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Dear Doctor: The Puppy won’t stop Jumping on People

Q My new puppy is adorable, but at 12 weeks of age, he has already developed a habit of jumping on people. It’s clearly a sign of affection, but not everybody likes it. Besides, he’s a Lab, and I fear that as he grows, the excitement and happiness he exhibits by jumping is going to be taken with less and less good cheer by people we come across. I keep telling him “Down,” but it doesn’t work. Any suggestions?

Ellen Hughes

Abington, Massachusetts

Dear Ms. Hughes,

A Yup, we’ve been there. Especially when it’s wet out and the paws are muddy, people don’t appreciate paw prints on their pants — or shirts, if the dog is tall enough.

And yup, there are things you can do. For starters, don’t say “Down” but, rather, “Off.” A lot of people use “Down” for both “Don’t jump” and “Lie down with your chest on the ground,” and dogs will not be able to figure out the difference because of context. They’ll think you’re telling them to lie down while they’re jumping, which will make no sense to them.

Second, we presume your dog jumps on you, too, so teach him not to by starting with yourself. Let’s say your pup jumps up on you in excitement when you come in from outside. He’s cute — we know — and you want to make him feel good. But stand still with no reaction. Don’t do anything. Don’t tell him to “Stop it,” don’t pet him, don’t laugh at how adorably pushy he can be — don’t even push him off. Pushing him off as a response to jumping will make him think it’s a game — he pushes, you push back. What fun!

You really need to turn to stone. At first, that might make your young pup try even harder, jumping all the more. But the behavior will finally extinguish after a minute or two, or maybe even less time. When the jumping does stop, come alive. Immediately smile and praise him warmly and enthusiastically, pet him lovingly, and give him a reward in the form of a great treat.

It’s not going to work at first. He’ll still come back for more the next time you come in.

But after two or three more episodes, the lightbulb will start to go off. Add the word “Off” when he starts his antics. He’ll get the hang of the outcome you seek — and the one he seeks (a treat) — in pretty short order.

A word to the wise: until your dog learns that jumping up on people is not acceptable, do not let him get close enough to favorite passers-by on walks to let him do the deed. When he starts to try to jump up toward someone even though you are several feet away, use the same “Off” and the same immediate reward of praise and a treat — even though it’s you who are making sure he follows through. That rote repetition will help him to understand what gets your approval — which he wants more than anything.


This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Tufts Your Dog