Jump for Joy

29th May, 2017

Please help! I really love my rescue dog, Roger, an Africanis-mix. As an adopted adult dog, he has settled down wonderfully and I can’t fault him on anything. Our challenge, however, is that when I come home from work, he is so excited that he jumps up – and doesn’t stop.

He also does it to my parents and our friends when they arrive.

What can I do to stop him from doing this?

Mandy McIver – Wellington


Claire Atkinson M.A. (Cantab.) – Qualified Dog Behaviourist and Certified Tellington TTouch Practitioner – addresses this dog behaviour and what you can do about it…

You come home at the end of the day tired, hot and loaded with shopping bags. Roger, on the other hand, has slept most of the day and anticipates your arrival with great excitement. You open the door and he jumps up all over you, sniffs the bags, continuing to jump. “You’re home! So happy to see you!” might be seen as his motivation.

He does the same when other members of the family arrive, guests, kids, etc.

“No”, “Stop that” or pushing him away have no effect. It’s his party and he will jump if he wants to.

Let’s take a look at the science of this behaviour. Excitement in a dog is caused by any number of “triggers”: a squirrel, a homecoming, a leash and shoes for going out. And when a dog is really excited, it flips a switch in the nervous system, similar to that which happens in the “fight/flight/freeze” situation. In this state, your dog is unlikely to listen to anything you ask him to do. And, for Roger, this happens when you come home. The triggers could be the sound of your car, the key in the door; it could even be your happy, excited voice. Because you are happy to see him too.

Firstly, have a think about what you do when leaving home and returning. If you make a fuss about it, the dog is getting your attention, even if the fuss is negative. So we take it all pretty much as something usual – no fuss there. If you are calm, your dog will tend towards being calm.

Correcting his behaviour has two component parts – negative punishment (taking something away) and counter-conditioning with positive reinforcement – treats or toys fall from the sky. The principle here is that a behaviour that is ignored will eventually be extinguished, while building up the preferred behaviour (“sit” or “settle”) is reinforced by adding something the dog wants (i.e. treats).

Here’s how to work the plan.

  1. Check your own response to his behaviour. Are you calm? Or do you give him lots of fuss?
  2. Start to ignore the unwanted behaviour. You open the door, he jumps.

    You stand absolutely still, sideways on, neither making eye contact nor using your voice. Bear in mind that ‘no’ ‘stop it’ or pushing him away has not worked. By ignoring him, you are removing what he wants, which is your attention. In this way, you start to extinguish the behaviour.
  3. But Roger does not learn from this what you would like him to do instead.

    So you start at home, requesting a “sit” in various places. He should be looking at you, focused, before you cue. If nothing happens, walk away and try again later. (This is for dogs that have not been trained to sit.

    Once you have taught the “sit”, work around the doors other than the door through which you usually return home. When he sits to command, his behaviour is “marked” (“yes” or a clicker if you use one) and rewarded as fast as possible with a treat. Then move on to the door where he jumps, and start working the same pattern here. Add a friend or another family member to be the visitor while you focus on his behaviour.

    Take as long as he needs to achieve this “preferred behavior” and be very generous with the reinforcing treats. If he makes a mistake, back-chain the work to where it was working before, and start from there again.

    As Roger might think: “When I sit quietly, treats rain from the sky. I can sit for joy, yes, I can.”