Four on the floor

Doggie Dialogues
By Doris Dressler

Is your dog a fan of Van Halen’s hit tune titled “Jump”?

I might as well jump. Jump!
Go ahead and jump.
Might as well jump. Jump!
Go ahead, jump. Jump!

Doris Dressler
Doris Dressler

In the dog world, jumping up is a common greeting behavior. Puppies jump up to greet and reach their mothers, and this behavior is subsequently transferred to humans. Dogs learn jumping up is great attention-getting behavior.

According to, jumping up is one of the top ten dog behavioral problems.

In the January 2013 edition of “The Whole Dog Journal,” dog trainer and author Pat Miller suggests owners avoid the temptation to pick up and cuddle their puppies. “Cuddling teaches your dog that ‘up’ is a very wonderful place to be, and reinforces her for behavior that you will regret when she reaches her adult size. Instead, designate a spot on the floor as ‘cuddle space’ and get down on her level to do snuggle time.”

Jumping up is challenging to address because humans unintentionally reinforce the behavior. How often has your dog jumped up on a guest only to have your guest gush, “It’s OK, I love dogs!” The very behavior you are trying to extinguish is being randomly reinforced.

Consistency is the key. Everyone who interacts with your dog must be instructed not to allow jumping—and not to reward the dog by petting or touching when he does.

The July 2004 edition of “Your Dog” notes “all living things repeat behaviors rewarding to them, while unrewarded behaviors tend to go away. If you want to pre-empt jumping up as your dog’s default behavior, you must reward him consistently for sitting.” Trainers call this “redirecting” or teaching your dog an alternative behavior.

Here are a few things to try if your dog attempts to jump up:

  • Step back quickly before your jumping dog can land on you. Ask the dog to “sit.” Once the dog sits, reward with praise or touch. If he jumps up again, step back again. Repeat until the dog realizes sitting gets him attention—jumping does not.
  • Turn your back on the dog. In all likelihood, the dog will run around to face you and attempt to jump again. Continue turning your back until the dog gets frustrated and offers a “sit.” When the dog sits, reward him with attention. If the dog jumps up again, turn your back.
  • Dog trainer and author Patricia McConnell, in her book “The Other End of the Leash,” suggests getting into the dog’s space to stop the jumping. You can tell if this might be effective by leaning slightly forward and taking a step toward your dog when he is calm and standing or sitting in front of you. Observe your dog’s body language – if he leans away or takes a small step back, you have a dog that is sensitive to his space. The next time this dog looks like he is going to jump up on you, lean forward slightly and move a step towards him, occupying the space he was about to enter.
  • If your dog jumps, then sits, keep backing away until the dog sits without jumping first.
  • If you are using treats as a reward, be sure to reward your dog at nose level. Holding the treat up high will only encourage jumping.

Practice makes perfect. Practice polite greeting behavior with a helper who can restrain your dog on leash or, if you are alone, tether your dog to a heavy object or place your dog behind a baby gate. Approach the dog and, if he jumps, turn around or step away. Do not acknowledge the dog until he sits.

Don’t become frustrated if the dog’s jumping behavior gets worse before it gets better. Because jumping has been so effective in the past, your dog will, in all likelihood, keep trying what used to work. Be firm and consistent, and your dog will soon learn that “four on the floor” gets him the attention he desires.

Happy training!

Doggie Dialogues Doggie Dialogues 2 March 2013
Juping up on visitors is a common attention getting behavior. Photos by Steve Miller Dawson knows sitting nicely at the front door results in praise and attention.



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