How Can I Teach My Large Dog to Greet Kids Properly?

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Q. My Newfoundland loves children, and my 10-year-old daughter and her friends are the most exciting thing in the world for her. But her large size makes it easy for her to knock them over with her excited jumping when she greets them. What can I do to help her greet people — particularly children — properly?

A. The best way to get your dog to stop jumping on your daughter and her friends is to teach her an alternative greeting behavior. Best of all, you can actually use greeting children as the ultimate reward for proper manners. 

One of my favorite ways to teach a dog to greet properly is with a game called red light/green light. The idea is that your canine can greet a person only as long as she stays in a sit or a down — otherwise, the person will go away.

How to Play Red Light/Green Light With Your Dog

This game requires two adults and a leash for your dog. If your dog is especially exuberant and difficult to control, you may need to use a head halter.

Stand near your dog, holding the leash. Ask her to sit or to lie down. As soon as she goes into a sit or a down, reward her with calm praise and have your assistant start walking toward her in a relaxed manner. If she stands up or starts to jump, your assistant should turn his back to her, which serves as the “red light.” If he is close enough that she can touch him when she jumps, he may need to turn his back and walk away a couple of steps so that he is out of reach. As soon as your dog returns to the sit or down, have your assistant turn around and begin approaching again.

While it is easier to practice this behavior with two adults, you can work with your dog on your own. Tether her to a steady post, give her the command to sit and walk toward her. Turn your body to the side when you do the “red light” so that you can watch her out of the corner of your eye and pinpoint the moment when she sits or goes into a down, and then approach again.   

Once your assistant gets to your dog, treat her at nose level so that she’s less inclined to jump up. Continue to treat her as long as she stays in the sit or down. If she jumps up when your assistant is in her space, walk away. Soon she will realize that when she jumps, the ultimate reward, which is contact with the person, goes away.

Keep in mind that once you start petting her, she may be inclined to get out of the sit or down and stand up, which is fine as long as she doesn’t jump up. For an especially excitable dog, a stuffed toy or chew toy provides something productive to focus on. You can also ask her to do obedience commands or tricks as another way to redirect her focus.  

Once she has practiced appropriate greeting with adults, set up greeting sessions with your daughter and her friends. Instruct them on how to approach your dog and have them practice turning away if she jumps. Give each child a handful of treats to reward your dog when she stays in the sit or down.

You can eventually fade out the use of the leash once she proves reliable by first dropping the leash and letting it hang and eventually taking it off altogether. Treats can also be faded out, and you can use greeting a person as the ultimate reward for her sitting. The more consistent you are about only allowing your dog to greet people when she’s in a sit or a down, the less likely she will be to jump, especially if people actually walk away when she’s jumping up. 
 

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