Dog’s Eye View: Can I say ‘hi’ to your dog?
March 9, 2018
Ahh. These sweet words are music to our ears. Someone has recognized how lovely our dog is and admire him as much as we do. They want to pet him and gaze into his eyes. They want him to lick their face. And you know what? They don't mind if he gets their clothes dirty or scratches their hands. Life is good. Or is it?
You probably guessed that I was heading somewhere with this first paragraph. You're right. Okay, I really love it when someone wants to meet my little terrier mix, Lawrence. He's so darn cute and so friendly, and of course, he wants to jump up on people and lick their face when they say hi to him. I am working with him, teaching him alternative behaviors to jumping. It takes time and a lot of practice.
I chose the topic for this article partly because we just finished teaching a six week Head Start Puppy class and started our Family Dog class that is for dogs of any age. On the behavior profiles that our students fill out, one of the most common problem behaviors listed is jumping up.
Jumping up is a very natural behavior for dogs. As very young puppies they may put their paws up on their mother's mouth to elicit a regurgitated meal. When they are first in our homes, we may enjoy having them reach up with their paws to greet us. As they get larger, this is not so much fun for us, especially if we have on our best clothes.
In class, our students learn to teach their dog how to sit and lie down on cue, give eye contact when they hear their name and touch their nose to the owner's outstretched palm when it is presented in front of the dog. These individual skills come together to help the student's dog greet new people.
A part of this process is role playing. Greeting people is such a big part of every dog owner's life that we spend a lot of time practicing this. Here's what it looks like.
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I pretend to be the well meaning person walking toward the student and puppy. I will say in an excited tone, "Can I say ‘hi’ to your puppy?" I may have already started to reach out and call your puppy.
Our students are taught to hold their hand out like a traffic officer and say, "Wait. Let me show you what I am teaching him. I don't want him to jump upon you."
At this time, I might say, "I don't mind if he jumps up." Our student has to hold their ground and not let me come closer. This is the hardest part.
Now is when the student coaches the stranger on how to help with training. Some folks may be offended by the dog owner's intervention. However, this common scenario is the very thing that can perpetuate the jumping up problem.
Our students say to their puppy "Go say ‘hi.’" They point to the new person. The puppy runs to the person and touches his nose to their outstretched palm. The owner immediately calls the puppy back and gives him a treat. When this scenario is practiced a few times, the puppy usually settles down and can be petted.
If all kind and well-meaning dog lovers realized how difficult we can make greeting situations for hard working dog owners, we might be more inclined to ask the owner, "How can I help you teach your puppy to greet me?"
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training, LLC with more than 30 years of experience.