Editor's Note: Karen Ryan is the owner of Midtown Groom & Board, an activity-based kennel, doggie daycare and creative grooming salon. Working professionally with animals on a day-to-day basis for over 12 years has informed her about the profound wisdom within their innate natures. It has also made for many laughs. She combines practicality and humor when writing about the four- legged kind. We are happy to introduce her doggy-advice column "Dishing on Dogs."
Q. My dog jumps on people. We’ve tried turning around, saying “no,” and lifting our knees but nothing works. Do you have any advice?
A. Being jumped on by a dog as you cross the threshold into a home is second only in its level of annoyance to having your oil checked by a crotch-sniffer. The owner typically tries to block the impending tackle, unsuccessfully. Meanwhile, the guest commences the all-too-familiar charade of politeness saying “Oh, it’s ok! I love dogs!” Go ahead and interpret that as “I used to love dogs until I met yours!”
Breaking the bad habit of “jumping” is only seemingly insurmountable. The level of difficulty lies within the fact that the human will be asked to change their behavior, not the dog. Fret not, friend. There is hope. However, you won’t get there on feel-good-hope alone. The additional tools you will need are as follows: a crate, aloe-infused tissue, and discipline.
You are a weird alpha dog
You have trained your dog to jump. It starts when your new favorite fur ball arrives home. Naturally, the time comes when you must exit the premises, wrought with guilt. Many people leave their dogs free to roam throughout the house (aka: giant kennel). They minimize guilt with offerings of 2,000 square feet and plush couches to sprawl upon… and chew. With that stage set, it is actually the way in which you return that encourages bad behavior.
Your dog knows you are home long before you enter. He hears you. He smells you. Anticipation is building. What happens with that anticipation once you open the door is completely up to you. If your dog is roaming free he charges up to you and both of you engage in the frolic of being reunited. If Max is in a crate, he barrels out as you sing his special song at the top of your lungs. You both break into an Irish jig. You know you do.
This routine validates your human existence and flatters your ego. It’s the entire reason you got a freaking dog! This routine is also completely unnatural in the canine world. Alpha dogs don’t do jigs. Weird dogs that get attacked and ostracized from the pack do jigs.
If the light bulb has even flickered, you are realizing that you have taught your dog to be hyper when greeting. Your dog, who cannot distinguish between how to greet you and how to greet a guest, has been River Dancing with your friends. You may have no problem saying “No!” sternly, but your polite guest will not do that. They have signed an invisible social contract at some point in their life stating that they will not: a) correct another man’s dog and b) berate a parent in a store for caving into a candy purchase after their child’s high-fructose corn syrup-meltdown. These are the unwritten rules.
Correct your bad habits with 3 tools
1. Purchase a crate. The crate is necessary so that you can begin to control what happens when people, including you, enter the home.
2. Buy some aloe-infused tissue. The tissue will be necessary because the only baby sniffling over crate training is you.
3. Become disciplined… and stay disciplined.
For the next month you will arrive home in a new way. After entering, opening the crate, and encountering your beloved pet you will not look at, talk to, or touch him for the first twenty minutes. Yep. I said it. And, yes, it’s going to be very difficult… for you. Your dog will be puzzled the first few times it happens but watch (in your periphery, of course, because you aren’t looking at Max!) and be amazed by how quickly he settles into this calm routine.
No look. No talk. No touch. 20 minutes.
When time is up you may greet your dog by making him sit first! Do not wrestle. Pet your dog the way you want him to act. Use long strokes down his back or a nice soft massage on his chest. He will be delighted by the attention and that the two of you aren’t doing that embarrassing unstable-anxiety-dance routine anymore!
Each subsequent week you may reduce the time by five minutes. If you make your canine companion sit prior to petting you will begin to notice that jumping has been replaced by a little dairy-air hitting the ground! Petting will be the positive reinforcement you offer for the good behavior of sitting. You will, hereby, never return to Waltzing with your dog again.
Remain disciplined when visitors arrive
Make your dog go to his kennel prior to opening your door to visitors. Your guest can wait the 30 seconds it requires. Doing so allows your dog to witness you approve a stranger’s entrance and to settle down. That vital opportunity for him to calm his nerves will increase the chance of success once he is released. More importantly, it will give you time to instruct your friend how to greet your pet.
Explain your dog’s rules to the guest. Give them permission to break their social contract and ask for their help training your dog! Instruct them not to look at, talk to, or touch Max until you say so. Believe it or not, it makes a great conversation piece as your visitor is able to comfortably stroll into your home. They might even notice the new furniture!
When it’s time to meet Max let them know that your dog must sit prior to petting. Insist that they use one word, “Sit” rather than a sentence, “Can you sit for me please, little darling?” as your dog only hears, “Words words SIT words words?”
Prepare to soak up the praise from an impressed guest. Revel in your dog’s good behavior and give him a treat!
That’s it. Calm yourself and the dog will follow.