DEAR DIDI: My 55-pound Boxer won’t stop jumping on people. She is just so enthusiastic when we have guests that she can’t help herself. I am worried that she will hurt someone someday. What can I do to help the situation? - Boxer Lover in Lathrop
DEAR BOXER LOVER: You are absolutely correct to be worried. Insurance companies report high rates of owner claims due to dogs jumping up on someone or tripping them. I have personally seen the damage done to people when my dog, Dante, and I walk the hospitals each week as a Therapy Dog team. Broken ankles, torn knees, shoulder and elbow fractures, broken fingers and wrists, and way too many black eyes.
I agree with your statement that “she can’t help herself.” I believe firmly in teaching dogs self-control. Dogs are masters at reading human body language. Therefore they become experts at how to get what they want. It isn’t much different than a toddler. All too often our dogs figure out that when they are calm and well behaved they tend to be ignored. But jumping on someone...well...now that gets immediate attention! They don’t really care much what sort of attention they get. It can be a surprised yell and hands come down and touch them. They don’t really comprehend that the hands are trying to push them away, they just know they are being touched and they like it.
The art of dog training is really about figuring out what motivates your dog. What does she want? In this case, it is probably attention. Therefore, your attention is going to be her reward instead of a treat. Remember that “attention” in a dog’s mind includes mere eye contact, your physical touch, your voice, etc.
If your dog acts overly excited with you, the owner, then practice without guests first. Go for a walk and be ready to train when you walk back in the door.
You must be in control of your voice, as well as, your hands. When you walk back in the house and your dog goes nuts to see you, ignore her. If she jumps then spin in place. She won’t have a leg hold if you spin. The second all four paws hit the ground give a word of praise and instantly pet her calmly. If she gets super excited and begins to jump again, hands come off and kind words stop. Turn your back and ignore her. This will take multiple tries but if your timing is good she will begin to figure out that the way to get your attention is to actually stand or sit in front of you. I like for my dogs to sit without being asked and they have it learned it is the equivalent of saying “please” when they want something.
If you come into the house and your dog does not jump on you but just runs around like a nut then continue to ignore her, but, be ready. The second she settles down you should look at her and offer calm praise. If the praise is more than she can handle and she gets hyper again, then repeat the whole process. You must be consistent with this training and never lose your temper. As I said at the beginning of this column, dogs are masters at reading your body language. So use your body language consistently so that your dog learns what your response will ALWAYS be to jumping.
Now, the way to handle your guests. It is really unreasonable of us to ask our guests to help train our dogs so it is almost impossible to tell your friends what to do and expect them to do it when they get to your house. Instead, have a leash by the door. If you know guests are arriving at a particular time then attach your leash before they show up. When the doorbell rings stand on your leash giving just enough length for your Boxer to be comfortable in a standing or sitting position. If her front paws leave the floor the leash will stop her instantly. I know it is hard to multitask but while you greet your friends remember to offer a kind ear rub to your Boxer if all four feet are on the ground. This will also help when your friends want to pet her. They will bend over slightly to reach her and if she jumps up at that point I have seen teeth get knocked out by a dog’s hard skull. Be patient and consistent and you will have a well-mannered pooch in no time.
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University, owner of California Canine, and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Dear Didi. Just email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org