Management and training
Learning how to get your dog to put four on the floor is a great way to break the habit of unwanted jumping.
It is great to hear that your dog is thrilled to welcome visitors and no surprise he wants to express his enthusiasm.
However, your dog needs to learn that one of the best way to make friends with visitors is to master the art of ‘four on the floor.’ That means saying ‘hello’ while keeping all four paws on the ground.
Preventing and resolving behavior issues is best broken down into two parts, management and training.
Management is about doing your best to prevent your dog from having the opportunity to practice unwanted behaviors. Practicing them means they are likely to become stronger habits.
Training is about teaching your dog specific behaviors that compete with the behavior you do not want.
Nipping bad behavior in the bud
In this case, the management component consists of keeping your dog on a leash at all times when you are home to supervise, particularly when you are having visitors. This is not forever, just until he develops a strong habit of greeting people politely.
You can use the leash to prevent jumping up by having the slash tethered to a stable object. Give your dog a great chew toy to play with when people are entering the home.
You can also hold the leash in your hand and use it to prevent your dog from jumping. Or you can hold the leash handle, and tap on the leash midway down to prevent the jumping. But if your dog is super strong and bouncy, you might wait to use this approach until you have taken some of the bounce out of his greet!
Using any of these management approaches is about not giving your dog the opportunity to jump on people to say ‘hi,’ and to prevent him from being unintentionally rewarded for doing so.
Eye contact, giggling, even yelling “no!” can be perceived by your dog as a reward. All of these are some form of attention from people.
In addition to management, you want to teach your dog that keeping four on the floor while standing or sitting is the best way to get what he wants – attention!
Saying ‘yes’ to four on the floor
So start with controlled sessions of three-to-five minutes in duration, with just family members or one friend. Have your dog tethered to a stable object and walk towards him.
If he starts to jump and bounce, step back. When four feet remain on the floor, say ‘yes’ and step forward.
With repetition he will learn that the word ‘yes’ means what he was doing when he heard it is the thing you want and will result in him getting what he wants. In this case, you moving closer.
Actions speak louder than words
At first, you may be doing a whole lot of stopping and stepping back. But with some practice, your dog will have a ‘lightbulb’ moment whereby he will figure out what it is about his behavior – four on the floor – that gets him what he wants.
You can practice this using his normal meals or special treats as rewards. So in addition to stepping closer to him after saying ‘yes,’ you can offer him a tiny bit of food as an added reward.
You will be surprised how quickly your dog will master the art of polite greetings if you are careful to employ both management and training. Doing both helps set him up for learning success.
In addition, your actions and those of your visitors will play a big part in your dog’s behavior. So, stay calm. This is much easier to do now that you are keeping the leash on for gentle control. And be specific in your feedback.
Lots of talking to your dog during training sessions can actually be confusing for him.
Let your actions – ignoring him and stepping away when his feet come off the floor, stepping closer and rewarding him when they stay on the floor – do the talking.
Andrea Arden, nationally recognized dog behaviorist and trainer; Board member and Secretary, Pets for Patriots