Blogs on dogs

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

2009_07_30_0928 (2)Unfortunately, despite Mick Jagger’s opinion, it’s not alright, and Jumpin’ Jack Flash is not a gas, gas, gas. He’s a pain. He knocks people over, gets in the way, trips you up, muddies your jeans (or if he’s really big, your jumper!) or rips your tights. “Get down Shep!” isn’t only the bygone refrain of John Noakes – it is as yelled, shrieked and sighed as often now as it ever was in his Blue Peter heyday (I’m dating myself here, aren’t I?)

Dogs jump up, owners despair at ever training them not to and trainers give out dodgy advice on how to deal with it. Still, it’s better now than it was the good old days (you know, those long-gone rosie days, that I’m old enough to remember, when everything was better? J)

In the halcyon days of dog training the advice for when he jumps up was threefold:

  • Knee him in the chest hard enough to knock him over.
  • Grab his front paws in both hands and squeeze until he squeals.
  • Step on both back paws.

Or maybe all three at once! Come to think of it, on a less violent level that just about describes my best dance moves. Anyone for a waltz? No? Never mind; these days we are much more enlightened and train by “ignoring” the behaviour. This ranges from passive ignoring, where the owner is told just to carry on regardless, through active ignoring where the owner is told to selectively remove their attention by turning their back on Jack Flash, to putting him out of the room, or in a crate for five minutes.

The more astute will recognise this as negative punishment – removing a potential reward (attention) conditional on the unwanted behaviour (jumping). And it should work, because punishment does work, doesn’t it? The positive trainers go a step further (no punishment here!) by teaching the dog to sit, out of context, then giving the command (request? plea?) before Jack jumps. Catch him before the jumping starts and give him a treat for sitting instead. Cool.

Why does none of it work all the time for every dog then? Why are some dogs still jumping up, long after they should have stopped? Now I don’t mean little puppies, although that’s when it starts, I mean the hulking great big brutes of one, two, three years old or more. Puppy methods work fine for most puppies – get down with the kids and reward them for appropriate behaviour. Guide into the right behaviour and reward. Fine. But for the big boys and girls? If it had been going to work it would have done by now, don’t you think? So what are we doing wrong?

We’re failing to understand why they jump.

Dogs persist in jumping for two main reasons, and in both they are aiming to lick at your face: the first is in greeting and the second is in threat reduction. Licking at the mouth of an adult is a canine puppy behaviour that originally stimulated the regurgitation of food – a portable puppy ready-meal – but before you go, “eugh!” and pull that face (whoops, too late!) it also serves as a threat-reduction behaviour. You might know these as “appeasement”, “submissive” or “deference” behaviours, but the gist of the action has the meaning of, “I’m just a puppy and no threat to you, so please don’t hurt me”.

Dogs persist in jumping up long after they should have stopped because they are insecure. I know it doesn’t seem like it, does it? Great lump of a thing that he is, lowping all over you (from the verb “to lowp” meaning to clumsily leap on or over like a wolf, Northern dialect from the Latin Lupus). Now think about it. You come home and he wants to greet you, without getting into trouble. But he knows when he greets you, you shout at him. He doesn’t understand the meaning of “Get off you oaf!” but he does know that you are not happy with him. Not happy with his greeting? He surely must try some threat-reduction!

More jumping up must be required. You turn your back. He is punished for…? Greeting you! He knows he is greeting you. He knows he is trying to show you he doesn’t want any conflict. You are (negatively) punishing him for jumping up, but he thinks you are punishing him for greeting and appeasing. What can he do to show you he means no harm? Only by jumping up. Frustrated that jumping up isn’t working, he jumps up more… and more… Likewise, insecure dogs need to be greeted. A curt “sit” as you come in the door (followed by “Phew!” if it temporarily works) doesn’t cut it. They need a bit more than that – but they certainly don’t need a sausage.

So are we stymied? Fortunately not. Remember back to the “lack of understanding what is happening” bit? We don’t want to stop him greeting – we want him to feel secure in our presence, but we need to explain that we don’t want him to jump. In order to do that we need to teach him that he is jumping (not just greeting and appeasing as he thinks), so that he can decide not to.

Explanation is what is required, but we need to train the explanation until he understands.

Take one Jumping Jack Flash and a few treats, of course out of the context of greeting. Show him a treat and pat your leg, hip, chest or shoulders, depending upon his size and your size, to encourage him to jump up, saying the word, “Hup!” When he jumps up fondle the back of his head and tell him what a good boy he was. Then sing, “O-off” and take half a step backwards so that his front feet hit the floor. Reward that position with huge praise, cuddles and the treat. Take another treat and repeat the process. After you have done this five times he will hesitate to jump up when asked (it’s called “differential reinforcement of an alternative behaviour” but he doesn’t need to know that). Jumping up is less rewarding than all four feet on the floor.

Practice with another person and in different places (generalisation) and then take it up a level. Next time you come home, sing out, “O-off” and as he hesitates to jump up, pile on lots of praise. You are rewarding the very behaviour you want (not jumping) with the very thing he wants (non-confrontational greeting).

Think you are finished? Oh, no! Some pilchard is encouraging him to jump up, because he doesn’t mind (it’s always a bloke, isn’t it?) He’ll never learn now! Yes he will, because he knows the difference between “Hup” and “O-off”. Let the daft bloke tell him “Hup” and reward it with cuddles – all that is happening is that Jack is being rewarded for doing as he is asked.

But you can control how he greets total strangers – you sing out, “O-off just as he approaches them and his feet stay on the deck. And then they reward him with the very greeting he wanted.



6 replies on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”

Very interesting and makes sense…I know just the dog I can try this one on! Just one question, what about dogs that have separation issues? don’t you need to make you returning as uneventful as possible for them? Do you think that by using this method would have any effect on the separation anxiety?

Thanks for the comment Jo. Firstly I think you have to define “separation anxiety” because not all separation issues stem from the same cause. Where the cause is over-attachment to the owner some authors recommend lowering owner salience on returning. Reducing the possible conflict of the owner returning (dog loves the owner returning but is worried about being shouted at for “greeting”) by replacing jumping with “calmer feet on the floor” can only reduce anxiety. Regards,

Interesting ! I do a version of this, came about by trial and error really, as my dogs jumped a lot and I then found that if I used a command that they knew instead, like ‘close’ which encouraged them to turn their little circle and sit next to me and get fussed when they looked as if they were going to jump, they learnt to do that instead, they also have a command which is ‘go say hello’ and they then have permission to greet other dog walkers etc but they go and stand in front of them and turn side on and wait to be petted. Not quite sure how that one evolved, but it is quite sweet to see them do it and wins them friends, It is the same on the odd occasion they don’t want to return when I call. I ask them to sit instead and go and get them. Teaching dogs to take food gently and slowly is all part of the same mindset. Their most anxious time is when we come in the front door, we have replaced their urge to jump by telling them to fetch a toy and then they have somewhere to put their adrenalin and they rush off and get a toy and bring it back instead of jumping up and down.

Is it not possible for the dog to learn the sequence of events? Eg that jumping up followed by getting down results in a treat? So rather than reinforce feet on the floor only, we reinforce the jump that precedes it as well?

That’s why we put it on cue, so the behaviour we like is prompted and reinforced whilst the behaviour we don’t isn’t.

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