Why It’s Not OK When My Puppy Jumps on You

Orly and Cali, both golden retrievers, sit and wait for their dinner
Orly & Cali practice self-restraint, waiting quietly while I fix their dinner.

I’m working on teaching Orly good manners and self-restraint, difficult concepts for a 5-month-old, insanely friendly and curious puppy.

On walks, and (very frustratingly) at puppy playtimes, she’s eager to meet people, any people. She shares this trait with Cali. And, being an ill-mannered puppy, she expresses her enthusiasm in part by jumping on them.

Cali was never a huge jumper, and when she was little, I was working at a dog school where everyone enforced the no-attention-if-you’re-jumping rule. So teaching this to her was fairly easy.

Orly is not Cali.

Orly loves jumping on people. And, while most of the people we encounter on walks and who ask to pet the puppy are polite and wait, as asked, until Orly sits, there are always exceptions. Same at puppy class: Most of the people ask her to sit or ignore her when she jumps.

Most.

There are always the ones who cheerfully assure me that “it’s OK,” or they “don’t mind.” As they pet her, tell her how cute and good she is, all while she’s jumping on them.

I want to growl at them, “It’s not about you.”

Instead, I muster my most patient, polite self and say, “I’m trying really hard to teach her not to jump. When she gets attention for jumping, that teaches her that jumping is allowed.”

That’s a basic summary. Here’s more of an explanation.

Puppies learn patterns. They also love being petted and praised and given treats. When they see a pattern of do y action; get rewarded with food, pets, and affection, they will keep repeating y action. That’s as true if y is jumping on a person as it is if y is sitting politely.

I want y to be sitting politely.

What Orly learns each time someone pets her when she jumps is that y can be either.

And, because she’s a 5-month-old puppy with poor impulse control and because she’s out of her mind with excitement over the prospect of meeting a new person, jumping is very likely to happen. Sitting quietly takes some thought — unless and until sitting quietly becomes deeply fixed in her mind as the one and only way to get to meet new people. (That’s what dog trainers call a “default behavior,” the behavior that the dog does by default, without having to think about it.)

Why do I care so much about this?

Well, the people who “don’t mind” that she jumps tend to be young or young-ish, able-bodied adults. Puppy Orly is unlikely to knock them over or injure them. And they’re out for a walk or at a puppy class, probably not wearing their best clothes.

Once she’s learned from you that it’s OK to meet people by jumping, though, she’s going to use that approach with anyone she feels like meeting, and that’s a problem.

What if they are 3 or 5 or 85 years old? Or unsteady on their feet? Or afraid of dogs? Or wearing nice clothes because they’re going to an important meeting or a nice dinner? What if, once she learns it’s OK, she keeps doing it in a few weeks or months when she reaches her full size and 55-65-pound weight?

Orly could hurt someone by knocking them over or scratching them. She could cause damage. Or she could simply frighten or bother someone who, whether they like dogs or hate them, doesn’t want to be jumped on.

So, to all of you well-intentioned, dog-loving people who “don’t mind” when  my puppy jumps on you, it’s not about you or about this one time. It’s about not building the pattern — the pattern where she understands that it’s fine to jump on people.

It’s about not undermining my efforts — and other puppy owners’ similar efforts — to raise our puppies to be dogs who are a pleasure to live with, to walk, and to introduce to people. People just like you who want to meet every puppy they see — without getting mauled. Please help us by waiting until the puppy sits to pet the puppy.