Cats and Dogs
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Why does my dog push his body into me?

Dog Behavior Problems — Greeting Behavior — Jumping Up

For many dogs, jumping up on people is part of their greeting routine. Often, owners have tried to discourage this behavior using methods such as squeezing the front feet, stepping on the dog’s toes, or kneeing the dog in the chest. Yet the behavior continues. For some dogs, these techniques provide an uncomfortable but acceptable form of attention. For others, the technique leads to increasing anxiety as people arrive at the door, and conflict behaviors such as circling or urine leaking can develop because the pet is motivated to greet as well as avoid. Therefore, in both cases, the problem is gradually being further aggravated. If that is the case with your dog, then it is important to think about what might be motivating the dog to jump up and what is the reinforcement for the behavior continuing, and to avoid exposure until you can gain sufficient control with verbal commands, head halter training, or both.

Some people like to allow the dog to jump up on them from time to time. You must never allow the dog to choose the time or the dog will continue to do this behavior whenever it is in the mood, and could learn to greet all people in the same uncontrolled manner. Therefore, if you enjoy this type of greeting first teach your dog to settle and relax for greetings and then teach your dog a command “give me a hug” or “come up here.” This way, you have the behavior under verbal control and you decide when the dog will be allowed to jump up.

Why does my dog jump up?

Usually the motivation for the jumping up behavior is to greet people. Many dogs like to greet “face to face,” like they do with their canine counterparts. Some people, however, find this objectionable. Dogs that jump up can also cause injury or scare the visitor. The visitor’s reaction to the dog (whether it be fear or retaliation) would then serve to make the dog anxious about further visitors coming to the home.

«The focus should be to teach your dog how to
greet properly for rewards.»

In addition, strong punitive responses when people enter the home can create anxiety and could make the dog aggressive as he anticipates that people entering the home create an aversive situation for him. The focus should not be on how to stop jumping up but rather to teach your dog how to greet properly for rewards.

How do I teach my dog to greet properly?

Training should likely begin at any time the dog is seeking attention, since any time attention soliciting behavior is reinforced, more intensive forms of this behavior are likely to be learned. Therefore, whenever your dog seems to want affection or anything of value, first teach it to sit and stay or lie down and settle, (which would both be proper greeting behaviors). In addition, sit/stay or down and settle training should be practiced in a variety of locations throughout the home, whenever the dog wants something of value e.g., food, toy, affection, treat, or walk. These training commands should also become part of routine training sessions using food lures, head halter or clicker training.

Proceed to practice the sit/stay or down-settle in a variety of places around the home including the front doorway. If the dog is not immediately command responsive, a head halter can be used to more immediately and regularly achieve the desired response. Once the sit/stay or down-settle can be reliably achieved at the doorway, when there are no people coming or going, its time to begin practicing with family members, before progressing to familiar visitors and then to greeting new people arriving at the home. Make the dog sit and stay or lie in a settle down when people arrive and give the dog the special training treat. If the dog gets up, then put him back in the sit or down and try again until the dog remains settled through the arrival. Often, placing a treat jar by the front door with a bell on it will help. Once the dog associates the bell on the jar with a treat, and a treat with a sit/stay, the dog will be more likely to perform the task. For the dog that will reliably go to bed or a mat on command, an alternative option might be to use this command when people arrive at the door. Once the people have entered, you can bring the dog out on a leash and head halter to keep it under control.

«Placing a treat jar by the front door with a bell on it will help.»

Another way to train this behavior, if you feel that you have sufficient control, is to set up visitors to come to your home. You will likely have the best control of your dog if you use a head collar and a leash for this exercise. Have the first person come to the door. Instruct your dog to “sit” and “stay.” Then, let the visitor in. Hopefully, your dog will remain in the sit for rewards, and this can be followed by the visitor giving rewards. If the dog does not remain sitting, a pull up and forward with the head halter should return the dog immediately to a sit. After the dog has settled and received a treat from both you and the visitor, you might have them leave again through the back door, come to the front and enter again. This second entry should go easier as your dog will have just seen the person. If you can repeat this four to six times for each visitor, the dog will have plenty of opportunity to learn the new task.

I have tried training a new task, but my dog still jumps on people. Why?

Once you understand the motivation, and have trained a new task, you need to be sure you have identified all the reinforcement for the behavior. If the dog succeeds in getting any attention for the jumping behavior, then the dog will continue to jump. Attention includes petting, pushing away, (which resembles play behavior), and even mild reprimands, all of which can be reinforcing for a dog that really wants attention. To change this behavior you need to remove ALL reinforcement. This may mean that you do not look, speak, touch or interact with the dog IN ANY WAY when it jumps on you. Walk by the dog, give a command such as “sit,” but do not interact with the dog. Alternately, you could try a disruptive stimulus to see if you can disrupt the behavior just as it begins.

How can I train my dog not to jump using a disruptive stimulus?

To use disruption for jumping up, you need to be able to quickly and humanely interrupt the behavior. This is often best done with some type of device that makes a loud noise. Shaker cans, ultrasonic trainers, rape alarms, and air horns, all make loud noises that will often startle the dog. As soon as the dog hesitates, you need to give the dog an alternative command so that the dog can do the proper thing, and then reward the dog with praise. So, as you administer the noise, you say “sit” and when the dog sits, you reward it with praise and food treats if available. Many dogs soon learn that, to avoid the noise, they need to sit and will do so to greet you. Then have the person leave, and re-enter the home. Use the device and command if the dog does not immediately sit, and reinforce with a “good sit” and reward as soon as the dog does sit. Continue to have the person leave and re-enter until the dog sits for its reward without hesitating. Another efficient but costly means of immediate interruption is to use a citronella spray collar. Bark activated collars are useful if the dog also barks as people arrive at the door. Alternately a remote collar can be used to interrupt the jumping and reinforce the desirable response (e.g., sitting).
Another method that is consistently successful at deterring and preventing the jumping up is to leave a leash and head halter on the dog during greeting. All it takes is stepping on the leash or a quick sharp pull to prevent or disrupt the jumping up. Again, be certain to reward non-jumping behavior.

Understanding Your Dog’s Body Language Signals

Mychelle is a writer and web designer who is passionate about a wide variety of topics and enjoys sharing her knowledge with readers.

Updated March 28, 2019

Large dog is afraid of a small dog

Dogs rely heavily on body language to communicate with other dogs as well as to people. Understanding what your dog’s body language signals means can help you learn more about your dog’s mental and physical needs.

Dog on Their Back

A dog on their back can indicate different behaviors depending on the context.

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Playful Rolling With Wiggles

If you see a dog roll on their back and wiggle or kick their legs, and their overall body language looks loose and relaxed, this is a dog that is feeling happy and playful. You may also see dogs do this when they are playing with each other. Rolling onto the back is a natural play behavior that actually helps a dog to avoid playful bites from the other dog or dogs, while getting in some of their own.

Scratching Rolls

Some dogs also roll on their backs to scratch and itch on their back or to enjoy the surface they’re rubbing on, such as fresh grass or if you see a dog rolling on a bed. This is a normal behavior but if you notice your dog doing this a lot and flaky, irritated skin, bring your dog to a veterinarian to see if they have a skin allergy or other condition.

Nervous or Fearful Rolling During Greeting

On the other hand, if you greet a dog and they immediately roll on their back, or do this when greeting another dog, this is a dog that is nervous or fearful.

Nervous or fearful dog

  • It may also simply indicate a dog that is showing this posture to a new dog to indicate, «hey, I’m not a threat!» to diffuse any possible tension.
  • A fearful dog may also release some urine in this posture.
  • Some fearful dogs may growl after rolling onto their back when you begin to approach them. In this case the dog has rolled over to diffuse a possible conflict and growls when the person he is anxious about ignores his signal and keeps moving closer.
  • This posture is often described as a dog «showing submission.» It’s more useful to think of it in terms of the dog’s emotional state and what he’s hoping to accomplish with the behavior.

Sleeping on Back

If you see a dog laying on their back and napping, this means your dog feels safe and relaxed in his environment. A dog willing to sleep with his belly up feels confident and secure. Note that this doesn’t mean if you see a dog sleeping in different positions that they are not relaxed, because dogs are just like people and everyone enjoys different sleeping styles.

Bowing Body Language

The play bow is a body language signal used to solicit play from other dogs or even people and other types of pets. A dog will do this to get another animal to play, or you might see them doing it toward an object which can indicate excitement. Play bows are usually accompanied by other excitable behaviors such as circling, barking and growling.

What Stretching Means

Stretching looks very similar to a play bow, but it’s not accompanied by excited, «bouncy» body language. A dog will stretch at certain times, such as first thing in the morning. Dogs will also stretch when «greeting» someone they are comfortable with. Most dogs will also do a stretch in two ways for a full body stretch.

  • One way will be in the bowing, or «downward dog» position.
  • The other stretch involves leaning all the way forward and stretching out the back legs.

Prancing With Toys

Some dogs love prancing around the house or yard with a toy in their mouth. This behavior generally indicates play and happiness.

  • Retrievers have a strong instinct to carry items in their mouths although plenty of other breeds will do this.
  • A dog will do this more often if they’ve been trained to carry toys in their mouths.
  • Dogs will prance around with their toys to initiate play by getting other dogs (or people) to chase them to get the prize.

How to Interpret Yawning

If your dog begins yawning, it could just mean that he’s sleepy and needs a nap. But yawning can also be a sign that your dog is stressed. If your dog yawns and then curls up and goes to sleep, then he’s probably fine. But if you notice him yawning during a stressful situation and it’s accompanied by other stress signals such as lip licking, drooling, shaking, whining or turning away, this means your dog is anxious.

Lip Licking

Dogs that are nervous will lick their lips or do what is known as a «tongue flick» where the tongue seems to flip up and touch or even cover their nose. Lip licking will usually happen in concert with other stress body language signals such as yawning and turning away.

Turning Head Away

This is a subtle body signal that humans often miss. If you notice your dog turning his head to look away from something bothering him, this means he’s stressed. Dogs will do this when greeting other dogs that they may not feel comfortable with. It can be observed in other situations such as a dog being in a room where people are yelling. You will usually see the dog do other stress signals at the same time such as lip licking.

Freezing in Place

If the dog appears stiff and «frozen in place» this can indicate they are either terrified or getting into an aggressive posture. Some dogs will freeze in place if they are «hunting» and are getting ready to pounce and chase their prey, such as dog focusing on a squirrel in a tree. Other dogs will freeze in place if they are so scared, they don’t know what to do. You can tell the difference from the context of the behavior and other body language signals.

Dog freezing in place

  • If the dog’s posture is low to the ground, with their tail between their legs and ears back, and there’s something clearly upsetting to them in the environment, your dog is likely frightened.
  • If the dog’s posture is tight and «forward-focused» with their eyes fixated on a prey object like a bunny or squirrel, your dog is getting ready to go after the prey.
  • If the dog’s body posture is stiff but their ears are forward, lips are pushed to the front of the mouth and you hear growling, this is a dog that is an aggressive, warning posture.

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Sniffing the Ground

Sniffing is a natural behavior but can also be what’s known as a «calming signal.» You may notice this behavior when your dog meets new dogs or is in an area that he’s not familiar with and is nervous. It may not indicate anything more than your dog is sniffing the ground to learn about the place he’s in or the dogs he’s meeting, but if you see this behavior accompanied by other nervous signals, this means your dog may feel on edge.

Tail Between Legs

A dog with his tail tucked down is showing fear. Depending on the breed and physical makeup of the dog, the tail may either point straight down, tuck somewhat under his hind legs or even point underneath his body almost parallel to it. You may also see trembling and the dog’s body crouching lower to the ground as if the dog is trying to make himself look «small.»

Responding to Body Language Signals

It’s important to understand that just because dogs use body language signals to communicate, they will not necessarily interpret humans mimicking these signals in the same way. The best thing to do when you see your dog communicating with body language is to understand the dog’s overall intent.

Happy Body Language

If your dog is showing any signals that he is happy, such as the play bow or rolling over and wriggling, it’s safe to assume your dog wants to play and get attention from you. You can reciprocate by joining him in a play session or enjoying some cuddles.

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