This question came up at the coffee shop from an older couple whose son had a Labrador that practically knocked them down every time they visited. It’s a very common issue, and there are several ways to address the behavior. I will cover two common approaches: kneeing the offending dog and a broader-based behavior modification.
Avoid the Behavior
Before covering the two approaches, it is important to comment that the easiest way to keep a dog from jumping on you or your guests is to stop it before it starts. When your dog is young, be very careful not to inadvertently reward this behavior. Never provide praise, treats, or affection when your young dog is jumping. Ignore the behavior (don’t ignore the dog), as soon as your dog has all of their paws on the ground be generous with your attention and praise.
Kneeing the Dog
The intent of this action is to create an unpleasant experience that the dog does not want repeated.
To perform this correction, quickly raise your knee to the dog’s chest to disrupt the jump and knock the dog off balance. The correction needs to be timed nearly perfectly, when the dog is at the apex of the jump, with enough force to unbalance the dog but not so much as to injure. I have used this approach several times and it can bring quick results if properly executed. There are, however, many downsides that can make this solution less than ideal:
- Risk of physical injury to the dog and damage to surrounding property
- The correction may only work for the individual that administers it and the dog may continue to jump on others
- Not everyone can do it – this is a physically difficult task that is beyond young children, people without good balance or those wearing unsuitable clothing (think of a dinner guest in a skirt trying to knee a 75 lb Labrador)
- The underlying behavior (uncontrolled excitement) is not addressed and other undesirable activity may take the place of jumping
- It does not contribute to a bonded relationship and the dog may develop fear or anxiety of strangers
Creating a “Guest Greeting Base” For an Excitable Dog
An easier and more preferable approach is to modify the excited behavior. This approach involves giving the dog a “base” to sit in when guests arrive.
- Place a carpet sample or other movable pad in the entrance area of your home. If the dog is extremely excitable, you may need to start by having the dog sit/stay on the pad in another room.
- Have a friend or family member initiate the cues of an arriving guest (ring the doorbell, knock on the door, etc.). Focus your attention on the dog and make sure they maintain the sit/stay through the delivery of the cues. If the dog breaks the command, return them immediately to the mat and stand quietly until the dog sits. Don’t repeat the sit command unless absolutely necessary.
- Have the assistant enter the home or apartment without making any eye or physical contact with the dog.
- If the dog is calm and remains in the sit/stay, it can be released to greet the assistant. Again, if the dog breaks the sit/stay, return them to the mat until the dog sits quietly.
- When the dog approaches the assistant, the assistant should turn a quarter turn or more away from the dog and continue to avoid eye contact. Only after the dog has regained a calm state (they don’t necessarily need to sit, but that is an option) should the assistant provide attention or acknowledge the animal.
This process should be repeated over the course of days or weeks until the dog can hold the sit/stay through the arrival of guests. The dog will learn that this base is their designated “guest-greeting spot.”
Remember, a good citizen won’t leave paw prints on your guests.