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If you let your big dog jump and climb on people....

Updated: Jan 2

by: Eileen Koval, CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

...then BAD OWNER. Hands down. (This is obviously a play on words as many say "bad dog" with jumping...but is it really the dog's fault?)

Relentless jumping is one of the rudest and most inconsiderate behaviors that I encounter, yet it happens all the time. Last week, a 3 year old 100 pound American bulldog jumped on me. He was supposed to be on leash when I arrived . The owners hollered over asking me to turn my back to him. He kept jumping up. The dog weighed about the same as me! Needless to say, they did not like my pointed response to their lack of consideration. Recently, I was punched in the gut by a large 1.5 year old Lab who relentlessly jumped on me over 50 times. I told the owner that his dog was hurting me with the jumping and repeatedly asked him to put a leash on his dog to prevent the behavior from happening. The dog did not have a collar for me to grab to hold him in place. He eventually got his dog under his control briefly and then let him go back to jumping. Shameless. I eventually was stern when he allowed his dog to keep doing this. But as is often the case, both owners played off their dogs' behavior as no big deal. They both seemed to care little about my safety and kept saying "he just wants to love on you!" If a friend allowed their dog to do this to me I would not visit them. Similarly, I choose not to continue to see clients who do not consider my health and safety a priority.

Non-aggressive dogs cause serious injuries by owners' failures to contain them and train them. Many years ago, I had my cornea scratched by a friend's excited, happy large breed dog who sprung up at my face to greet me when I entered the home. I could not drive for a month and experienced issues with gauging distance for a long time after that. People I have met have detailed how their "friendly" dogs have broken people's elbows or hips, or given them a concussion by jumping and knocking them to the ground. For some, they have only contacted me to address the jumping issue after the dogs have caused serious injuries to someone. This stuff can be serious. I have been knocked to the ground by large "friendly" dogs and only rarely has the owner apologized or taken my concerns about jumping seriously. This is a cultural problem that needs to change.

We have not even touched on the injuries and risks myself (or the public) encounter with human-aggressive or dog/cat/pet-aggressive dogs. This is just the "friendly" dogs. With owners of aggressive dogs I frequently hear "but don't you want to meet him?!" at the first appointment before their aggressive dog is even muzzle trained to be reliably safe to meet me. They try to reassure me that he will be fine, despite an aggression history that has led them to contact me! All of this conveys to me that nothing matters other than their and their dog's happiness. In rare instances, people have disregarded my explicit safety instructions to which they agreed and released known aggressive dogs on me, stating that they wanted me to "see the aggressive behavior". More frequently, there are half-truths on the requested bite/aggression intake form where I am left to read between the lines. My training in intelligence has been useful far beyond my past CIA and DOD career! It is an incredibly unfortunate reality.

I am a competitive kettlebell lifter in peak condition, yet "friendly" dogs have hurt me. Owners sometimes play off the behavior as them just "being a dog" and fail to step in. What is disappointing though is owners' failure to recognize the seriousness that jumping poses. A large dog can be a companion or it can be a weapon, whether the owner intends that or not. Large breed puppies may not yet understand behavioral expectations, may lack required stimulus control, or cannot fulfill these expectations consistently. That is ok. This takes time and training. Still, it is the owner's responsibility to contain them while in the process of teaching them so they cannot hurt anyone.

That said, dogs are always learning! Unwanted learning is likely occurring, even if people were to consistently turn away when they jump. This dog is learning that overexcitement and jumping is how he should greet people. He is learning that jumping is fun. People can be a fun springboard for parkour! It is even more fun if people yell or squeal. If people push him away or knee him (please do not do this!) he may be hurt. If he is not pushed hard enough to cause pain he may learn that people will engage and rough-house with him when he jumps.

Just ignoring a behavior does not teach dogs (or humans!) what they are supposed to do. It is like choosing an answer to a question and then hearing BEEP! You got it wrong! Try again! But you have no idea what the right answer is. Just that this is not it. What a frustrating way to learn. Instead, give your dog a helping hand so he gets it right. Prevent the behavior from occurring through leashes and gates. Ensure that they only greet visitors when calm enough to make good choices. Obviously, a dog who loves people may go over the top with excitement when encountering the opportunity to interact with a new person. If they will not listen when you ask them to "sit" then they are not calm enough for a greeting. If you are currently ignoring a dog who is jumping, try immediately asking him to perform the desired behavior that will result in petting/attention. Better yet, ask for the desired behavior BEFORE he has the opportunity to jump. Then when he does the desired behavior, reward with petting/attention. Dogs are smart at figuring out what gets them what they want. It is the owner's job to set them up for success so they are in situations where they will make the desired choice over and over until it becomes just the way that they independently navigate this social situation.

If you currently allow your dog to jump or climb all over people, I hope this has provided some food for thought. It can take preparation to plan for guest arrivals and public interactions so that dogs can greet appropriately. The effort is worth it! Consider it an investment in future good, independent behavior. This will come about if training is arranged at an appropriate level for the learner's needs and is consistent. Better yet, consider that this effort is your absolute duty as an owner of a medium or large dog. Dogs are available to nearly anyone in the American public, but they bring with them huge responsibility. Do not allow your dog to hurt others, even if he is "friendly". As for all the responsible owners out there who are working hard to thoughtfully contain their big, excitable dogs while training -- thank you!!


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Eileen Koval, CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, MSc (in Operations Management) is a fully certified dog behavior consultant with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). She believes the foundation of a good cross-species relationship is understanding the needs and normal behavior patterns of each dog as an individual, as he/she was bred to be. She enjoys helping humans and dogs communicate more effectively to create brilliant relationships with joy, purpose, and fulfillment for all species involved. She offers private consulting for serious dog behavior issues, obedience/manners, and agility training. Eileen developed a unique online course to help pet parents and trainers develop reliable snake avoidance behavior off-leash through positive reinforcement techniques. These techniques have been applied by trainers worldwide to teach dogs reliable avoidance of dangerous environmental hazards and off-leash property boundaries. She lives on a small ranch in Las Vegas, Nevada with her husband and their Nederlandse Kooikerhondjes.

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