Why Do Dogs Jump on People?

Dogs jump on people for one simple reason: they are trying to say hello. Too bad though that when puppies jump, people are all "awww" and "ahhh" because of how cute puppies are, but 80 pounds later, they are no longer considered cute. After all, we can't blame people for not being very fond of our dog's jumping behavior; who wants to have their stockings ruined or getting all those muddy paw prints on their pants?

Let's face it: when our dogs jump on people we aren't too fond about our dog's lousy greeting style. Perhaps we are even a tad bit embarrassed. One thing is a young puppy or pint-sized small dog standing on his short hind legs, one thing is a Great Dane standing close to 6 feet tall. Now, that 's a whole lot of dog to have jumping on you!

Interestingly, dogs have no idea why we dislike them jumping on us. From their perspective, they are doing everything by the book. To better understand this behavior, it therefore helps taking a closer insight into why dogs jump on people and seeing the world through Rover's point of view.

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<em>Face licking is a behavior that starts early in the litter</em>

A Matter of Etiquette

To better understand the behavior of dogs jumping on people, let's rewind a bit to when dogs are puppies. If we watch the interactions between mother dogs and puppies, we will notice how the puppies greet their mothers by reaching mom's face and even licking her around the mouth area.  

This behavior is reminiscent of the days when mom and pups lived in dens, and upon licking the corners of their mother's mouth, puppies stimulated her to regurgitate a meal for them. Interestingly, once the puppies are weaned, and no longer in need of a regurgitated meal, this behavior persists so reaching upwards towards the face is often used as a default way to greet humans and other dogs. 

Indeed, if you watch dogs interact freely (with no leashes), you will often notice that dogs may start by sniffing each other's mouths and then will proceed to sniffing the rear end. In the dog world, this is consider the most appropriate and polite way of greeting.

Too bad, this is where a dog's and a human's point of view diverges. Humans get upset when dogs stand on their back legs to say hello, and dogs most likely get disappointed when humans reject them.

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It is natural for dogs to want to greet owners by licking their face

Bridging A Vertical Gap

Now, it's unfortunate that, when it comes to dogs and humans, there is quite some vertical gap between the two species. When dogs greet each other, they are both close to each other's levels, but with humans, it's a whole different story.

With us humans being more vertical, and dogs being more horizontal, dogs need to jump up if they want to come near our faces to say hello.

Of course, not all dogs are prone to jumping. Some dog breeds such as Akitas and Chows may be more aloof and on the reserved side, so they might not be interested in up-close interactions with strangers, but the average Lab or golden seems to be always up for some boisterous enthusiastic greetings. 

'Since you don't get down on all fours to greet them, dogs have to do the next best thing and get up on all twos to greet you."~D. Caroline Coile, Margaret H. Bonham, Why Do Dogs Like Balls?More Than 200 Canine Quirks, Curiosities, and Conundrums Revealed

Not a Matter of Dominance

Something that is worthy of pointing out, is that, despite what you may have heard, dogs do not jump because they are dominant beings trying to rule the roost by getting taller and trying to push you with their paws.

 Contrary to outdated belief, dogs jump because, as previously explained, they are happy to see you and very excited, especially when you come home from work and your dog has been waiting for your return all day.

Well, there is also another reason why dogs jump on people and the reason is very simple: dogs jump on people because they haven't been taught otherwise!

A Matter of Reinforcement

When dogs jump up and are given attention under the form of eye contact, happy talk and pats, these human behaviors reinforce the jumping behavior. When behaviors are reinforced, they tend to strengthen and repeat, causing them to establish and put roots.

Now, countless people will find a puppy with his paws in the air quite irresistible, which leads to lots of fussing and attention. Problems start later on though, when the cuteness factor fades and people start finding the behavior annoying or even a tad bit intimidating, especially when coming from a large dog such as a Lab or Retriever who can easily knock down a person.

"Your response to your dog’s jumping will determine how quickly you can redirect his behavior into something much more preferable. Redirecting jumping behavior can seem like an endless commitment to work, but with consistency on your part, it will get better!"~ Debby McMullen, How Many Dogs? Using Positive Reinforcement Training to Manage a Multiple Dog Household

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Dogs can be taught to sit for attention

Now That You Know...

As seen, dogs have their own good reasons for jumping on people! They certainly don't deserve any harsh, aversion-based treatments such as being knelt in the chest or having their paws squeezed.

Instead, dogs who jump should be provided with feedback and incentives so that they voluntarily choose to stand on all fours. Following are some tips to stop your dog from jumping on people.

  • Start early. It is easier to train a puppy to stop jumping when young and start good habits on the right paw, rather than working on adult dogs with a strongly established jumping habit. 
  • Praise and reward when your dog is sitting or standing on all fours. Behaviors that are rewarded tend to repeat and strengthen and this is scientifically proven. Edward Thorndike's "Law of Effect" claims: "responses that produce a satisfying effect in a particular situation become more likely to occur again."
  • When you reward your dog when he's not jumping, make sure you deliver the treat with your lowered hand (or even toss it on the ground) to discourage further jumping to get the treat. 
  • Turn your back and ignore your dog and even walk away when he jumps. This way, you are informing your dog that you don't give any attention when he is standing on his hind legs, but give attention when he is standing on all fours.
  • Consider that pushing your dog or yelling things like "No! No! Down! Off!" can still be perceived as attention by dogs, and therefore, dogs will continue to jump just to get that reaction.
  • If your dog tends to jump on guests, play a "treasure hunt game" by the doorway. As soon as your guests arrive, toss treats on the floor. This way, your dog will focus on the treats more rather than thinking about jumping. 
  • Ensure consistency. Set up several practice sessions with friends, family, and other dog owners. Have them approach your dog and turn around if your dog jumps and  reward your dog with a treat if he or she sits nicely or engages in some alternate, more acceptable behaviors (like shaking, hand-targeting or training your dog to lie on a mat).
  • When your dog is not in training, keep him behind a baby gate so that his excited jumping behavior cannot be rehearsed. 
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