Everyone loves it when a tiny puppy jumps up to greet them. “Awww, so cute!” they say, but when that puppy grows up to be a full-grown Golden Retriever with muddy paws, it's no longer cute. In fact, it's down-right rude!
It's very easy to teach a pup to greet people politely. It's much harder to convince an adult dog who's been rewarded for jumping up that he should now greet people politely. Wouldn't you rather try the easy way?
The “good stuff” Sparky gets for jumping up is attention. When your pup jumps up, you look at him. You pet him. You talk to him. Perhaps you even pick him up and cuddle him. He learns that “up” is a desirable place to be.
At some point you decide that Sparky is too big to jump up anymore, but he does not know that. By then, it's a well-established habit for him – a reliable way to get the good stuff.
You try to stop giving Sparky attention for jumping up, but every once in a while, when the mood is right, you slip and pet him when he puts his paws in your lap. Uh-oh, big mistake! You are not reinforcing the impolite behavior randomly. Sometimes jumping up is rewarded, sometimes it's not.
A randomly reinforced behavior becomes extremely durable – it's hard to make it go away because Sparky learns that if he just keeps trying, eventually the behavior will pay off, like a slot machine that gives up its fortune if you keep pulling the handle long enough.
You're not the only one who inadvertently rewards your pup randomly for jumping up. Family members, passersby on the street who want to gush over your pup when you're walking him on the leash, visitors to your home – the entire world is a potential slot machine for your pup. This is where you combine good management with assertive insistence.
First, teach Sparky from the first day he sets a paw in your home that sitting politely in front of you earns attention. Jumping up makes you turn your back, walk away, or even step over or through a baby gate (a great management tool!) if necessary, leaving your puppy behind. Show your family how to respond in the same way so your pup learns the only way to get anyone to pay attention to him is by sitting.
When Sparky has learned that sitting is a rewardable behavior, and if you're walking him in public and someone approaches, gently but insistently inform them that your pup must sit before they can pet him. Your leash is your management tool – restrain Sparky so he can't charge forward and jump up. Tell the person if Sparky jumps up, they need to step back until he sits again, then allow them to pet your dog.
(Look for Part 3 next week)