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Polite Greetings  

A common training problem that people typically face with their dogs is jumping. Many dogs try to jump up when greeting people.  Dogs will sometimes try to greet us at face level, because our faces may appear to be akin to the muzzles on faces of dogs.  Many times, dogs receive attention for jumping up.  Even if the dog is told “No!” or is pushed away, it is still receiving attention. That is why such methods do not work.  The combination of: having such a love for human contact, not knowing what is appropriate in "people" language, and being reinforced one way or another for this behavior can make for a very overwhelming greeting!  It is up to us to teach our dogs the appropriate way to greet a human and to teach them that it is very rewarding to greet politely.

The key to teaching your dog to greet people politely is consistency.  Every time you allow this behavior, even if only one out of every ten times, you are strengthening the behavior through intermittent reinforcement.  A good motto to remember  is “Four on the floor.” This simply means that all four feet should be on the floor when greeting and good things come if this rule is followed.  Even if someone insists, “It’s okay!  I like dogs!” while your dog is jumping up to greet him or her, it is up to you to not allow this behavior. It can be difficult, but you must be nice and firm with anyone who wants to make an exception to the rule of "four on the floor.”  Equally important is teaching your dog an alternate behavior: 

Getting Started
Here is what you will need to begin teaching your dog how to get attention without jumping on people: 

  • One overly friendly leashed bully, the leash ensures that you will have control of the situation while in training.One or more willing humans to help with greetings
  • Small, soft, yummy treats to reward good behaviors
  • A training apron, bait bag or deep pockets, so that the food rewards are not in plain view.
  • One particular word to use as a marker word.  A marker word is simply a consistent word that always lets your dog know the moment they choose the correct behavior, it also means a reward follows.  (If clicker training, it would be the sound of the click.)

The Game Plan
Begin by having the helper stand at a distance.  Wait for your dog to check in with you.  This means, at the bare minimum, making eye contact.  If your dog reliably knows his or her name, you may say it ONE time.  (Repeating anything will just teach your dog to ignore you).  As soon as your dog looks at you, mark with a word - such as “Yes!” or click from a clicker.  Then reward your dog with a treat.  Do this several times, until every time someone new appears, your dog is checking in with you.

Now that you have gotten your dog checking in, allow the person to come closer. If at any time, your dog does not have four paws on the ground, have the person back up.  If your dog is able to keep all four paws on the ground, be sure to praise him or her! 

Continue this until the person is able to approach your dog while all of your dog's paws remain on the floor.  Keep the leash loose and have the person put his/her hand out.  Dogs explore things with their noses, so this is a great way to incorporate an alternative to jumping. 

As soon as the dog's nose touches the hand, mark it with a click or a "YES!”, or whatever word you are using as a marker word.  Since your dog will have become used to hearing this word for checking in, they probably will turn to you for a treat.  Reward your dog and have the person walk away. 

Proof the Behavior
As your dog gets better at this exercise, you will want to:

  • Practice in many locations
  • Wait for your dog to also offer a sit or a down instead of just having four paws on the ground
  • Practice with many different willing people
  • Increase the amount of time that the person is interacting with your dog.
  • Randomize the number of treats.  While you always want to use praise and a marker word when the dog is consistently doing the right thing, you want to alternate how many rewards are given.  Sometimes give one treat, sometimes five treats, sometimes none.  This keeps the dog always wanting more (think of yourself as a slot machine!)  

Helpful Hints
Remember, if your dog jumps up, there is no need to correct him or her.   Simply have the person back up;  the lack of attention and contact from the person is a better way to teach your dog than using harsh aversive methods.  It will also keep training enjoyable!

You can also reinforce good behaviors by rewarding your dog any time the dog offers an ideal behavior, such as checking in with you, or offering a sit or a down.  This easy training can be done all day long.  By rewarding your dog for choosing good behaviors, you are increasing the chance that he or she will begin to offer these desirable behaviors more frequently.

If you have a multi-dog household, it can be helpful to train one dog at a time.  Sometimes the excitement of a new guest can cause normally well behaved dogs to behave differently.  Keeping the other dog(s) crated can make learning easier.

If your dog has a mat or bed that he/she is trained to go to, you can teach the dog to go to a mat or bed after greeting.  Some dogs even learn to retreat to a specific area as soon as they hear a door knock.  When the dog goes to his bed or mat, you can reward him with a favorite toy or treat.

Some dogs offer better greeting styles if they already have something in their mouths, such as a favorite rope toy, a ball or a stuffed toy. Carrying or retrieving an item can help divert some energy.