We were up north at my family’s cottage for the Christmas holidays when Bailey, my Golden Retriever, was just a year old. Back then, we had two dogs: Bailey and Betsy, a seasoned Shepherd Mix. One cold but bright and snowy day, we ventured to the Ocqueoc State Park trails for a walk and a romp in the wonderful northern Michigan snow.
Both dogs were off leash and having a grand time running ahead of us and back, never venturing far – our voice commands kept them close. We had fun exploring the frozen waterfalls and river, and walked down the ungroomed cross-country ski trails until we became tired and cold.
Our walk back towards the parking area started uneventfully, until a cross-country skier loomed up behind us and rushed past – never saying a word; not “excuse me”, “coming through”, nothing. To my Golden puppy, he was an ALIEN! She saw him coming and turned and ran down the trail ahead of him. Both dog and skier were quickly out of sight, with us yelling for Bailey after them. The skier NEVER stopped! We ran through the 4-6″ of snow as fast as we could, hoping to find Bailey off in the woods.
We came to a fork in the trail and one of us went one way, one the other, both calling Bailey’s name constantly. Betsy chose to stay with the person I was with, and they made it back to the parking lot before me. Breathless, she asked the people there if they had seen a dog run through. They said they had, and that she had continued OUT of the lot! Quickly she got into the truck and drove in the direction she thought Bailey had taken.
As luck would have it, she found fresh tracks in the snow on the road and followed them to where they turned down another road. This road led directly to the main highway! Turning down the road, she finally caught sight of her, STILL RUNNING. She quickly drove closer and called out of the truck after her. Bailey turned her head and kept running. Stopping the truck, she sent Betsy off after her, and that is what got Bailey to stop, look and come back to her.
I am telling you this story so you can learn from my experience. There are several morals to this story:
If your dog is not leashed, you have NO control.
No matter how trained you feel your dog is, when an unfamiliar situation occurs training leaves and instinct takes over.
Not all people have sense or manners concerning dogs. (If I were the skier, I would have stopped!)
The lesson is simple – always keep your dog on a leash, unless you are in a completely secure, safe environment. If you have trouble handling your dog on a leash, read our leash training guide.
Dogs want to be in our faces. They know communication happens from our faces. The only problem for them is our faces are out of reach! So, in order to get there, they jump up on us. For non-dog people, this is disrespectful and annoying. For most dog owners it is, too.
As in teaching any new behavior, a command needs to be attached to the action. “OFF” is my choice, because “no” is already said TOO often. Many people choose “down”, but that command usually is already used for putting the dog in a prone position. If given the choice, they may make the wrong decision.
Teaching The “Off” Command
When Bailey my Golden Retriever was young, I thought I could use “down” for lying on the floor, as well as getting “off” people, as well as getting off furniture or beds. One day, my mischievous adolescent jumped onto the bed and was using it as a trampoline. I demanded “DOWN!”, and she laid down on the bed! Now, she did NOT disobey me, she just made the wrong choice for the meaning of the word! As the light went off in MY head, I had a REALLY good laugh!
OFF can be used to remove paws from bodies, counters, or furniture; it will mean the same to the dog. Before any OFF training begins, the SIT command must be trained and understood (see related article). Sit is the foundation for control and leadership. Sit will then be the choice for the dog to make instead of jumping, or after OFF.
There are several ways to teach “OFF” — some are more confrontational than others.
The least confrontational way to deal with OFF is to turn and/or back away from the dog when he jumps on you, using the OFF command, then SIT. Always PRAISE when the dog makes the correct choice.
Most jumping dogs can be seen before they make contact. Try raising a knee in the air BEFORE the dog connects with you, and use the OFF command. Jumping on you will be difficult and uncomfortable because your knee will be in the way, and some of the more exuberant dogs will hit your knee and find it unpleasant. If you raise your knee AS the dog jumps on you, your timing will be off, and your dog may be hurt. I don’t recommend this method because it may be too forceful for some dogs and may cause injury, it puts you off balance and is not a nice gesture for other people (especially kids) to see.
My favorite method to teach “OFF” is to have a training collar on the dog and put him in a sit in front of you with his leash attached to the collar. Let the leash dangle onto the floor, and firmly step on the leash where it angles onto the floor. “Set up” the training by making the jumping inviting (talking cute, “eating” a treat, etc). When the dog tries to jump, he will self correct WHILE you are telling him “OFF! SIT!”. Do this several times in a row, and most dogs will start to get the idea after the 2nd or 3rd try. Some of the more exuberant dogs will seem to be dense about it, and have to be reminded a little firmer. This method needs to be done a couple times a day, for several days or more. Each time you practice, the dog will remember quicker. After you think the dog understands what “OFF” means, you can then do the same thing with the leash, but actually act like you are inviting him to jump: tap on your chest with both hands, talking cute – “Do you want to come up?” and then reinforce with “NO, OFF, SIT!”. Be careful you don’t praise so enthusiastically that you inadvertently encourage your dog to jump up again.
Two people are needed for this method: one to handle the leash and dog, and one to “encourage” the dog to jump. The dog needs to have on his training collar and leash. The Handler and dog approach the helper, and the helper encourages the dog to jump. The Handler MUST have good timing, and needs to give a quick “pop” on the leash and collar with the command “OFF!” (the tug should be in a downward fashion, in the opposite direction of the helper). NO PULLING the leash – the handler must TUG & RELEASE (“pop”) the leash and collar. If done correctly, the dog’s paws NEVER touch the helper! SIT should come after OFF, and the praise comes from the Handler, NOT the helper. This should be done 5 to 6 times a session, depending on the dog.
The last method is the person the dog jumps on takes each forepaw in each hand when the dog jumps, holds them, and walks INTO the dog, repeating “OFF, OFF!”, and the dog will roll into a sit or walk clumsily backwards. If necessary (ONLY IF), the paws can be squeezed and/or the rear toes can be lightly stepped on.
“But what about when someone comes to the door?”, you say. Have a leash and training collar readily accessible by each entry door. Call out the door: “Just a minute! I’m training my dog not to jump!” I’m sure the people on the other side of the door will be more than happy to wait! Then use the moment as a training opportunity! Or, if you don’t have time, crate the dog. But remember no teaching happens to a crated dog!
Never use your hands to push the dog off of you, because dogs will misunderstand the touch as petting or praise. If the training method you are using doesn’t require the use of your hands for leash control or grabbing paws, then your arms should be folded away from the dog.
A few last words about OFF:
After your dog understands the commands SIT and OFF, your command to the dog, if your timing is right, will be “SIT!”, and no paws will touch your body. If your timing is not good, then the command will be “OFF! SIT!”. Also, once the dog understands what OFF means, then the word can be used as a reminder BEFORE he jumps up. Remember – dogs DO NOT understand “sometimes” or “maybe”. If you don’t want your dog to jump, he should never be allowed to jump!
Dogs also don’t understand when you are in your work clothes (therefore “no jumping”) as opposed to your weekend clothes (OK to jump)!! Once OFF, always OFF, or you have a jumping dog and you deal with it!
I myself have dogs who jump because I have allowed it, but they also understand the “OFF” word. I also have a word to invite them to jump up. I tap my chest and say “UP!” As always, consistency and praise for appropriate behavior is the answer.
In the eyes of your dog(s), the Holidays are a time of change. Consider how Christmas looks to them:
A tree, the likes of which they normally see outside, arrives inside the house. (“Great, an indoor bathroom!”) It is often set up in an area that breaks their outside watch position (blocking a picture window or doorwall).
This odd inside tree also gets covered with really fun looking dangly things – which must be tasted and pushed around.
Next, flashing lights will really stimulate many dogs, especially visual breeds such as herding dogs.
THEN, after the tree arrives, strange items appear underneath, with glittery ribbons and other tantalizing ornaments. These must be tasted and maybe removing the outer covering would be a lot of fun. My dogs can always find the gifts wrapped for them – these cannot be left under the tree!
The topper is your attitude during this fine season. We all know how stressful and rushed the holidays have become. It may look to your dog like you’ve really gone off the deep end this time!
Things you can do to minimize risk and maintain routine (which dogs need)
Limit access to reachable decorated areas like trees, garland, candy on tables, etc. If necessary, use baby gates to block certain areas, crate your dog, or confine the dog to one room or the basement. Access to decorated areas should ONLY be allowed with supervision.
Keep all routines the same: feeding times, outside times, walk/exercise times and bed time.
Keep diet the same – resist offering extra table scraps, especially if your dog has difficulty tolerating dietary changes.
If you are stressed, take advantage of what your dog can offer you in the stress relief area. Spend time grooming, walking or playing with you dog.
If your dog ingests an ornament or other decoration, do not automatically induce vomiting. Sharp edges will cut and puncture on the way down AND on the way back up! Call your veterinarian for advice on how to handle the situation.
If you must let your pet in an area of low-hanging ornaments, don’t decorate a tree with tinsel or any other stringy item. If ingested, these could require complicated surgery to remove. All ornaments should be kept higher than the dog is able to reach.
Avoid adding anything potentially toxic to the water for your Christmas tree. Remember it’s at dog level and they may drink it.
Have a safe and Happy Holiday!
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