Solving Behavior Problems Like a Dog Trainer (Part I)

Sally is seeking assistance for her dog, Harland, who is a jumping maniac. Harland loves to jump on people, "has since he was a puppy,"...


Sally is seeking assistance for her dog, Harland, who is a jumping maniac. Harland loves to jump on people, “has since he was a puppy,” Sally says. When Harland was a puppy, the entire family thought it was a really cute behavior. Now, Harland is 6 months old and weighs 75 lbs. He knocked over Sally’s youngest child and the behavior is no longer cute, but cause for concern. Here are a few question Sally’s trainer may ask when determining a treatment plan.

What are Harland’s opportunities to engage in the jumping behavior? (What situations elicit jumping?)

  • children running, playing, screaming
  • guests arriving at the house
  • greeting new people on a walk

What generally happens after the jumping? (What is reinforcing the behavior?)

  • we yell at Harland (attention)
  • we push Harland off of us (attention, dogs think this is play)
  • we laugh when he jumps on us (the adults in the household), but yell at or push him off of guests (or the children)
  • when on a walk, we usually jerk him back on the leash

What would you like Harland to do instead? (Identify an alternative, incompatible, socially appropriate behavior)

We would be happy if Harland would sit, lie down, or stand politely to greet people.

Once these three important questions have been answered, we have virtually all the information we need to begin training.


Once we’ve identified the opportunities Harland has to jump on people, it’s time to establish management protocols in those instances so that Harland is unable to continue receiving reinforcement for engaging in unwanted behaviors. Management usually involves the use of tools (crates, gates, tethers, leashes, etc.).

  • Children running or playing – Harland should be confined to the porch while the children are playing in the yard or on a leash/tether. Bonus points for owners who will practice cueing relaxation behaviors and clicking and rewarding the dog for any calm behavior while watching the children play.
  • Guests arriving at the house – Harland can be on leash, behind a baby gate, or in his crate while guests arrive. If he is on a leash, the owner may want to step on the leash while greeting her guests – you can step on the leash so that the length is short enough for the dog to stand comfortably without being able to jump up. (This takes a bit of practice, try it before your guests arrive!) The owner should be reinforcing the dog (feeding, allowing greeting opportunities with the guests if the dog likes this, etc.) consistently for “four on the floor” or other appropriate behavior. If Harland is behind the baby gate or in his crate, someone should also be clicking and reinforcing him for any calm behavior (multiple family members can be a big help here – one to greet guests, one to work with the dog. Otherwise, a Manners Minder or stuffed Kong can do wonders!). Once Harland is calm, it is fine to allow him into the room to greet guests.
  • Greeting new people on a walk – practicing greetings at home or the classroom is often much easier than practicing them while out on a walk. At home or the classroom, you are usually training with volunteers you know who are there to help you. These individuals are generally more than happy, because they’ve volunteered to be part of your dog’s training process, to walk away from the dog if he jumps, removing reward opportunity. Unfortunately, random citizens in your community are likely not on board with the training plan. You may be working diligently with your dog, trying to remove reinforcement opportunity for jumping and reward incompatible behaviors, when a neighbor sees your tremendously cute dog and approaches enthusiastically for a greeting. Desperate, you plead, “we’re training him not to jump. Can you wait until he sits to approach?” Your neighbor smiles and says, “it’s ok, I love dogs! I don’t mind if he jumps on me.” Behavior-savvy dog owner that you are, you know that variable reinforcement schedules actually strengthen behavior. Ten more hairs turn grey as your dog jumps on your neighbor, is scratched, given treats, and called a “good boy.” Your neighbor is undoing your hard work! If you would like your neighbor to greet your dog and want to skip the training lecture, manage the situation. Hold the leash low enough to the ground where a large portion of it touches the ground. Place your foot over the leash where it meets the ground, and slowly stand upright, sliding the leash under your foot. You basically want to create a straight line with just a little slack from your dog’s neck to the ground – this will allow your dog to greet without a tightened leash, will prevent him from receiving reinforcement for the unwanted behavior, and will provide you with the opportunity to reinforce your dog as he greets someone with all four paws on the ground.

Next time on the dogster B & T blog, we’ll examine the latter two questions in solving Harland’s jumping issues. Until then, happy training!

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