12 top tips to stop your dog jumping up

Updated: Mar 14, 2021

Written by Naomi White

Owning a dog who jumps up at people can be one of the most embarrassing and frustrating challenges in dog ownership. It’s such a common behaviour, but it can seem impossible to change.

Sometimes it feels like you’ve tried everything, maybe you’ve started out by gently saying ‘get down’ or ‘off’ but unfortunately dogs don’t understand English so these words

rarely make a difference. Then we tend to get a little firmer, maybe pushing the dog away, shouting more words at him or even attempting the old classic ‘knee him in the chest’. You may have resorted to other interventions like a spray of water, a pet corrector or a rattle bottle. But did any of these work? Probably not. At least, not long-term.

Often what we consider to be a telling off or a punishment for jumping, is merely another reinforcer to our dogs. When you’re saying ‘no, get down, get off, OFF!!’ and pushing him away, he is most likely going to think ‘this works great to get your attention’. What we perceive to be telling our dog off, is actually doing the opposite. There is also a risk that by choosing more aversive methods you do little to stop jumping up but instead change how your dog feels in certain situations. For example, if you spray a pet corrector at him every time he goes to jump up at a guest at the front door, soon he may start associating the doorbell and guests with an unpleasant experience. You haven’t changed the jumping up, you have simply changed how he feels about guests entering the house.

In one case I had, a lovely friendly Terrier had been ‘corrected’ for jumping at guests with a spray of pet corrector, designed to ‘interrupt and discourage unwanted behaviour’. While it did work to stop his jumping, it also made him fearful of guests entering or leaving the house and inadvertently triggered a new response to chase and bite people who entered or left the house. He was terrified of people walking through the front door.

When choosing a training method, you must consider the overall impact, especially when using anything which is designed to shock, startle, or cause discomfort. It can be easy to think something has worked because one unwanted behaviour has stopped. But did you think about the overall impact on the dog?

If you were to use an electric shock fence system, it is likely to stop the dog crossing the boundary of the fence, so you could say it had been highly successful, but if you look at the bigger picture, you may now have a dog who is scared to go outside, or who cowers away from certain areas where he has previously been shocked. Is that really a success?

Punishment has long lasting consequences and not always the ones you wanted or expected.

Where we often fail to effectively deal with jumping up, and other nuisance behaviours (like chewing or mouthing) is that we don’t appreciate the big picture of reinforcement and punishment AND we don’t put enough MANAGEMENT in place. Every time a behaviour is practiced, it will be reinforced further, making it harder to change.

When a dog learns a behaviour, a neural pathway is developed in the brain. The neural pathway is like a footpath, the more the dog practices the behaviour, the more worn it becomes and eventually the dog can perform the behaviour on autopilot, much like when you learn to drive a car. When you teach a new behaviour, new neural pathways are developed in the brain but initially these pathways are harder for the dog to choose to go down. He will naturally perform the most practiced behaviour with the well-established pathway.

When working on an unwanted behaviour, think: ‘if I don’t like this behaviour, what would I rather he did instead?’. If you don’t like your dog jumping up, would you rather he sits, lies down, stands still or simply keeps his feet on the floor? When you have a more desirable behaviour in mind then you can work on management and reinforcement to develop a new pathway of behaviour.  

When management is put in place, it pr