Jumping up is a very popular canine behaviour complaint. Many people view it as a problem behaviour whereas others simply accept it as a typical dog behaviour, similar to a wagging tail. Obviously, characteristics such as size and life style affect this perspective. A nine pound Chihuahua who never gets dirty will most likely be less of a bother than when a 100 pound German Shepard with muddy paws jumps up against you or your guests.
Is it okay?
Personally, I view uninvited jumping-up behaviour similar to my views of an interrupting or boisterous child; it is just rude and unnecessary when not invited and demonstrates a lack of respect for the receiver. We are capable of teaching our children proper manners which will allow them to be more enjoyable and respected individuals in the long run, so why not teach our dogs the same? In fact, jumping-up dogs can be quite dangerous under the perfect circumstance. Physical injuries could occur if the dog jumps up on a young child, an elderly individual or other vulnerable persons; this should give owners even more of an incentive to properly discourage uninvited jumping up behaviour.
Why do dogs jump-up?
As with most behaviours this one is displayed in order to gain access to a desirable stimulus or to escape or avoid an undesirable one. There are common antecedents which motivate the behaviour of jumping up, along with common consequences which maintain the behaviour. In order to establish and implement a behaviour modification plan, one must first identify which antecedent and consequences are related to each individual case.
Based on my experience, I would have to say that attention-seeking or social contact-based positive reinforcement is by far the most common consequence for dogs who jump up. Jumping generally gains attention and is accidentally reinforced by the human counterpart, so it then becomes a learned behaviour. This behaviour generally begins during puppyhood and tends to be more tolerable throughout this stage. As the dog grows, gains height and strength and occasionally big muddy paws, owners tend to become less tolerant. In most cases even once the behaviour becomes completely undesirable by the human, owners continue to reinforce it by giving it ample attention (even if the attention is intended to be punitive). Even the tallest dog must jump-up in order to reach the face of an average height human. Licking his/her owner in the face is an appeasement gesture, and a display of the dogs’ deference for the owners’ position with the social circle (genetically based motivating operations).
Where does the behaviour come from?
As primarily visual communicators, the face is an extremely important and expressive portion of the body for dogs. Licking the muzzle (or face) is a food begging behaviour that is likely the origin for this behaviour. Wolf puppies would lick their mother's face when she returned to the cave after hunting to stimulate regurgitation allowing the puppies to feed.Over time this has become a greeting gesture after an absence. It is also used as an appeasement gesture to defuse conflict. As far as humans are concerned this is the central area for all forms of communication, it is no wonder that dogs are interested in accessing this potion of our bodies.
Dogs naturally jump up on each other during times of social interactions and/or greetings. Jumping up for greeting is a naturally driven behaviour, which in order to be avoided, must be discouraged and taught to be replaced with an appropriate behavior. Some more agile dogs will be more apt to jump up than others simply because it is easier, and therefore probably more enjoyable.
Do dogs enjoy jumping-up?
This brings us to another reason or consequence for jumping up. Jumping is fun. Some dogs thoroughly enjoy jumping simply for fun. Automatic positive reinforcement Of course adding on extra consequences such as verbal and/or physical attention will certainly increase motivation to do so. As well, dogs who feel a strong connection or sense of security which their owners may jump up at their owners in times of fear in order to gain a sense of security within the arms of a safe, and familiar person, and to avoid the stimulus which they find frightening.
The most evident antecedent for jumping up behaviour is arousal. Arousal is related to pretty much all behaviours. One must activate one’s nervous system in order to behave. Jumping up is merely a manifestation of the dogs internal state of arousal. Various stimuli will elicit emotional responses which in turn cause the dog to become aroused. Whether the emotion is excitement, anticipation, stress, fear, anxiety, and many others, if the dog becomes aroused jumping, along with many other behaviours, are often displayed. Jumping up will most often take place when the owner and/or visitor enter the household, this again is due to the arousal the dog experiences during these exciting times.
What can be done to change it?
Examining and determining what antecedents and consequences are connected to the jumping up behaviour on an individual level is an excellent means to creating a proper behaviour modification strategy. This means you need to identify what situations 'trigger' your dog to engage in this behaviour, and what they are gaining from preforming the behaviour. Essentially, take stock of what happens before and after the behaviour itself. Dogs do what works to achieve their motive, so if the motive is to get social contact and engagement and the human interacts with them (looking, talking touching), they will likely continue to engage in the behaviour. So step one is stop allowing the behaviour to be rewarded. Next, try to change the circumstances that trigger the dog to engage in the behaviour in the first place. For instance, don't allow them access to guests at the front door or when they are highly aroused.
For more specific training and behaviour techniques, contact a trainer who uses positive reinforcement-based training and is well-versed in canine behaviour modification.
Written by: Jessica O'Neill, Dip. CBST