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.

 

We’re Repeating Puppy Kindergarten!

 

Golden puppy Orly plays with her pals a tan boxer and a wirehaired pointing griffon
Puppy kindergarten includes lots of playtime

I recently enrolled Orly in a second round of puppy kindergarten classes at our local — excellent — dog training center, Sit Happens.

Aside from her somewhat distracting obsession with the puppy in the mirror, Orly is doing well in her classes. She’s repeating not because she’s a poor student but because she’s still such a puppy!

She’s not able to focus for a full hour of class yet, but she benefits from the training. Puppy kindergarten includes lots of playtime and the teaching is broken up into small chunks, with rest breaks (or play-with-the-puppy-in-the-mirror breaks) so the puppies’ brains can process what they are learning.

Many of her buddies from the weekly puppy playtime also attend kindergarten. She gets to play with them before class, which tires her out just enough that she can focus on the training.

The trainers rotate through several topics that puppies need to learn, like paying attention to their humans even when they are in a room full of other puppies and people; walking nicely on a leash; settling down when they are excited; exploring and trying out new things like walking on weird surfaces or stepping on something that wobbles; and not taking treats or other food they find on the floor.

When Orly gets a little more grown up, she will probably take a more conventional puppy / dog manners class where the hour-long sessions include more training and less playing. She’d like to earn her Canine Good Citizen certification — I’d like her to learn some impulse control and improve her manners.

Meanwhile, though, she’s pretty happy being a puppy in kindergarten!

Puppy Potty Problems

Tiny Cali grew up to be a master people-trainer

A couple of people have asked me recently about issues housebreaking puppies.

Teaching puppies to potty outside is deceptively easy — and unbelievably challenging.

It’s easy because they want to be clean and have strong instincts to keep their home, especially their sleeping area, clean and because they develop associations and habits relatively quickly.

And challenging because it requires constant vigilance and consistent, immediate responses. We humans tend to be terrible at both of those things.

It’s easy …

Here’s the easy part. Figure out where you want your dog to “go” and think about a reasonable daily routine. Recognize that if you are dealing with a puppy, you will need to go out far more often than when you have a housebroken adult dog. Even adolescent puppies can hold on for more reasonable periods. But young puppies, up to 4 or 5 months, need to go often.

Puppies generally need the chance to pee when they wake up in the morning or after a nap, when they have been playing, and pretty soon after eating and drinking.

… And challenging

And here’s where we tend to mess up. Soon is immediate, especially for little puppies. When the puppy wakes up from deep sleep, soon = instantly. After a shorter nap or play session, you might have a couple of minutes. While we dink around getting our shoes and our jacket and hunting for the flashlight, we’re likely to find that we need to pivot to cleanup mode.

So tip #1: If you have a little puppy, get slip-on shoes and keep them with your flashlight, leash, jacket, whatever right by the door. When the puppy wakes or stops playing, grab her and run out.

The other way we mess up is thinking about the pup in too-human terms. When we wake up, for example, we need to go … but it’s not so immediate. So we don’t rush. Or we expect the dog to give some kind of very clear, obvious signal of her distress.

The puppy is probably trying very hard to communicate with you, but you’re missing it. It might be a particular look, or walking to the door (if you are very lucky!), or a tiny little whimper or whine. It can be very subtle. The problem is, if you miss it enough times, the dog might stop trying.

Tip #2: Pay very close attention to your puppy the first few days you are together and learn how she communicates with you. Respond immediately; by meeting her needs and learning to understand her, you will start building deep trust and understanding.

The other way we think as humans and not as dogs is, when we take our pups out, we launch straight into fun. We play with them or head out on a walk filled with amazing smells. The pup might pee before or during or might not. She might get distracted by the fun. Chances are, though, she’ll need to go again after. By which time we’ve come inside, removed our shoes and jacket … only to turn around and find that we now need to clean the floor.

Tip #3: Commence playing only after the pup has peed. Then play your hearts out. Then give the pup a few minutes to pee again before going in. I don’t know where they store it, but puppies never seem to truly empty the tank.

Tip #4: A great idea is coming up with a verbal cue — time to go, or get busy, or go potty. It doesn’t matter what cue you use, as long as you use the same one all the time. Say those words as soon as you go outside, and then wait. Don’t interact with the puppy at all. If you need, to, say the cue again.

When the pup goes, throw a party — praise, maybe a treat, whatever. Mark the occasion. Then play or walk (another reward). Use the cue again before going in.

In time (surprisingly little time, actually), the dog will associate the cue with doing her business and might often actually just go when you ask her to. How cool is that?

A warning

So, if I’m so smart about all of this pee business, how did Cali train me to play ball with her before she goes?

Good question. I blame long, gorgeous Montana summer evenings. We’d go for the last walk in the evening and, I think to delay going in, she’d take forever to pee. And I never caught on, since I was also enjoying being outside. Once she got her very own yard, she would suggest ball games to delay having to go in. And again, I never caught on. She’s a very good people trainer. So a final tip: Pay attention to what your dog is doing and don’t get sucked into the same trap!

Let Your Dog Choose

 

Jana choosesIn “Communication Goes Two Ways,” I wrote about learning to read your dog’s body language, especially to recognize when she’s stressed or afraid. You can take your communication to the next level by teaching your dog new ways to communicate with you. Some ideas?

    • Hang a bell on the door your dog uses to go out in the yard for potty breaks. Encourage the dog to nudge the bell each time you let her out. She will soon connect the bell with getting you to open the door, and ring it when she needs to go out. A word of caution: Some smarty-pants dogs will use this system to train you, demanding to be let out every time you sit down or stop paying attention to them.
      One clever dog of Deni’s used this system to get rid of a pesky young puppy sibling. She’d ring the bell; puppy (and Deni) would come running; Deni would open the door; puppy would run out — and clever older dog would not. She’d stay inside to enjoy the calm, now puppyless, house.

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  • Offer your dog choices: Do you want to play with the tennis ball or the Frisbee? Which treat do you want? Do you want a walk or should I toss the ball? This can be as simple as offering two items for the dog to choose. But you can, with training, teach the dog to answer simple (two-option) questions. A student in my canine-human communication class taught her dog to choose between two options (sometimes yes and no) by nosing one hand or the other. A researcher in Florida taught dogs to choose a reward for a task they had completed by nosing a card with a picture of the desired reward — a ball, a food treat, a tug game, etc. She found that each dog had definite preferences!
  • Let your dog decide which direction you head on your afternoon walk. Jana and I have an informal agreement. The morning walk, which always includes Cali, is to the park where Cali plays ball. Afternoon walks, which are often just the two of us, are Jana’s choice. She likes to head toward the river and walk past her beloved dog training school, stopping along the way to visit her friend in the office on the corner (a very kind woman who always offers Jana a cookie).
  • Many people use hand signals to communicate with their dogs. These can substitute for (or work in tandem with) verbal cues — a raised hand for stay, for example, is widely used. Some trainers have made the leap to teaching dogs signals that they can use to communicate back to us, similar to the Baby Sign Language some parents use with pre-verbal babies. This takes more planning and teaching than some of the other ideas.

 

There are many more options, requiring various amounts of preparation and teaching, but you get the idea. Encouraging your dog to express her preferences and communicate her needs will increase her independence. It is empowering for her, and it shows that you respect her as an individual, which will enrich your relationship by making it a tiny bit more reciprocal.