I met an adorable Pit Bull the other day. She was sweet and gentle with soft, loving eyes. She had the typical Pit personality – she just wanted to be loved. So when a woman approached her, she jumped up to be petted. Her owner yanked hard on her leash and screamed “DOWN!”  I jumped, the dog flinched in fear. I was horrified.  But sadly, this technique is still being taught by dog trainers. There is a better, more humane and more effective way to teach dogs not to jump on people.

First, let’s analyze why using the word “down” or “off” and yanking the dog is counter-intuitive. With this method, you give the dog instructions to “get off” after the dog has jumped. You’re simply teaching the dog to get off, not to stop jumping! The yanking and the shouting could also cause some sensitive, timid dogs to become fearful of people because they will associate  this punishment with meeting people.

Instead, there’s a better way. It’s important to understand that dogs jump on people in order to get their attention. At a young age, many dogs will quickly learn that when they jump, they indeed get the attention. And so the behavior is reinforced. When dog trainers teach owners to push the dog and say “off” when their dogs jump on them, this also reinforces the jumping – because the dog is getting attention! Even though our human way of thinking tells us that the dog should understand that he’s being reprimanded, the dog really sees it as attention.

The solution? When your dog jumps on you, completely ignore him. No physical contact, no talking and even no eye contact. Walk away from the dog, then after a few seconds ask your dog to sit and reward the dog with affection. Lots of it. The dog will quickly learn that he only gets attention when he is not jumping. But in order for this method to be effective, you must be 100% consistent and not “forget” and go back to saying “off” and pushing the dog away.  Dogs are quick studies and will do what works for them.  And everyone the dog comes into contact with must practice this method consistently too.  It’s not easy; it takes time and patience. But the rewards are a well-trained, happy dog.

I may have said all of this better in an article I wrote several years ago in a newspaper pet behavior column:  Off!  I hope this information helps.  Next week, why teaching your dog “leave it” is so valuable.

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