If there is one dog behavior that really drives me crazy, it is dogs jumping on me. I hate it. It gets my clothes dirty, but the real reason I hate it is because it is so dangerous. Our dogs are Labrador Retrievers, and they are big dogs. Each one weighs close to 90 pounds, so when they jump on me, it can literally push me to the ground. I’m no spring chicken and depending on where I am standing when they decide to jump on me, I could get seriously hurt.
As professional trainers, we see dogs jumping on people all the time. However, few people are willing to take the necessary measures to stop this behavior. Some don’t know how to stop their dogs from jumping on them. They don’t have the training or knowledge. Others, however, know what is required to show their dog that the jumping behavior is not acceptable, but they cannot bring themselves to give the correction. Still others, encourage the jumping behavior.
If you dislike your dog jumping on you, here’s why your dog jumps on you and how to stop this behavior.
Why does my Lab jump on me?
Let’s start with some dog psychology. Why do dogs jump on people? Some say it is just your dog’s way of greeting you. Others say your dog wants or needs some attention. Maybe. I agree that it is in a dog’s nature to jump on people and other dogs, but I believe that dogs jump on people to exert dominance over them and figure out their rank within a pack.
Your dog is a pack animal
Dogs are pack animals. Before people domesticated them, they lived in packs. And within the pack there was an alpha dog, the top dog, the leader of the pack. All other dogs are below the alpha dog. Each dog from the pack volleyed for a position within the pack. If they could not be alpha, then they wanted to be as high in the pack as possible.
To figure out their pack ranking, dogs challenge pack mates by climbing on top of other dogs, putting their heads on other dog’s backs, and picking fights. The weaker dogs would back down and eventually accept that they were lower in the pack.
The stronger dogs fight for position and the winner of the fight is above the other dog. In this way, each dog finds their place within the pack. No two dogs are considered equal. Every dog is assigned a rank.
Occasionally, a dog would decide he/she wanted to be higher in the pack, so he/she would challenge the dog ahead of them and see if they could beat him/her and gain rank.
This still happens today in wolf packs. And it happens in your family pack too. Maybe not as violent but the testing of rank by your dog still happens. This is in a dog’s nature.
Dog size matters
As you can probably surmise, bigger dogs have an advantage over smaller dogs. When dogs challenge each other, even today, you will see a dog’s hackles go up. Hackles are hair follicles on a dog’s back that raise when your dog feels in danger or if he is trying to make himself bigger than he is.
In addition to the hackles, dogs will often rear up on their back legs and mount the other dog or roll them over and stand on them. These are all ways that dogs show dominance over other dogs.
Pack behavior in a human home
When you adopt a dog into your home, that dog becomes a part of your pack. And just like the dog pack, your dog wants to be the alpha dog, if he can. But if not, he still wants to figure out where in the pack he belongs. What is his ranking?
Almost all humans (excluding young children) are taller than a dog. So, one way that a dog can challenge a human is by jumping up on them. This gives the dog height he doesn’t otherwise have and puts him in a position of domination. This is why it is so important that you do not allow your dog to jump up on you.
Stopping your dog from dominating you through jumping is very important. In fact, we often see other disruptive dog behaviors go away when we stop this one dangerous behavior.
How to stop your dog from jumping on you
So, how do you stop your dog from jumping on you? It is not easy, especially if your dog is already full grown or almost full grown. With a puppy, it is a little bit easier.
How to stop a young puppy from jumping on you
For puppies, under 12-weeks of age, stopping jumping is easy. Many bad dog behaviors, if stopped while a dog is still a small puppy, are much easier to control when they are full grown.
Puppies are small but resilient. When a small puppy jumps on me, I quickly say the command OFF and knock him off me. Depending on the temperament of your puppy, a light correction or a heavier correction may be needed. If the puppy continues to try and jump on me, my corrections will get consistently harder and more forceful.
You can knock the puppy off you with your hand, pushing them off, or with your foot. Start with a light correction and increase the force depending on how stubborn or resilient your puppy is.
You must be consistent. Each time your puppy jumps on you, you must give the command and the correction. You cannot sometimes let your pup jump on you and at other times correct the pup for the jumping. This will only confuse the puppy and you will not see improvement from a confused puppy.
Back up the correction training with praise
Back up your correction by praising your puppy when he is sitting nicely with all four feet on the floor. Pet your puppy while he is in this sitting position and give him praise like GOOD DOG. This will help reinforce the OFF-command training.
How to stop a full-grown dog from jumping on you?
When a dog gets older, over 5-months-old, the training is more difficult. By this time, your puppy has gotten away with the jumping for a long time, so when you start to correct the jumping, it will be a harder lesson.
What to do when a dog jumps on you
With the older dog, the command will still be OFF, but the correction should now come from your knee. The dog is larger so when he jumps on you, they will be coming up to your waist or higher. A knee to the dog’s chest is the best correction for a jumping dog. Don’t worry, you will not hurt your dog (except maybe their pride). Retrievers are big strong dogs. Your knee to the chest will not seriously hurt them, but it will cause them to stop and think about the consequences of jumping on you.
When your dog comes to jump on you, be ready. As your dog jumps up, say the OFF command, and lift your knee to make contact with their chest. Your knee should impact their chest. This may send the dog falling backward, that is okay. It may knock the wind out of your dog for a minute. That is okay too. The correction needs to be strong and firm to make your dog understand.
You will probably have to correct your dog more than once. Most dogs need more than one lesson on this and will likely test you again in a few days or weeks.
Just like the puppies, you can reinforce the off command by giving your dog positive attention by petting and praising them with a GOOD DOG whenever all four paws are on the ground. If your dog lifts even one paw, quickly remove your hands from petting and say NO. When your dog puts his paws back on the ground, you can resume petting him.
Using treats to stop a dog from jumping
I have never had much success using treats as a method of teaching a dog to stop jumping. In addition, I have not intention of stuffing my pockets with dog treats so that I am always ready for a dog that jumps on people. Also, in my experience, dogs will jump more if they think they are going to get a treat, so it seems counterproductive.
If you are going to use treats, you would need to change the command you are using from OFF to SIT. You would want your dog to SIT to get the treat. You may be able to stop some minor jumping using this type of training, but I have found the knee correction with the OFF command to much more effective.
How to stop your retriever from jumping on others
Using the training method above, you can effectively teach your dog to stay OFF you. But this will not carry over to other people. Not even other family members. That is because your dog is jumping on people to exert dominance and each person must show the dog that he is not allowed to dominate them.
Adult people in good health can correct the dog using the method above. But what about young children who do not have the strength to do this correction? Or older people who are too weak to do the correction and are most at risk?
How to stop your dog from jumping on children or elderly
If you want to stop your dog from jumping on a young child or an elderly family member, you need to be a little tricky. Since dogs challenging each person individually, you need to make it look like the correction is coming from the small child or the elderly family member, even if they are not making the correction.
You can do this using a long lead and a chain collar. Put the chain collar on your dog and attach a long lead to the chain collar. Set your child or elderly family member just out of reach of the leash fully extended. Then, have a strong able-bodied person hold onto the end of the leash and have the dog at their side. Remember, your child or elderly person must be further away than the length of the long leash.
Have the child or elderly person begin calling the dog. The calling should sound very excited. They can even pat their chest, encouraging the dog to run toward them and jump on them. As the dog gets close to them, have the child or elderly person say the OFF command loudly and firmly. At the same time, you will give the leash a sharp pull or jerk. Your aim should be to flip your dog off his feet.
To your dog, the correction will seem to have come from the person yelling the command (the child or elderly person).
You can repeat this drill a couple times until the dog gets the message and understands that jumping on those people is not okay. And you may need to repeat this drill a few times to solidify the correction.
Ongoing enforcement to keep your dog from jumping on you.
One way to enforce the OFF command is to make a 4-Feet on The Ground rule. This rule means that the only way your dog will get petting, affection and praise is when all four of his paws are on the ground. This is a very easy rule to establish. All you need to do is, every time you pet your dog, make sure all four paws are on the ground. If your dog lifts even one paw off the ground, immediately stop petting him and say NO. When he puts his paws back on the ground, resume petting him.
Dogs learn very quickly with this rule that if they want affection, all four paws must remain on the ground. Even very excitable dogs will quickly learn this rule.
Why does my dog jump on me and not my husband?
Very often we will find that a dog will listen and not jump on one person in the family but jumps and won’t listen to one or more other members of the household. This is very common, and the reason is quite simple. Once person is firm and consistent in correcting the dog for jumping and the other person is not.
Dogs can sense weakness a mile away. If you are scared to correct your dog with a knee to his chest, he will know it and exploit that.
Final thoughts on how to stop your Lab from jumping on you.
Being firm and consistent in using the OFF command and a correction will help you quickly stop your dog from jumping on you. And you may even find that your dog will listen to you better once you have set this boundary for your dog.
If you are still struggling, I’m here to help! You can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time, happy retrieving.