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Pet Q&A: Will (Jump) For Food

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Q: Our Lab mix is really smart and knows how to sit and stay, but in the morning he goes crazy. My husband or I have to go out into the yard to feed our dogs, and when we do he jumps all over us. It's especially bad when it's muddy out because my husband gets muddy paw prints on his work clothes! Our dog knows not to jump, and we don't have any problems with him in the afternoon when he isn't so excited. We've tried raising our knee when he jumps, but that hasn't worked. Any advice on stopping the morning jumping would be greatly appreciated!

--Nestie tlblalo2

A: You’re right! He is really smart. He’s learned to jump up on you for a bowl of dog food. Clever! Indulge me while I imagine what your dog would post on Facebook if you’d let him:

“My parents are the weirdest. They want me to jump all over them in order to get my breakfast. They come out in the yard in the morning with a bowl of food. I jump up and they yell something which I can only guess means ‘Jump on my knee! My knee!’ because then they put their knee up and I jump on that and then they give me a huge bowl of food for my efforts. And the weirdest part? My dad dresses up in his best clothes before he comes out to feed me. I guess he wants everyone at work to see the muddy paw prints on his suit so they’ll know how well he’s trained me to jump up.”

In other words, if you give your dog a bowl of food after he’s jumped up, you’re rewarding him for jumping. I suspect he’s crazy in the morning because that’s when you come out with the food and reward his crazy behavior. In the afternoon, when you come out empty handed, he’s not as bananas. Makes sense to me.

Here’s how to change this situation: The first thing is to not wear your best clothes when training the dog! The second thing is to realize that if you stop rewarding the jumping with food and attention, he’ll stop jumping. And the easiest way to do this is to reward him with food and attention for doing something else, like sitting.

Do this indoors away from the other dogs. Fill his bowl with food (one meal’s worth), stand up straight, and wait for him to stop jumping. When he does, give him a nugget from the bowl. Then give another one as long as his butt’s on the floor. If he’s dancing around like a fool, or jumping up, just grit your teeth and wait him out. As soon as he sits, quickly give a piece. If he’s grabbing at the food or jumping up  before you can get the food to him, drop it on the floor for him instead of handing it to him. Feed him a couple of meals this way, piece by piece. It’ll take 5 minutes, but will be worth it. Your husband spends more time cleaning himself off after getting jumped on after all!

Once he’s sitting like a rock when you’re holding a bowl of food indoors, practice the same thing outside without the other dogs around. Expect him to starting jumping all over again. This is, after all, the place where he’s used to jumping up to get his food. A good place to start is right outside your door so he has less time to rile himself up dancing around you while you walk to the spot in the yard where you usually feed him. Once he’s gotten used to being fed right outside your door, practice walking to the spot where you usually feed him. If walking with the bowl prompts him to jump up, practice walking one step. Stop. Wait for him to sit, give a piece. Take another step…and so on. When you can walk to the place you usually feed him without him jumping on you, walk to that spot, wait for him to sit, and put the bowl down for him.

Then do it with the other dogs outside too. If they need this training as well, do it with them separately first.

Have fun with your clever canine! And don’t let him on Facebook.

Erica Nance, MA, CPDT, makes dog training effective, fun, and stress-free for pets and their people at her New York training facility, Dogs of Hudson. She previously owned and operated DogStar Dog Training and Behavior Consulting and worked as the Manager of Operations of the Animal Behavior Department at the ASPCA in New York City. Erica has a master's degree in experimental psychology specializing in evolutionary psychology. She shares her home with a rescued husky named Nova, her husband, and her young son. The household is managed and directed by an 11-year-old border collie named Jack.

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