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  • Holly Leake

Why does my Dog Jump up?

Has your dog ever almost flattened one of your guests? Have they left giant muddy paw prints on a pedestrian’s shoulders or maybe big long scratches on their legs? If your dog is a compulsive jumper, you are not alone. Jumping up is another common behavioural issue nearly every dog owner faces, myself included. Obviously your dog’s size is a factor, but no matter your dog’s breed, the behaviour can be embarrassing, perceived as impolite and can even cause injury in some cases. So why do they do it?

Firstly, let's dispel the myths that you may have seen circulating on social media and the internet:

-Jumping up is not an attempt to be pack leader or alpha.

-It is not a sign of dominance or a lack of respect.

-Your dog is not attempting to stand higher than you.

As covered in previous articles in this series, the alpha theory and the false interpretation of dominance has all been scientifically debunked. The reasons for jumping up are actually quite simple. These are

-Natural behaviour.

-Reinforcement History.

-Emotional state.

Natural Behaviour:

Despite jumping up being undesirable, it is actually a natural behaviour. Meeting face to face is a normal canine greeting behaviour, therefore, jumping up is a way of greeting us and other people. This makes a lot of sense since the behaviour tends to occur when you come home from work or when you invite guests into the home.

This greeting behaviour is actually learned from birth, from interactions with their mother and littermates. The puppies will nuzzle the mother’s face for attention and food, and will then learn to do this is with their littermates and any other dogs they meet. So, your dog is simply having to jump up people to reach their face and greet them in the only way they know how. Once this behaviour is practiced every time they greet us, it becomes a learned behaviour, leading us to our second cause.

Reinforcement History

Although we hate to admit it, we often reward behaviours we don't really want. Puppies tend to get away with a lot more, because they are small and cute and the behaviour isn't inconvenient at that stage, however, when the dog is fully grown it suddenly becomes problematic. Dogs are always learning, so they make connections and will practice behaviours that have been successful or/and rewarding in the past, regardless of whether we want them to make such connections.

So if you allowed your dog to jump up while they were a puppy, this would have led your dog to believe it’s an acceptable behaviour now. Unfortunately, dogs don't have the emotional intelligence to reason that they should now be calmer and better behaved because they're an adult and ten times the size. Thus, it becomes a learned behaviour or habit that is hard to break.

The attention and fuss dogs receive when they jump up also positively reinforces the behaviour. Put simply, jumping up is often effective in gaining attention and love, therefore, dogs will repeat the behaviour to achieve the same result. If your dog consistently gets attention when they jump up, even if it’s negative attention, the behaviour is reinforced and then repeated.

Emotional State

Emotion drives behaviour, therefore how your dog is feeling can influence how your dog behaves in certain situations. Dogs that get overly excited around people are often the most likely to be compulsive jumpers. The overwhelming excitement they feel, naturally leads to loose and bouncy body language. It can be hard to interrupt as being fussed by people is usually a better reward than taking treats for a sit. Hyper arousal can make it incredibly difficult for your dog to listen and engage with you and could be a symptom of need that is going unmet.

Excitement isn't the only emotion that triggers jumping up, as stress, fear and anxiety can all cause a similar behaviour, known as height seeking behaviour. This is also known as ‘distant increasing jumping’ and is usually displayed when the dog is uncomfortable or emotionally conflicted, around a particular stimulus, such as a person. Thus, they jump up in an effort to almost push them away and increase space.

Height seeking behaviour is often confused with jumping up, due to excitement, especially since the frantic behaviour can be misinterpreted as excitement rather than anxiety. If your dog displays height seeking with you or other people it may be that your dog is feeling very unsafe and uncomfortable in that particular situation.

Therefore, this jumping up is a plea for more distance from whatever is distressing them. In order to determine if your dog is jumping up due to excitement or anxiety, you need to carefully observe your dog's body language as well as the context. Height seeking is more forceful, so the jumping up may seem more exuberant or exaggerated and may include muzzle punches and mouthing of hands and clothes.

So, your dog may be jumping up simply to greet you and this has become a habit. You and others may have inadvertently reinforced jumping up by responding with attention, regardless of whether it is positive or negative and/or your dog is jumping up as an expression of excitement or potentially anxiety.

So I know what you are thinking. How do I stop my dog jumping up?

Find the answer in next weeks article.

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