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Since a dog cannot sit and jump at the same time, teaching this command solves a common problem.
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One of the most common reasons for pet parents to call a trainer is because their dog jumps up on people. Often I find that clients have been inadvertently reinforcing the “jump up” by yelling at the dog or even kneeing him (please don’t do either — it’s ineffective and not nice). So what’s the easiest way to stop a dog from jumping on people?
The first step is to change the human part of the equation. We have a very apt saying in dog training that goes: “You get what you reinforce.” I ask the person to take a step back in any scenario with unwanted canine behavior to exam if the human is strengthening that behavior. Many dogs will keep jumping even with a knee to their chest. The knee doesn’t work can can be cruel. It can also be reinforcing for the dog.
That is what not to do to fix this all-too common problem. What to do? It’s so simple that you might have trouble believing it!
A dog cannot do two things at one. He cannot both jump AND sit. It’s much more fun for the human and the canine to train toward what you want instead of being the Queen of NO or “Off, off, off, OFF!!!!!!!” So we train for a very reliable and willing sit.
One way I teach sit is to do what I call a “walk about.” I simply walk around in an enclosed room with tasty treats in my hand. When I stop walking, I don’t say a word. I wait. Nearly every time, the dog then OFFERS me a sit (I will turn my back to the dog if she jumps on me), and I say “yes!” again and treat.
And then I resume my walk about. And the dog sits and sits and sits and sits some more. I provide rapid-fire feedback with lots of reinforcers so the dog will understand that the sitting behavior is what I want. I never need to put my hands on the dog. The sit becomes quickly and highly reinforced, and that which is reinforced will be offered more often.
There are several ways to teach sit. I checked in with a popular dog trainer in the Toronto area, Janis Mikelberg, CPDT-KA, owner of SitStayLearn, to get her take on teaching this all-important cue:
“Some of the most common sentences I hear when I enter a client’s home are: ‘Oh my gosh, how did you do that? Look at that!!! He’s not jumping! What did you do?’
“The dog stops jumping because I am not reinforcing the jumping in any manner. I am not looking at, touching, nor speaking to their dog,” Mikelberg says.
She uses many of the same techniques I do, and we use them because they are quick and effective! Here’s how Mikelberg begins a session with a dog who loves to jump on people:
“When I enter a client’s home, whether to work with a new puppy, adolescent, or adult dog, the dog learns very quickly that unwanted behavior (usually jumping on me) doesn’t work. I will back up, turn around, do whatever I need to ensure there is no reinforcement. The moment the dog offers sit, I immediately give attention, food, or both. Within minutes, most dogs have figured out not only that jumping doesn’t work, but more importantly sitting does.”
At what age can we begin teaching the sit? I agree with Mikelberg when she notes, “I want puppies to learn, right from the start that sit makes good things happen. With puppies, it’s really easy and fast as you are not undoing bad habits. They are a blank slate.”
One mistake many pet parents make is to stand above their dog and repeat, over and over again: “Sit. Sit, Fido. Sit. Sit. Sit. SIT!” Dogs don’t arrive knowing the meaning of “sit,” and that’s precisely why I prefer to get the behavior from the dog many times over before we pair it with the cue word.
Mikelberg has a great tip on being quiet: “The quieter I am, the faster the dog learns. I prefer puppies and dogs figure out on their own what works rather than having to rely on me to always tell them what to do.”
But what should be done if the handler makes a mistake in training this important cue? Here’s how Mikelberg handles that, “What if I made a mistake and he doesn’t sit? I hold a piece of food near his nose and lure him into position by moving it upward towards the space between his ears. When the head goes up, the other end goes down,” she says.
Mikelberg also talks about generalization: “Dogs don’t generalize – meaning, once they have learned to sit in the kitchen, [that] doesn’t mean they know to do it anywhere else. It’s a process, beginning with rewarding sit many, many times in many different circumstances and providing clear feedback about what does and doesn’t work,” she says.
Please challenge yourself to see how many times a day you can “catch” your dog offering you a sit. The more you reinforce it, the more often the dog will offer it.
Top photo: Husky in training by Shutterstock.
Annie Phenix is a Colorado-based professional writer and dog trainer. She is the Trainer in Residence for Dogster.com and she writes a column for Dogster Magazine and other publications. She is the author of a Spring 2016 book, titled The Midnight Dog Walkers (I-5 Publishing).
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