The main issue when visitors come to your home is usually the dog jumping up
to greet them when they arrive. The reason dogs jump up is that they are
strongly prewired to lick faces when greeting. It’s their version of smiling, shaking hands, and hugging to say, “Hello friend!” This collides with human culture,
however, as most people find a dog jumping up on them annoying or scary.
I recommend a two-pronged approach to jumping up: strongly reinforcing
sitting in any greeting context, and immediate penalties any time your dog
jumps, once she has had some practice at sitting to greet. Don’t attempt this
until you have completed Sit and, even better, Sit-Stay. We’ll practice first with
you, then with other household members, and finally with visitors. Following
are the no-fail exercises.
SIT TO GREET
Sit to greet is the most common example of what trainers call differential
reinforcement of incompatible behavior (DRI): the teaching of a behavior, in this
case sitting, that is mutually exclusive to a problem behavior, in this case jumping up to greet. Dogs can’t Sit-Stay and jump up at the same time. Teaching
dogs what we do want in a given context—sitting to greet us—is better than
simply punishing them for what we don’t want: jumping up.
Sit to Greet I
1. Muster a common front from all family members. They don’t have to
do any training until later on—you’ll do most of the heavy lifting
here—but they must agree to stop rewarding jumping. This means not patting, greeting, or paying attention to the dog when she jumps up on
them. It especially means not letting the dog face-lick by bending down
enough for her to do so as soon as she jumps up. This is disastrous for
the cause as the most potent reward at this moment is facial proximity.
If jumping works to achieve this, it’s a losing battle.
2. Once you’ve got agreement from other household members that they
won’t undo your training, start training. Whenever you come home,
stand bolt upright, even looking up to the ceiling slightly as the dog
jumps on you. After a couple of seconds, say “Sit.” Most dogs will be
too unglued to do it, so they’ll continue jumping. Try a Sit hand signal,
keeping your head tilted away from your dog. Keep ignoring her until
she sits. It might take quite a while the first few times. Hang in there.
3. When she finally sits, get immediately warm and fuzzy, praise, look at
her, and start to bend down to greet her face to face. This will make
your dog jump up again, which will make you go bolt upright again.
Think cause and effect: jumping makes you stand ramrod straight, looking at the ceiling, and sitting makes you gooey. And remember it’s not
stubbornness or obstinacy on her part: she’s as wired up to do this as
you are to smile at a friend you’re picking up at the airport.
4. Eventually, your arrival will get old and you’ll be able to do a perfunctory greeting while your dog holds a sit.
5. Take an extra few seconds, go out the door, and come in again right
away. Ask your dog to sit right away and as soon as she does, praise and
pat her. You can even give an optional (surprise) food reward at this
point. You are probably now saturated enough for her to get it right
immediately. If not, and if you have time, wait until she finally sits and
then go out and come in again until she gets it on the first try. If it takes
her many tries, don’t despair. She’ll get better. It’s also okay to abandon
ship (no face lickies though) after this second attempt and just go about
your business, then try again next time. Always do one reentry though.
Push to the next exercise when you have had five in a row where the
dog holds her Sit without jumping after you go out and come in again
(the second try, step 5).
Why Do Dogs Lick Faces?
Dogs are not only descended from wolves, they are really the same species,
just a domesticated variety. When adult wolves hunt, they gorge and return
to weaned puppies with full bellies. The puppies eagerly lick at the mouths
of the adults, who then reflexively regurgitate food for them. It’s an elegant
transport system, which is also employed by African Hunting Dogs, a more
distantly related species, but one with a similar ecology. This urge to
Sit to Greet II
1. As soon as you come in the door, tell your dog to sit, praising and greeting her if she does—get down to her level and smooch. But now a new
rule: If she jumps, you not only go bolt upright, but now you also say
“Too bad,” and then leave, closing the door behind you. Wait a couple
of seconds and then reenter, again saying “Sit.” Same rules: If your dog
jumps, you leave. If she sits, you greet. Timing matters here—if you can
be very quick, it’ll feel much more like cause and effect to the dog,
which will accelerate learning.
2. Keep saying “Too bad” and exiting when your dog jumps. The first time
she holds it together enough not to jump, crouch down to her level and
do a warm, face-kissy greeting. If this is not your thing, praise her
warmly and pat her. The facial proximity is the potent reward here,
though, so if you can see fit to do so, let her lick your face when she
does a nice job of sitting without jumping.
Push when your dog is five for five on the first entry: five arrivals
home with zero jumping.
Sit to Greet II: Training Transfer Option
Now that the initial instillation is complete, inquire among family members if
any would like to have the dog’s new sit to greet transferred to them. They’ll
have a bit of practicing to do but not nearly as much as you had as “trainer one.”
Whoever is keenest will go next. Before doing the door-greeting exercise,
do a couple of sets on the following timing drill for “trainer two” at a quiet time
in the house.
1. Get a small bag of treats. Demonstrate the following: Ask the dog to sit,
and praise when she does. Take a treat, hold it out in front of you at
face-lick when reunited after an absence is retained into adulthood, but its
role morphs to that of greeting and affiliation rather than food soliciting.
This retention into adulthood of an infantile trait is called neoteny (neo is
new or young, and teny is from the Greek teinein, which means to stretch).
While most dogs have lost the regurgitation reflex, virtually all have a strong
face-licking urge in any greeting context. It’s friendly behavior. And because
we humans are vertical, dogs jump up to access our faces.
your head level, and then slowly, verrrrrry slowly start lowering it
toward the dog. You’re checking to see if she’ll crack and jump up to
meet the treat halfway. Be ridiculously strict—if she brings one paw one
inch off the ground, the treat flies back up. It’s actually easier for the
dog this way than fudging it and letting her kind of, sort of move a bit.
2. If the dog breaks her sit, zing the treat back up to full height and start
over. Keep lowering it if she keeps sitting. This will start to feel like a
Stay or Leave It to the dog, so she should catch on quickly that not
moving is the way to win here.
3. Once she’s won one treat by holding her Sit, hand the supply to trainer
two and let them have at the dog. Pay close attention and praise their
timing by tagging it with phrases like: “Beautiful! You were so quick—
very cause and effect!” “Wow! Fantastically hair-trigger that time—so
clear to her that if she flinches it’s gone!”
Practice this with other interested family members.
Push on five for five treat collections with zero jumping.
Sit to Greet III—Family Members Take Over Training
1. The next time you go out and trainer two (or other family member who
has completed the previous exercise) stays home, call them shortly
before you get there so they can watch you get the dog to sit when you
come in. If the dog makes a mistake and jumps, it’s actually not bad for
the cause as you can demonstrate your lickety-split “too bad” and exit
maneuver. It’s also okay if she does it perfectly as it will impress and
inspire trainer two, making them itchy to have the same response.
2. Once you’ve demonstrated what this looks like, it’s time to coach trainer two at doing it themselves. Next time they go out and you’re home
(or you both go out together), set it up that you can be on hand when
3. Prompt them through the “too bad” and exit routine when the dog
jumps on them. Don’t be stern about it. “No, no, faster, damn it” will
only paralyze your trainee more. Coaching sounds more like: “Okay, say
‘Sit.’ Oops, she’s jumping. Now say ‘Too bad.’ Great. Now skedaddle out
Types of Visitors
Visitors and guests fall into two groups: those who will be happy to pitch in
and help you train your dog, and those who you can’t afford to have the dog
jump on even once or twice. The former group is the one you want to help
you train your dog’s behavior. For the latter group, put the dog away when
they come over until she has done a few rounds with “helper” people. Once
she’s proofed, the dog will sit politely for everybody, including people who
would have been distressed or offended by your dog jumping on them.
Another reason not to risk letting your dog make a mistake with people
who aren’t in on the training is that they may inadvertently react in a way
that undermines the cause. Many dogs find it rewarding when people make
physical contact with them, so pushing them off may not “read” as a negative consequence. Any bending or squealing could likewise reward the
jumping. This could culminate in a selective jumper, a dog who jumps on the
worst of all possible people! Even if you then time the dog out, or even get
violent with her, the person’s reaction may be the most powerful consequence in this context.
An important principle of dog training is not to ever let the dog discover any circumstances in which the cause and effects you want do not
exist. In other words, if you prematurely give your dog the opportunity to
jump on certain people without any “too-bads” or exits by them, she could
think something like, “Hmm. Sometimes that rule must not be in effect. Oh,
I see! It’s those people who wear silk!” Dogs are very good at discriminating
specific cases, remember, and your dog could very well use this ability to
learn that the best way to get facial proximity with a certain group is to
jump, whereas with others it is to sit. For this reason, we’re going to use only
people who are “in on it” until the dog has a strong default sit.
the door.” Go out with them and talk it through. “Okay, here’s our second entry. She might get it right and she might screw up again. If she
jumps, say ‘Too bad’ as fast as you can, and then we get out the door
quick. If she sits, bend over and kiss her. Ready?” And then tag everything they do right, being as specific as you can. “Good one—you not
only bent over and got smoochy when she sat, when that made her
jump, you straightened up faster than I could have. Brilliant. Okay, now
we’re out the door, let’s do one more. I think we’re close.”
4. If they are doing everything without any prompting or reminding from
you, they’re ready to go solo. If they’re shakier, do one more arrival
home. And a third if necessary. Although it looks simple on paper,
everything happens very fast once you’re working the exercise. And one
of the goals is lightning reactions, the cause and effect that helps the
dog learn so well.
Sit to Greet IV: Visitors and Guests
1. Invite someone over who is willing to spend a couple of minutes practicing at the door with you. You can give them an overview of what’s
going to happen or just tell them all will be revealed when they get
there. If you’ve coached family members already, you’ll have honed
your coaching skills. If this visitor is actually “trainer two,” read over
the coaching suggestions in Sit to Greet II and III.
2. When the person arrives, you say “Sit.” If your dog sits, voilà, end of
training. But she probably won’t. So when your dog jumps, say “Too
bad,” and then hustle out the door with the person. Then you can
debrief what just happened. To try and talk them through it without
them ever having seen you model the reactions is too slow.
3. Go over the procedure, making reference to what just happened. “The
objective is cause and effect for the dog. If she even starts to jump, she’s
told she blew it—that’s what the “too bad” is for—and then the very
thing she most wants, social contact, disappears. Saying ‘no no no’ or
pushing her around is just more social contact so would actually function as a reward. Neat, eh? Wanna try another one?” Then do another
one. If the person seems comfortable and interested, try coaching them
a bit. If not, do all the work again. It’ll still work as long as the visitor is
removed when the dog jumps. Whether you prompt the visitor out or
they leave on their own is moot to the dog.
4. Repeat until you get a Sit, hopefully sooner rather than later.
5. Do this procedure with everyone who visits who is willing to help—
don’t forget to put the dog away when someone visits who the dog must
not jump on, until she’s ready, as described below.
Practice with all cooperating visitors until you have had five in a row
without even an attempt to jump, even on the initial entry—then
you can let the dog greet all people, praising sitting always, and
rewarding with visitor crouching and facial contact when possible.
This will maintain the behavior.
FOOD AND ITEMS ON TABLES
Dogs are carnivorous animals, but not pure predators. They are also very well
adapted for scavenging. They have a ready regurgitation reflex, which allows
them to easily unload a poor choice of food item. Dogs also have guts that can
handle bone, bacteria that would kill you and me, and brain software that
makes them grab and eat first and ask questions later.
Is it Bad to Allow My Dog to Jump on Me Sometimes?
Lots of people let their dogs jump on them when roughhousing and during
greetings. Letting the dog do this is in no way an insidious slippery slope to
chaos, aggression, or disobedience. Many people want no jumping at all,
and then there are some who don’t want the dog jumping on them uninvited. If this sounds like you—no jumping during greeting but okay when
you’re in the mood—it’s absolutely possible to train in a signal that lets the
dog know “Okay, go ahead and jump now!” The dog just needs practice so
she can learn to discriminate when the no-jump rule is in effect and when
the go-ahead-and-jump permission has been given. Once you’ve de-jumped
your dog with the exercises, start practicing the following:
1. Give your “it’s okay to jump” cue—something like “hug time” is cute.
2. Prompt your dog to jump on you—this will take time as you’ve recently
been training against the behavior.
3. When she finally jumps, laugh and praise.
4. When in the no-jump contexts, continue with the rules as usual. Your dog
may temporarily get a bit wobbly, but with a few reps she will get it: “Oh!
I should never jump except when you say ‘Hug time!’ I get it now!”
Remember, dogs are good at specific cases and it will serve you here.
For dog owners who would like the dog to be polite and eat a uniform
diet of dog food, this presents a challenge. This is where you get to apply your
Leave It cue. Here are some exercises to transfer this behavior from sessions to
Food on Table I
1. Arm yourself with a supply of treats, but make it discreet. A great idea
is to load some beef jerky or freeze-dried liver in tiny pieces in a bag,
pocket it, and then go about your day. At first the dog will be keen, but
over time she will give up on the notion that this is predictive of any
treats going her way. This is exactly what we want—a forgotten secret
2. When you’ve got a few minutes to train, set a few food items out on
tables that the dog has stolen from or that you would like thoroughly
trained to be off-limits. Anything goes, except things such as onions, raisins or grapes, macadamia nuts, and chocolate, which are toxic to dogs.
3. Station yourself somewhere nearby within clear eyeshot of the food
items and look as natural as you can, pretending to read, watch TV, or
work on your computer.
What If She’s So Fast She Steals the Food?
The slowest dog is probably faster than the fastest Olympic athlete, so it’s
always necessary to set up the situation so that you have the advantage. If
you don’t, the dog could conceivably try the fast-grab strategy and find out
that it works just fine. Your dog may actually be entering training with this
strategy already entrenched. If so, we have to be extra-diligent to make sure
she doesn’t win the speed game anymore. This will mean stationing yourself
closer to the food items, for blocking purposes, and giving your Leave It cue
earlier in her approach or display of interest. Once a reward history is established for refraining from touching, you can gradually cut it finer, edging
your position a little farther from the goodies and letting her get a little
closer before cuing the behavior. Even dogs with strong histories of success
with a food-grabbing strategy can be deprogrammed this way. Whatever
you do, control the situation so that your dog’s best strategy is to refrain and
collect from your hidden stash because grabbing just doesn’t pay off anymore. Food in the open is an illusion.
4. If the dog makes a clear move toward the food, say “Leave it.” If she
backs off, stops approaching it, sits, or lies down, or moves toward you,
praise her warmly and give her one of the surprise rewards from your
pocket. If she continues toward it, say “Too bad,” leap to your feet, put
the food away, and go back to your business. Wait a few minutes before
5. Stake her out again for a couple of minutes. If she doesn’t try again,
praise and give her several pieces, one at a time, from your pocket stash.
It’s important that she learn that ignoring the forbidden items is even
better from her point of view than trying for one. There is a risk in
these situations that the dog will learn “Oh I see, the way I get rewarded is to make a play for the food on the table, to get him to cue me to
‘leave it.’ I can do that.”
As good as it is for the dog to obey your command, it’s even better if she
doesn’t try in the first place, and the training needs to reflect that. One of the
most common errors we all make on a daily basis with our dogs is ignoring them
when they’re being good, resting quietly and refraining from what could have
been annoying or disallowed behavior.
Repeat this every day or so until your dog hasn’t even tried five
times in a row.
Food on Table II
1. Arm yourself with stealth rewards again. We don’t want the dog only
obeying when she thinks we’re loaded, so it pays off to be Houdini
sometimes and produce rewards from seemingly thin air.
2. This time, it needs to look less like a setup, so either have someone else
place the food items while you are in another room with the dog (closing the door may be a good idea here—dogs have excellent fridge door
opening etc. radar, which could cause your dog to head toward the
setup), or else you place the food while the dog is otherwise occupied or
out on a walk. She can’t see the food go down.
3. Station yourself in a different spot from Food on Table I, but still where
you have a clear view of the action.
4. Don’t call the dog into the room. If she happens in along with you, fine
(and be alert as she might try before you seat yourself). If she trundles
in later, also fine. Act as natural as possible. Just as in Food on Table I,
reward your dog heavily for leaving the food all alone, reward her a regular amount for honoring Leave It on cue, and abruptly end the operation with your “too bad” for any naughtiness.
Repeat this every day or so until your dog hasn’t even tried five
times in a row.
Repeat exercise II on all the surfaces in your house you need proofed
against food stealing.
WHAT’S A TOY AND WHAT’S OFF LIMITS
Dogs differ dramatically in their natural tendency to pick up objects, carry
things around, and chew things. Some don’t want to mouth anything even if
encouraged by you. For other dogs, though, it seems one of their great life
pleasures to pick up things and run around, bury them, chew them, etc. The
key to solving this problem is recognizing that it is relatively innocent behavior—she just wants to have fun—and that the only issue is her choice of
objects. So the goal of training is to teach your dog that it’s fun to pick up and
chew her toys and do what she will with them, but unproductive to try touching any of your stuff.
In the case of young puppies, it’s a simple matter of redirection. Just as you
would take a set of car keys out of an infant’s hand and substitute a teething
object, the goal with puppies is to supply them with appropriate items, encourage them to pick up, carry, and chew these all they want, and simply remove
inappropriate objects should they get hold of one. I strongly disagree with
training philosophies that advise coming down hard and fast on small puppies
putting things in their mouths. These are babies engaging in normal behavior
for their species. There is no need for harshness.
If you have an adult dog with no problem at all, you can skip this section
altogether. If later a problem arises, you can always come back and do the
exercises. If your adult dog grabs stuff and plays keep away or chews them up,
these are the exercises for you. Notice that before teaching your dog not to
touch your things, we’re going to spend some effort teaching her legal outlets
for this natural behavior. Otherwise it’s a raw deal for the dog, which simply