Prevent jumping with 4 on the floor!

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

What makes a behavior desirable one day and “problem” the next? More importantly, how is our pet supposed to understand when certain behaviors are appropriate and when they are not? After all, to animals, a behavior is just a behavior; we are the ones who determine whether it is a “bad” behavior or a “good” one.

For example, take the all too common situation of a dog that likes to jump up on people. Sometimes it may be appropriate to jump up and sometimes it is not. Often what starts as a cute behavior as a small puppy becomes a major nuisance six months later when the dog is 50lbs heavier! While most of us want our dog to greet us and be energetic during playtime, that sort of energy is not desirable in most situations like when our arms are full of grocery bags. Jumping up can be especially annoying when unsuspecting friends drop by for a visit.

To tackle the problem of jumping at inappropriate times, we should focus all of our attention on the dog when it is NOT jumping. The reason? Once a dog has leapt off the ground to jump up on someone, it is really too late to prevent the problem and redirect the animal with a more appropriate behavior request such as sit, lay down or stand calmly as people come near. Those trainers that try to resort to punishment to control the unwanted jumping after it has already occurred only serve to confuse their pet and weaken their relationship of trust.

So what should we do to prevent unwanted jumping? One of the easiest ways to teach dogs how to greet people appropriately is by what I call the “four on the floor” rule. Basically, ANY (and every) time your pet receives praise, petting, treats, toys, a kindly spoken “good dog,” or bowls of food from you or others, all four paws should be touching the ground. Think of it this way, if all four paws are making contact with the floor when rewards arrive, then the animal is obviously, sitting, standing, laying down or somewhere in between—each of which is incompatible with jumping up! To be effective, it is important to use the four on the floor rule whenever you interact with your pet each day, not just when company shows up.

By reminding family members and friends to only reward (i.e., pay attention to) our pet when all 4 paws are touching the ground, animals will soon learn the value of greeting people without jumping up. For those pets with a long history of jumping up, it may take a while to retrain your dog’s behavior into something more relaxed. So, use some favorite toys and treats to grab their attention and be patient—they will get it so long as everyone remembers “4 on the floor” from now on.

Dr. Grey Stafford has been an animal trainer for 20 years and is the author of the pet training book, "ZOOmility: Keeper Tales of Training with Positive Reinforcement." As Director of Conservation and spokesperson for the Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium, Grey regularly appears on 3TV presenting wild and endangered animals. Be sure to watch his regular pet-training call-in segments, Saturdays on GMAZ and check out ZOOmility on Facebook.