Fine tuning: Working with Jumping Dogs

Rowsey just needed to learn the value of keeping four on the floor

In my last blog post, I talked about my strategy for getting a dog who jumps up to not jump – turning my back on them and saying out loud something like “Nope, that’s not going to get you what you want.” This communication is key. But I didn’t mention timing as another important element of my use of the strategy: when I turn my back, I plant my feet and wait. I give the dog time to start wondering what’s next, then I turn back to them with my “this is serious stuff” face and gauge their reaction. If they make a start on jumping, I turn my back again, repeat my statement, and wait. With some shelter dogs, turning my back once has been enough to stop the behavior for the duration of the visit.

But a third key element is patience. Take the sweet boy above. In the first few minutes of our first encounter, I turned my back to him three or four times before he was convinced I was not going to interact with him till he kept his feet on the ground. He tested the waters a few more times during that first visit . . . but turning my back once was enough at that point. It took a couple of visits to really dial that behavior down to zero. I learned he was really smart, good-hearted, and eager to work for treats. He wasn’t a persistent jumper because he was bad, he was just super excited: he really, really wanted to do a meet-and-greet. He had a whole lot of affection to share and it was busting out all over. But that great meet-and-greet he wanted couldn’t happen till he quit jumping. Turning away from him communicated that.

Once the dog has gotten the message that jumping doesn’t get him what he wants (I’ve turned my back, made my statement, waited, turned around and the dog doesn’t respond by jumping), what comes next also requires timing. Although other people might give the dog a reward quickly for not jumping, I don’t. In every other situation I offer the reward without delay, but in this case I take the time – a few seconds – to share a good look with the dog. I want to be sure they’re committed to staying down before I say “yes” and give them a treat. I take that moment because I don’t want them to think, ‘I jump, she turns and gives me a treat, therefore jumping got me the treat.’

And that’s where the timing really comes in – if I turn and see the dog is excited and might jump but it looks like I have a little window of time, I quickly give them an alternative behavior. I choose the cue ‘sit’ if the dog seems too excited to respond well to ‘come,’ and that’s often the case on a first visit with a shelter dog. Why that cue? Almost all dogs past puppy hood know the cue “sit,” and even if they don’t, if they are interested in a treat at all, it is very easy to guide them to comply. With a dog who calms down pretty quickly and clearly has no thought of jumping, I say “yes” and treat, then move right to ‘come,’ because greeting, is, after all, the point, and I’ll be reinforcing a calm greeting.

On a first visit with a shelter dog, I can’t be sure if he knows this cue. So I “lure” him in with that first use of it, showing him the treat and bringing it down in front of me so he steps forward to get it. I want to create optimal conditions for him to follow through on my request, and the lure serves that purpose. (If you want to learn more about “lures” versus “rewards,” McCann Dogs has a very clear article and podcast about it. They use a misleading title to attract attention, but its great info: Why Food Fails in Dog Training

With clear communication, timing, and patience, a dog who jumps can be taught that ‘four on the floor’ is the greeting that gets rewarded. And Rowsey? Someone else figured out what an excellent dog he is – he’s been adopted.

Next up, Teaching “leave it.”

Hanging out with the Shelter Dogs

The Potsdam Humane Society finally opened up its training sessions for volunteers in April. To say I was ready to spend some quality time with the pups would be the understatement of the year. Almost every week since then I’ve spent a few hours hanging out with the dogs. Today I met Angel Joleen.

Angel heading back to get a few more butt rubs.

Angel spent lots of her time just standing next to me while I petted her. I sat on the ground and started at her shoulders and moved my way down. When she figured that was enough she’d turn around so I could do the other side. Occasionally she’d head off to investigate the rest of the enclosure, and she was glad enough to chase a tennis ball a few times, but it was never long before we got back to the real business – a full back massage followed by a butt rub. At six and a half years old, her age might make some people overlook her, but with that beautiful brindle coat and that sweet disposition, I’m hoping someone finds their perfect match when they meet her.

Here’s another girl at the shelter: Belle.

Belle at rest

Belle’s two year and a half years old. I’ve visited with her five or six times. At the beginning of the first session she did a bit of jumping up, but she gave that up when I simply turned my back on her. Two facts to know about Belle: 1) She is a dog that sees one of her missions in life as destroying any toy she can get her teeth into – at the shelter they’ve hung the laundry basket that’s full of balls of all sorts high up on the chain link fence of the outdoor exercise yard.The first time I brought her there, I unhooked her leash and she bolted to the other end of the yard, leapt, and bopped the basket from underneath. Half-inflated basketballs and soccer balls and a couple of tennis balls went flying.

So, how’d I get a photo of Belle sitting calmly when there was a basket of balls to destroy just a few feet away? Fortunately, here’s fact: 2) Belle’s other mission in life is to figure out how to get treats. A food-motivated dog can be a thing of joy, and Belle fits that bill.

When I met her she already knew how to do a perfect “sit.” We’ve been working on adding “wait” to her catalog of commands. The best case scenario of training a dog is frequent, short training sessions – ideally, training would be interspersed throughout the day. But Belle and I don’t have all day – just 20-30 minutes. Given that on the first day she’d sit perfectly and then stand right back up, I’m pretty happy with our progress. Now, after asking for some super short wait times to remind her of the game, I’m able to move up to taking a couple of steps away and returning to her – or calling her to come to me – without her breaking from the sit.

Belle waiting for the release word (come) or for me to return to her.

Today I started working with her on “back up.” I do this simply by stepping close in to her and when she scoots back, giving the command “back up” and giving her the treat while I say “yes.” She caught on to this very quickly, although I’m not sure how I’ll get a good photo of that.

At the end of any visit, I try to create a few moments of calm. After 20 minutes of figuring out how to get treats, Belle’s ready to lay down and hang out. But I can tell she hasn’t forgotten about the treats.

Belle’s pretty sure she knows where those treats are

Our shelter does a great job matching up good dogs with good people, and I know the dog I work with today might not be here the next time I visit. Of course, that’s more than okay – it’s always good news when a dog’s been adopted. So for today, hats off to Angel and Belle: two sweet girls trusting us to find them good homes.