My canine friend, I’ll call him Humphrey, and his family had visitors of the human kind all weekend. Humphrey had a hard time behaving. So when everyone went to the backyard, Humphrey had to stay in his crate because he kept jumping and nipping at the company, the gardener, the neighbors, and anyone else stopping by. When everyone moved inside, Humphrey was relegated to the outside.
Humphrey’s family wants him to blend in and enjoy the company, too. He’s part of the family and it’s painful not to have him participate in family functions.
Let’s look at it from Humphrey’s point of view. He thinks he is behaving beautifully. He’s showing his love and enthusiasm by jumping and nipping. It’s his way of shouting I LOVE YOU. I WANT TO PLAY.
Some canine general behavior traits include jumping to greet, having enormous amounts of energy (especially when they’re young or haven’t burned off excess energy), using their mouths to explore the world, wanting attention (having their needs met), preferring to be around people rather than alone, and always being game for a good time.
Sounds like no one has told Humphrey what they expect of him in-kind. His family needs to take the time to communicate with him exactly what it is they want from him. Even just a few of the basic behaviors taught in most dog training classes, along with some management of his environment, can help make the picture much clearer for Humphrey. Consider the following:
Humphrey already knows at least one of the basics: “sit.” This is one of the top behaviors that can be used almost anywhere! His family will want to teach him to “sit to greet,” instead of having him do so after he jumps up. And they’ll want to add in “stay” to make sure he gets the idea.
Humphrey’s behavior chain is backwards — jumping up, getting attention for jumping, then the sit and praise. It should be this way instead: person comes in, asks for him to sit, rewards him. They can even practice using “down” too, especially when the youngest and eldest family members are around.
As for the rewards, dogs love praise, as well as belly rubs or tossing a toy. But for these reinforcers to really be effective, they’ll first need to practice the cues before their pup is around all the fun distractions. After he understands, they can add in a distraction, one at a time.
And to really help them reach their goals faster, I’d suggest pulling out the big ammo, like pieces of chicken or steak to motivate and reward for behaving nicely when company comes over. They can even recruit friends and family to play along, using some of the easy, fun activities in dog training games. Humphrey’s family can multitask by combining practice sessions with fun and games. One suggestion would be to ask for “sit” before tossing the toy or before beginning a game of tug. This makes for a Good Manners practice session, all while providing physical and mental activities.
Expend His Energy
When expecting company, Humphrey’s family can make it so he’s too tired to jump up — or at least tired enough so his training attention span is at its peak. A brisk walk or jog, scent games, a game of tug and/or hide and seek, fetch, attending a dog training class and/or a playdate with a doggy friend are just a few things canines love that can help deplete mental and physical energy. The family can even recruit some of their visitors to help. When they show up, hand someone a ball or leash to help out — provided it’s safe for everyone.
Sequestering Humphrey to his own area is an understandable temptation. However, it’s best to avoid a situation I like to call the “Cinderella Syndrome” — tossing him in the dungeon with nothing to do while everyone else has fun. Providing enrichment, such as interactive food toys and chew bones, or arranging a scavenger hunt by hiding pieces of his kibble and a few treats in or outside your home are fun options for mental and physical activities. If they really don’t have the time or the inclination to monitor or train Humphrey, his people can ask for outside help — an outing with a dog walker, or arranging a doggy playdate with a neighbor are alternate ways for everyone to be taken care of.
For detailed explanations of each of these options, check out my dog training tips blog posts on environmental management and teaching dogs to enjoy their “me time.”
Paws and Reflect
Keep in mind, all Humphrey wants is to be part of the group, and he’s using inherent behaviors to gain the attention he wants. So guess what? He’s gonna keep doing what’s working for him. I encourage spending the time to teach him what behavior is wanted and when it is wanted. This goes for initial teaching as well as practice sessions, so he can maintain his skills. And hey, if they can get everyone else on board with the plan and practice with Humphrey, pretty soon he’ll be the best behaved family member!