Dogs Greeting

Q. My dog will sit to greet when she first encounters a person, but after a couple of seconds, she starts to jump. She will go back into the occasional sit but will not stay in that position. What can I do?

A. The good news is your pooch is already familiar with the alternative to jumping, which is sitting when she first meets someone. The problem, of course, is getting her to keep all four paws on the ground for long periods of time, especially in heightened greeting situations. 

Why Your Dog Jumps

It’s important that your dog is given attention during the time that she remains in the sit. She may have learned that while the initial sit is rewarded, prolonged sitting doesn’t pay off, and so she jumps in an effort to attract attention from you or anyone else around her. To prevent this, it’s crucial that you pay attention to her while she remains sitting, whether it be with an occasional treat slipped to her at nose level or by petting and praising while she remains in the sit. 

She may also jump during petting. Dogs don’t always know how to handle petting without becoming overly excited, which can lead to jumping. To prevent this, teach your dog to do either a sit stay or a stand stay while being petted. It’s best for the most animate jumpers to remain sitting while being petted, but some dogs feel more comfortable standing. It may help to add a cue to the behavior, both to inform your dog of what’s going to happen to her, which is petting, and what is expected of her, which is either to sit or stand still. You can use a phrase like “say hi” right before the dog is petted, to let her know what’s coming and how to behave. 

Teach Her to Sit When Saying Hello

In my dog training classes, we start with the dog’s handler giving the cue to sit or stand, followed by the “say hi” cue. Then the handler gently strokes the dog on the shoulder or side. If the dog doesn’t jump but remains sitting, she is rewarded with a “good” and a treat. If the dog jumps, the handler freezes like a statue and waits until the dog sits again.

Once the dog is sitting, the handler recues the “say hi.” This time, though, the handler makes the subsequent petting less exciting, by only reaching part way toward the dog, for example, without actually touching him. Again, the dog is rewarded for staying still, either in the sit or stand.

When the dog begins to understand that staying in place is what reaps rewards, the handler makes the greeting more exciting by adding in exuberant praise and distractions, such as jumping up and down, waving arms, squeaking rubber toys and other animated behaviors. This lets the dog practice staying in place in a more active situation, much like a real-life greeting.

The next step, of course, is to have other people greet your dog, starting with people in the same household or those who are most familiar to her. Once she is able to sit or stand still to greet familiar people, gradually begin introducing her to unfamiliar people. It’s essential to keep your dog leashed in case she has a lapse in her greeting behavior and jumps up while she is saying hello.

It is important to also train your dog that a sit stay will be rewarded even when you aren’t directly looking at her or when you are interacting with someone else. To do this, look away from your dog and watch her out of the corner of your eye while you talk to someone; randomly reward your dog with treats or praise as long as she remains sitting.

Be Consistent With Your Expectations

It’s essential that all family members are on the same page when it comes to reteaching your dog to greet appropriately. Make sure that everyone in your house gives your pooch attention only while she remains sitting or standing and that everyone understands that all attention should stop when she jumps. Even negative attention, such as pushing the dog down, can reinforce the jumping behavior and make it more likely to stick. Instead, be sure that in all situations, both in the home and out on walks, your dog is always asked to sit or stand still to greet and be petted, which helps proper greeting behavior become a habit for your dog.

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