Dogs and Humans - Greetings & Play
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Canine Behavior Associates

Consults & Training in Marin, Sonoma County, San Francisco and the East Bay

If you or anyone you know needs help with their dog's behavior, a consult might be a great idea.  Contact us by email:, or visit the web:
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My Dog STILL Jumps on People
Some household problems fade with maturity and some disappear only when we help them!  Door greeting, jumping up and mouthing are probably the most common. 
Bred in the Bone

With very few exceptions, dogs are hardwired to greet their family group, whether the other members are canine or human.  If you’ve ever watched a video on wolf behavior, you’ll see them greeting each other by jumping on them and licking them on their mouths.  This behavior is probably a way to solidify relationships.  It begins in puppyhood and continues for the animals’ whole lives. 
When dogs greet us, they try to do the same thing – they jump up on us and attempt to lick our mouths.  It doesn’t matter whether we think it’s gross – they obviously don’t!   Some dogs go way overboard with the jumping behavior.  They become overly excited, sometimes ramming themselves hard into our bodies, sometimes biting.  When they do, it hurts!

It can be extremely difficult to inhibit, redirect or stop this behavior, just because it’s so instinctive.  While some dogs respond well to one technique, others may not; in fact, some techniques will actually make dogs worse.  
Knowing your dog is the most important consideration when trying to figure out which behavior modification techniques to use.  Sensitive dogs need to be handled carefully;  if you over-correct, you may make them afraid of you.   On the other hand, tough, resilient dogs might take your wimpy efforts as a joke and just come right back at you.  This will sometimes create an 'unstoppable dog.'

A word about small dogs.  Though it's possible to stop jumping behaviors with small dogs, it's much more difficult.  First, they believe they really need to jump up to be noticed.  Second, a large percentage of small dog owners allow their little guys to jump up, and reward the jumping with attention.  These little dogs cannot understand that they can jump on some people, but not others.  So it's essentially unfair to hold them to a double standard.  They're smart, but not that smart!
When a dog jumps up and bites at your arms, legs and back, it can hurt a lot.  Our tendency is to yell (in pain), and to move quickly away from the dog.  Unfortunately, many dogs will respond to this by amping up - what was a fun game has become even more exciting!

One of the reasons this behavior is difficult to modify is because the human usually isn't controlling the environment - a must when you're working on a behavior problem. 
Here are a few common behavior modification techniques for overly excited door greetings.  Some are far better than others.

Active (moderately pleasant) Techniques:
  • Teaching an alternate behavior, like ‘sit.’ Great idea, though the implementation can be a bit iffy.  Many dogs will learn to sit when you come home, but not when your guests come in.  Many dogs will sit for a half a second, then leap up!  So consistency is key.  The dog must learn to sit until you actually release her. 
  • Teaching your dog to go to his bed, mat or rug. This is great in theory, and if you have the time and inclination to train it can be quite successful.  One of the major pitfalls of this training is that if you don’t have many guests, you won’t have a lot of practice time, which is necessary if you want your dog to really learn it.
Dogs tend to do much better away from the door than in the threshold itself, so moving everyone quickly is often a great idea. 
  • Teaching your dog to walk with the guest (or you) to a predetermined location. You do this by walking to the door, saying “hi” in a moderately welcoming tone, then leading guests and leashed dog elsewhere, like the kitchen, where you get out a treat, ask the dog to sit, and then reward when he does so. It doesn’t take long for the dog to actually beat you to the kitchen. The downside is you have to move your guests away from the door, which means you're trying to train your friends...
  • Playing a game when people walk in the door.The best ones are “go get your ball” or “find the treats.”  Easy to teach and learn, you just open the door, give your dog the cue, then toss the item (or items in the case of treats). When she runs to find them, you (or your guest) walk in.
Passive techniques:
  • Putting your dog in a crate or back room, then letting her out when things are calm.  Essentially, you remove door privileges from your dog altogether.  It will take you longer to answer the door, but most people don’t object - it's better than being mugged.   And you can put a warning sign on your door to let people know it'll be a minute.
  • If your dog is either fearful or extremely enthusiastic, you might want to have your guests sit at a table rather than on sofas or chairs.  This will protect them and allow the dog to investigate more calmly.  This is a very effective technique, and works well with families that don't have a lot of visitors or who have fearful, timid or suspicious dogs. 
Sometimes dogs just can't get enough attention.  First they ask for petting, then suddenly they're on your lap, with their face right next to yours.
Negative (unpleasant) Methods
  • Turning your back on the dog.This one is pretty popular nowadays, and it works on sensitive dogs who have a desire to please you.  However, it doesn’t work on more persistent dogs and, in fact, might cause them to climb up your back and pull your clothing or hair, which is very unpleasant for us!
  • Pushing into the dog.  This can work, if you do it consistently.  When the dog jumps, you actually move your whole body into the dog (trying to loom!) and put physical and psychic pressure on him. This is often helped if you have a leash on the dog to give you more control.  Of course, some dogs just push back, especially those who love to play roughly. 
  • Giving the dog unwanted attention.  This one seems strange, but will often work, especially for dogs who climb on you while you're sitting.  Leave a leash on your dog and when he starts climbing up, hold the leash taut and close to his neck and pull him towards you, using steady pressure.   After a bit, he'll try to pull back.  You can then let the leash go slack.  Be ready to tighten it again, unless he moves away, having gotten exactly what he didn't want!
  • Squirting the dog with water or compressed air, or using a shake can. These work with some dogs, though you have to make sure you’ve got the water or can handy. Timing has to be exquisite, or you might find yourself punishing an appropriate behavior rather than an inappropriate on.  Also, these techniques can terrify some dogs, and cause the dog to be afraid of you, thus degrading the relationship.   So if you have a sensitive dog, you might stop the jumping up but cause the dog to avoid or run away from you.
  • Kneeing the dog in the chest.  This is pretty common advice, and could be necessary as an emergency move if you’re being unexpectedly assaulted by a greeting dogHowever, it’s not effective in the long run for a variety of reasons.  First, of course, you may actually injure the dog if you knee him in the diaphragm.  Secondly, if it does work, it generally does so only for the individual inflicting the punishment.  All others are still fair game, including your guests…and kids.
It’s a bit easier to teach your dog not to jump up on you at other times.  Adolescents often need to wear a cheap trailing leash for in-house control.  Tethers are excellent for calming down an overly excited dog, and teaching your dog to sit to greet people outside can be quite successful, if you’re consistent about it, and have your dog leashed.  The reason it's easier is because you actually have control of the dog – you’re not trying to hang onto her while you attempt to greet people as they walk into your house.  
Sometimes dogs bite at hands because they don't feel comfortable with something coming down on them that they can't see, and they try to make it go away (we probably wouldn't like it either!)

Play biting often goes hand in hand with jumping up, as the dog gets so excited she can’t stop from using her mouth.  Sometimes the above techniques will help reduce or eliminate the behavior, but sometimes they won’t.   

Much really depends on why the dog is biting.  If it’s just over-excitement, then the dog has to learn to calm down when you want her to.  However, many dogs bite hands when said hands are reaching down to pet them.   In these cases, the dogs in question may not actually like being petted.   This causes a problem with people – we think dogs should want our attention, and seek it.  So people tend to be extremely persistent about reaching out to stroke or pet a dog, and feel rejected when the dog bites.   Actually, most dogs have to learn to like having their heads petted, and a good percentage just put up with it (they much prefer a good butt scratch or ear massage).  

The other thing that happens with petting is we do it for way too long, and it becomes irritating rather than pleasant.  The way to get past these problems is to wait til the dog approaches you and presents herself for petting, then give her less than she wants.   You might even consider setting a time limit of five seconds before you stop petting.  If your dog wants more petting, she will let you know by moving closer to you.
For dogs who really like to use our arms, legs and clothing as chew toys, a strong stare, freeze and instant time out often will work, as long as the humans have a “no bite” policy.   It’s not really fair to be arbitrary, allowing a dog to bite you sometimes, but not always.   A rule should be a rule.   Occasionally, putting on a thick glove helps enforce this rule.   The biting doesn’t hurt us, so we can freeze and stare without pain.
You'll notice that the word "consistent" is brought up rather consistently in this article.  That's because one of the biggest impediments to getting appropriate behavior is the lack of consistency.   "It's okay, it doesn't bother me" is a comment you hear from friends.  Unfortunately, these behaviors do bother some people, so unless you have a tiny dog and/or very tolerant friends, it's worthwhile to work on them. 
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