have anyone in the family who just will not or cannot help you with the training, you can still make progress as long as you can manage interactions as much as possible to avoid jumping up.

If you happen to have someone in the family who just loves having the dog jump all over them, there’s a solution for that too!  Ask that family member to, at the very least, throw out a cue – like “Jump Up Fido!” – before your dog launches himself at that one person.  If they can’t manage to throw out a cue just before the “attack”, then ask that they ignore Fido until he jumps down, then cue the Jump Up.  It’s not perfect but it’s likely to be more helpful than just letting it continue on your dog’s agenda.FullSizeRender3

Side Note:  On the topic of dogs understanding or not understanding English:  while dogs do give every appearance of understanding a lot of what we say, they do not understand our spoken (or written) language.  What they do is master our tone and body language and make really good guesses at our intent a lot of the time.  This is a pretty impressive skill, actually, and comes with being our companions for thousands of years.  Plus, with good positive training, you can teach your dog to associate words like Sit for example with the act you mean it to be – put your butt on the ground.  The word could be “Sit” or it could be “blabbityboo” – the key is making that association with consistent, positive training.  

So – are you really to get started with a different plan?!  Remember to keep it positive!