Controlling Exhuberant Greetings

Dogs jump on people as a form of greeting, like saying hello. Even the briefest separations from the owner can elicit this greeting behavior. Generally speaking, most dogs are friendly and apt to jump up on other people as well. Sometimes these greetings can be exuberant and annoying. Dogs will jump up and mouth arms, legs and other body parts. 

The first thing that owners must understand is that this type of behavior is quite normal and acceptable, if you are a dog! In fact, these greeting rituals are important among canines in order for them to find out if the new dog is a male or female and dominant or submissive. If you watch two dogs being introduced, you will observe that they sniff each other’s muzzles and back ends. These are attempts to gather information about each other. As soon as enough information is obtained, the two dogs either engage in play, attempt to breed, or have a confrontation.

Dogs will greet people in the same way. They jump up, however, because a human’s muzzle is not at eye level to them. Jumping up may also indicate an attempt to play. Of course, the greeting procedure also persuades dogs to goose unsuspecting visitors. What dogs need to learn is that type of behavior is unacceptable when greeting humans because most humans would prefer to greet dogs with a pat on the head.

The solution to this problem is simple and straightforward. First begin by requiring your dog to sit each and every time he wants to be petted. Then, teach your dog the standard greeting procedure. This procedure is first taught by using family members and friends with whom the dog is comfortable. It begins with your dog in a sit/stay. You tell the dog that the person approaching is a friend. If the dog gets up or jumps up, say, “Stay off” in a firm voice and use your leash to prevent the dog from jumping up. Then use your treat to distract the dog, and then tell the dog to sit, stay, and be soft. (Soft is a relaxation-inducing command.) Praise the dog for doing this and uses a food reward, if you wish, then allow the person to approach.

Remind the greeter not to look at, talk to or pet the dog unless the dog is sitting. To do so would be rewarding the dog for breaking the procedure. With the above accomplished, the greeter may then greet the dog. The greeter should place a closed fist in front of the dog’s muzzle (inside the fist can be a food reward). The greeter should then give the food reward to the dog at the same time that they reach to pet the dog and quietly lavish the dog with attention. At this point you should verbally praise the dog as well. 

If you are having a difficult time with this exercise, take the food and use it as a distraction while the greeter approaches. Keep the interactions brief at first so that the dog is successful. Practice over and over with family, friends, and strangers alike. Once your dog understands how to greet people, practice this procedure as part of a doorbell-ringing scenario. Remember that your dog will need lots of practice on this exercise in order to generalize it, especially if he is afraid or over-exuberant. 

In addition to biting, some dogs respond to this fear by urinating. This is very common among young females because the muscle that holds back involuntary urine is not fully developed. If urination does occur DO NOT CORRECT THE DOG. That will only make the problem worse and won’t do anything to build the dog’s confidence. 

Instead, practice the greeting procedure outdoors. Encourage the dog to stand rather than sit. Tell the dog, “Go visit”, in an excited voice. Give the greeters treats so that they can further encourage the dog to approach. You praise excitedly; even encourage the dog to jump up because jumping up requires self-assurance. Ease the dog’s anxiety by praising the dog as he approaches the greeter. The greeter should crouch down and gently coax the dog over with food, praising quietly and avoiding any sudden moves toward the dog. 

Follow these guidelines and you will be able to help your dog to overcome the annoying habit of jumping up on people and, if you have a timid dog, you will be able to help him build confidence in meeting people.

Some dogs get over excited when people approach. They are so exuberant about their greeting that their intent is upon bowling people over.  They are unable to hold a sit long enough to make much progress with the conventional, sit and stay greeting. In this case, “Go Visit”, is a better alternative. It allows the dog wiggle room. 

As the stranger approaches you say, “Go visit”, in a matter-of-fact tone. Mark and reward all acceptable greeting behaviors that your dog exhibits, except jumping up. Your greeters should do the same. Praise quietly and in a soothing tone. Remind the dog to stay off and be soft. Instruct the greeter to use similar quieting techniques and commands.

Some dogs are timid about or afraid of being petted by strangers. Fearful responses could be the result of a bad experience with a stranger or just a lack of experience. This is why socialization at an early age is so important and why, when choosing an older puppy or adult dog, it is important to choose one that is socialized. 

Make sure your dog has continued contact with people to decrease the tendency to be fearful
A fearful dog is more likely to bite than one that is confident. Fearful dogs must be desensitized to strangers before they can be taught new, more adaptable responses to their fear. This can be only accomplished but only with a very dedicated training regime. If this is a difficulty that you have, read, The Cautious Canine, by Patricia McConnell. You may need additional, professional help to solve this problem.