Too Happy to See You? Grounded Greetings
Do you have a dog who’s so thrilled to see her people (even if you just went out to the mailbox), she celebrates reunions with way too much enthusiasm? Like most people, you may respond to jumping with No! Off! or Down! Or the one that leaves me (almost) speechless: No Jump!
Yes, she will definitely drop back to the floor. Gravity will do that. But wouldn’t you prefer to have no jumping in the first place? You just need to teach your dog what to do instead.
To “fix” that unwanted behavior, the lesson is: Keep your feet on the floor for greetings. It can be done in one weekend. This is a simple training process that will show you the magic of clicker training.
Start with a scenario similar to real life, minus the opening door that likely triggers your dog’s excitement. You’ll need about a dozen small, tasty treats and a clicker or a special word, like YES. A clicker works better than YES and is way more powerful than praise alone. The click tells the learner, You are doing the right thing in this moment, and a reward is coming.
Timing and consistency are necessary for clear communication. We click as the behavior is happening, then move the hand to deliver a treat. Not at the same time. For more information about the advantages and how-tos of using a clicker: https://clickertraining.com/whatis
Step 1. With your treats out of sight (in a treat bag or pocket), start with your back to an outside door and move towards your dog, who is in the same room. As you come closer to each other, click or say YES to mark the behavior of staying on the floor. Drop a treat on the floor. This helps to prevent the dog coming up to get the treat if you usually deliver it to her mouth.
Go back to the door and repeat this exercise about five times. If your dog stays grounded, she is getting it, so now we can make it a little harder.
Step 2. Open the door and step through, but leave the door open (unless you have a door dasher, which calls for a gate or tether). Repeat the above directions about five times. Is your dog staying grounded? Perfect! It’s a good time to end this session. You’re halfway there, and your dog has learned something that will be processed during the downtime between sessions.
Step 3. An hour or so later, start by repeating Step 2 a couple of times, to make sure the lesson was absorbed. Now go out and close the door. Come right back in, ready to immediately mark and treat the right behavior. When she finishes the first treat, drop a few more, one at a time. Show your dog that she’s making a very good choice to keep all four on the floor.
If you see your dog preparing to jump, out of habit, use your marker to capture the right behavior—keeping four on the floor—before she can make a mistake. Don’t warn, scold, or wait to see what she might do.
Step-by-step success is the best way to teach, not by correcting mistakes. Repeat about five times, with lots of calm praise. Be generous with treats at this stage to make this new behavior very rewarding.
Step 4. Now make it look like real life. This time, go out and come back in with your purse, shopping bag, briefcase, or anything else you normally carry when you come home from errands or work. Repeat several times.
Keep it Up. Have each person in the home go through this process. Practice at every door. Having a container of treats just outside will help you and your family to always be prepared to reinforce the right behavior for a few weeks, so that your dog doesn’t slip back into the old habit. Over time, you can reduce the treats, but keep up the praise and smiles. If a mistake happens, say nothing and just turn away. Or you could go out and come in again, to give her another chance to get it right.
Guests? Doing this training with household members will make it easier to train polite greetings with visitors. Because that will be harder for your dog, you do need to practice with a friend who will follow your instructions, so that any jumping isn’t inadvertently reinforced with attention. You will do the clicking and treating, not the friend.
In real life, until the new behavior is fully reliable, management prevents the problem behavior from resurfacing. Put your dog in another room or behind a gate, well away from the front door.
Exceptions? You can allow exceptions to the new rule if one family member, like my husband, actually wants to be greeted that way. But if you’re going to be inconsistent, the opt-out person should use a cue or signal that means it’s okay to jump. This could be clapping hands, or patting the legs or chest, depending on the height of the dog.
Uninvited jumping should be ignored by turning away silently. Removing attention (briefly) is an effective way to discourage attention-seeking behaviors like jumping.
Copyright Lisa Benshoff 2017