September 23, 2010
Don't let your dog get away with this dangerous habit!
"On Easter Sunday I drove past my neighbor's house and glanced over to see his six-year-old daughter just as she walked out of the house in her new Easter dress. At the same time Buster, the family's big golden retriever, charged out of the garage, saw the young girl, ran over to where she stood, and jumped up to greet her.
"Down went the 50-pound girl with the 70-pound golden right on top of her, with his dirty paws on the snow white dress. By now, I was further down the street and I looked into the rear view mirror to see a crying little girl in a soiled dress and an angry father chasing a frightened Buster across the yard." Jim Keller, a professional gun dog trainer and owner-operator of Keller's Kennels near Lincoln, Nebraska, always begins his "Stop Your Dog from Jumping up on People" lesson with this story.
"Not a pretty picture," Keller says. "And not an image I would care to remember, except that I had spent some time much earlier with Buster's owner and with Buster working on the dog's problem of jumping up on people. Obviously what I had tried to teach man and dog hadn't really taken.
"Most any dog can easily be taught not to jump on people," Keller believes. "Just don't let the dog do it right from the beginning when an enthusiastic puppy jumps up to put its paws on your pants. Grab the pup's front feet, gently squeeze, and say in a soft and pleasant manner, 'No.' Squeeze the pup's feet until he 'squeaks,' lets out a yip, or otherwise indicates a mild degree of discomfort, then give the 'No' command.
"Let the pup's front paws loose, but grab and squeeze them again if he or she wants to jump again. When the pup stops jumping up, give a 'good dog' or some other praise phrase that reinforces the modified behavior. This lesson can be taught in a day or two to a seven-week-old puppy or a seven-year-old adult dog," Keller says.
"Older dogs that jump on people, however, are harder to train to stop this offensive behavior. Start with the paw squeeze, but watch out for hardheaded dogs accustomed to biting anyone who gets too physical with them. If the jumping dog wants to bite, substitute a knee in the pooch's chest when the dog's front feet are on your legs or chest.
Don't be brutal, but don't be a weenie, either. Use enough knee force to knock the dog off balance. Most intelligent dogs will get the point after a few of these knee-in-the-chest sessions." Keller says.
"For the real bonehead canine that won't respond to paw-squeezing or chest-kneeing, try lightly stepping on the dog's hind feet when the front paws are on you. Smile, tell the dog 'no,' step on a hind foot until the dog gets the idea and gets off you, then say 'good dog.' Making the dog 'sit' afterwards is a good additional command in this process," Keller suggests.
"When using any of these training methods, tempt the dog to repeat the jumping behavior by giving him the opportunity to jump again, then correct him or her accordingly. Perhaps most important, make sure everyone in the family participates in this training exercise and knows how to get positive results. Just because your dog won't jump on you doesn't mean the dog won't jump on your kids, one of your neighbors or one of your hunting partners," Keller advises.
So what does all this have to do with gun dogs? Trained and experienced gun dogs don't jump on people, right? Not necessarily. "Several years ago I spent three days with a retired orthodontist from Ohio who brought his 10-year-old black Lab to Nebraska to hunt pheasants, Keller recalls. "While we were taking a break out in the field, the old dog walked over to his owner, jumped up on him, and knocked a loaded 12-gauge automatic out of the guy's hands. Fortunately, the gun hit the ground without firing.
"I expected the dog's owner to come unglued and do some immediate behavior modification and obedience tune-up training. But instead, he picked up his gun, patted the dog's head, and took off hunting. Though I should have, I didn't say anything. A week later, with a different hunter and a different dog, exactly the same thing happened. This time I didn't keep my mouth shut," Keller admits.
"I told the dog's owner, a 30-year-old CPA from Pennsylvania, that letting his dog jump up on him and knock the gun out of his grasp was a life-threatening situation for anyone in shotgun range. (This is the 'polite' version, suitable for publication in a family magazine, of what I actually said and the way I really put it.) Fortunately, the young man got the point...having his two hunting partners agree with me helped a lot in convincingly delivering my message.
"He listened, watched, and learned while I demonstrated how to stop his dog from committing this uncontrolled and dangerous behavior. I don't know if the dog's owner stayed with the training program, but I know that the dog didn't jump on anyone throughout the rest of our time together.
"Most professional gun dog trainers I've met are thorough and conscientious, particularly in teaching dogs to stay off people holding shotguns. Except for one young trainer I ran into last year who, after a 70-pound German wirehaired pointer retrieved a pigeon, actually 'encouraged' the dog to jump up to deliver the bird. While the dog still had his grubby paws on the trainer's already dirty shirt, I asked why he wanted the dog to do that.
"'It looks kind of cool,' he said. In my usual highly diplomatic and gentle manner, I told him, 'It really looks pretty stupid.' Then I went on to warn him of the potentially dangerous consequences of encouraging the dog's jumping habit. Fortunately again for me, a senior trainer concurred with my judgment, though I still would bet that the dog someday will knock a shotgun out of the hands of some unsuspecting hunter.
"Any dog jumping up on people can be annoying. Sometimes a jumping dog can be dangerous. A gun dog jumping on a hunter holding a gun can be lethal," Keller concludes. "In any case, this behavior isn't the dog's fault because training to eliminate it is easy if started early, and effective, even if started later in the dog's life."