Dear PetLvr Mailbag,
I have a pit lab mix that loves too much. She is about 55 lbs and strong as an ox. She has been trained to not jump on me when I come home and she won’t jump on my S.O., but she goes nuts and wants to tackle everyone that comes over. But even with me she bounces off of the furniture and wants to jump but tries to control herself. She is strong as hell and she jumps, licks and is generally a spaz with every adult able bodied. She is better with me, my S.O., little kids and usually with old or handicapped people. But everyone else, look out!
We call her Our Lady of Unwanted Facials. What can I do to get her to chill and let people come in with out being tackled?
Greeting behaviors are a common concern for owners of large dogs. Exuberant greetings are not only annoying; they can be downright dangerous if someone elderly or frail is targeted for a flying canine tackle.
The good news is, this is another of those problem behaviors that can be changed using one of the easiest behavior modification techniques: Training an incompatible behavior. In this case, you need to teach OLUF to do something when strangers visit that is totally incompatible with bouncing off the walls and the guests.
For example, you could teach her to go lie down in a crate or on a dog bed with a special toy. Purchase a toy that she really likes to chew, and keep it in the cabinet for chewing only when she is sent to her dog bed. Start by laying the toy on her dog bed, and when she approaches it, immediately click a clicker or use a distinctive praise word like “Yes!” and offer a food reward. Repeat every time she approaches the dog bed, and give a jackpot– a whole handful of treats– when she actually gets on the dog bed.
After she is reliably going to the toy and bed when you get the toy out, you can introduce a cue. As she heads for the bed, say something like, “Naptime!” just before you use your click or praise word and reward her. Repeat a few dozen times, until the cue is firmly associated with the behavior of going to the dog bed.
Now, you can build duration. Wait until she stays on/in the bed for a few seconds before rewarding her. Gradually, over several days to a couple weeks, increase the duration to five to ten minutes between rewards. She should chew her toy while she’s waiting, so she won’t be getting no reward at all: She’s still getting to play with a special toy.
When she will stay solidly in her bed for ten minutes at a time, you can introduce distractions. Start by distracting her yourself. Jump up and down, go to the door, jingle your keys, turn on the television, etc. Each time she stays put when you try to distract her, she gets a food reward. When she’ll stay in bed no matter what you do (short of calling her to you, which should be the cue to release her from her stay), you can introduce an outsider.
Start with S.O. (significant other) coming inside from outdoors. Have him knock and ring the bell before he comes in. If she stays put, a big food reward for her! Once she can let S.O. in after he knocks or rings without moving, get a friend or neighbor who normally gets the super-enthusiastic greeting to help train. Start by having him or her walk up, knock, and walk away. If the dog stays, she gets a reward. Work up to having him actually come inside and shake hands with you and S.O. while the dog stays.
When she will stay solidly as a friend comes inside and interacts with you and your S.O., she’s ready to actually greet a visitor. Call her after the visitor has been inside for a few minutes and has already greeted you. If she tries to jump on the guest, send the guest back outside without petting the dog, and cue her to go back to her bed. Don’t treat returning to bed as a punishment. It’s a cue for a behavior and a chance to get a treat.
Repeat this sequence until she will calmly come when called toward a guest. Have her sit or lie down, and then ask the guest to pet her on the head briefly, then turn away from her. You can then release her from the sit, but if she jumps on the guest, the guest should turn away silently and go straight back outside, denying the attention she’s seeking.
For long term management of this behavior, inform your guests before they arrive that your dog is “in training” and you need them to listen to your instructions as to how to greet her. Ask them to ignore her completely until you call her over, and then to pay only a little bit of attention to her while she greets them politely. They should then return to ignoring the dog.
Visitors are much less exciting when they result only in a pat on the head and a “Hello, pup!” rather than a play session with jumping, licking, and yelling. After she realizes the days of visitors rewarding her for exuberance by leaping around, pushing her away, and shouting (all fun things for a dog), she’ll probably choose to go back to bed while you chat with your guests.
Finally, remember that almost all behavior problems can be mitigated to some extent by increasing the dog’s exercise level. If OLUF isn’t getting adequate exercise, start arranging your routine so you can take her for a run, bike ride, swim, or other exhausting exercise every day. A tired dog is a dog that doesn’t want to fly across the room at your guests. If you’re expecting company, someone in the household should take responsibility for going for an exercise session with OLUF before the visitors arrive.
If you have a pet related question that you would like Jelena Woehr to answer here in our “PetLvr Mailbag” series … send your question to jelena (at) PetLvr (dot) com