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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Good dog etiquette

I have a problem with my 11-month-old, female Whippet called Diesel, she is far too friendly!

On a walk, she always pulls on the lead to see other dogs or people to say hello. Also, Diesel always jumps up on people whenever she greets them - often people think she is being aggressive and are scared of her. It does not occur to her that it might hurt people who are smaller so she also jumps up on toddlers and children who are often smaller than her when she jumps up on her hind legs! This also happens with dogs - Diesel jumps on other dogs and scares them, it often ends in dogs thinking she is being aggressive when in fact she is the most friendly dog ever! I try getting her away with treats, spraying water at her - but nothing seems to work! She does not understand that people are scared of her when she is trying to be friendly.

Any ideas?

Anna Gorrod, by email


  1. Victoria Thomas31 May 2011 at 03:39

    When I first had my rescue pup he'd jump up on everyone, so Iasked people to turn their backs swiftly to knock him off balance, and to ignore him. He quickly learned that he had to sit quietly before he got any attention. With other dogs I taught him ''Gently'' so that he approached carefully and nicely. (Prior to that he'd bowled over every dog he met in his enthusiasm!)

  2. Diesel sounds like a lovely, exuberant young whippet, and since she's young I think a consistent and calm approach now should do the trick.

    It might be a good idea to take Diesel to some group training classes. A while ago my whippet became nervous about meeting other dogs and I found that taking him to agility classes, where his attention was focused on what he was doing rather than the dogs around him, worked wonders.

    In the same vein, it would be a good idea to get Diesel used to walking with other dogs and people so she gets to enjoy their company without feeling the need to get over-excited. Do you have friends with dogs who you could accompany on daily walks? If you start walking with the dogs on-lead straight away rather than standing and chatting, any excitement about the meeting should be tempered because Diesel would also have her mind on the walk ahead. Once Diesel is calm in the other dogs' company you could also involve all the dogs in an off-lead game like hide-and-seek so that Diesel expends her energy with other dogs, but not focused on them.

    My labradoodle is also keen on excited greetings, and I've found that taking him for walks on his lead and using a treat to hold his attention as we walk past other dogs or exciting people works wonders. I reward him once he's passed the other dog calmly. If I think he's starting to get worked up at the sight of the dog, I move him out of the way to the side of the path and get him to sit and wait while the dog walks past. I've also found that giving him something else to do ('sit', 'wait', 'watch me' etc), rather than telling him what not to do, helps to create a positive, calm and rewarding experience and keeps his focus on me. It took perseverence, but calm behaviour around other dogs has now become a habit rather than an exception, and he's learnt that he doesn't have to say hello to everyone he sees!

    Obviously, jumping up at toddlers is a worry, and I think it would be a good idea to walk Diesel on the lead in any place where she might meet children until you can trust her to greet them calmly. I also find that walking the dog on a harness rather than a collar can give you more control over any tendency to jump up or lunge.

    Last but not least, it's very important to remain calm whatever happens and this can be difficult if you, or the other dog or owner, are upset by Diesel's behaviour. But if you start to get stressed about a meeting situation, you'll add to the excitement. This is another good reason to focus on getting Diesel to sit or something like that, as it enables you to address the situation while taking a step outside of it and refocusing her attention on you.

    I hope that with some work you and Diesel will be able to enjoy stress-free walks.

  3. Ok, this is a very common problem and it's very easy to accidentally reward the behaviour if you try to end it with treats, and the water spray is potentially frightening, or possibly just not distracting enough. You need to start way earlier in the process and work on the bond between you so Diesel is much more responsive to you, and this starts in the home where there are not so many exciting distractions. So every time she comes to you whether you called her or not, have a stroke, smile, kind word or treat ready. As you walk round the house you could "find" exciting things (eg the bit of chicken you dropped a moment ago when she wasn't looking) and call her excitedly (wow, what a lovely and clever human who can find nice things I can't and shares them with me!). Try a few random "sit"s or "paw"s so she gets used to suggestions from you at odd times (not a formal "training session" as such) and always reward these well with high quality treats, not just the same old biscuit. This is just the beginning and there's too much to go into here but the idea is that she learns that you are interesting fun and extremely clever and therefore worth listening to. A great book for this is Suzanne Clothier's Bones Would Rain from the Sky. If it all seems a little daunting still, take a walk with a behaviourist from a recognised organisation, it's not that expensive and they will be able to show you subtle things that you do to encourage this behaviour and equally subtle ones you can do to discourage it! (when choosing, avoid anyone who uses words like dominant, alpha, submission or pack - this sort of outmoded macho thinking will not help!)

  4. An over-friendly dog is often an unwelcome dog when jumping up is involved.

    Firstly, sign up for group training classes. Go and see the class and trainer before you actually enrol to ensure you are happy with your choice. This will enable you to teach Diesel on lead how to meet and greet dogs via sniffing rather than jumping. Also, to train her to sit each time she meets a person rather than jump up.

    You need to socialise Diesel on a regular basis so she no longer sees other dogs as exciting and novel. You also need to teach her 'Off' so as she goes to jump up you can stop her.

    Another good method is to tell everyone you meet not to say hello to her until she has all four paws on the ground. If they ignore her completely until she is sat, then she will soon learn that sitting means attention!

    Good luck.

  5. This is a common problem and I think it is a shame to punish exuberance. If a dog anticipates punishment every time they see another dog or person, this can quickly lead to fear. Dogs are social creatures so it is natural for them to want to greet. Regular contaact with dogs and people helps but not if they are practicing jumping up each time.

    Nevertheless jumping up is something that is just plain undesirable. All dogs need to learn to control their impulses. I would begin by teaching that the best rewards come when all four feet are on the ground. Remember that your dog loves attention as a reward, so use this as your mainstay. We need to replace a dog's 'gimme gimme' behaviour with something we find more acceptable, so around the house insist that your dog is sitting or lying down, or even just standing, before you give things in return. Dinner, fuss, putting lead on - it all helps to calm the dog and you are being very rewarding as a result.

    I would also teach Diesel an 'off' command. This teaches the dog that when they see something in front of them, they learn to wait and it will come to them. Start by holding a treat in your fingers but do not allow the dog to have the food until they sit back, lie down, or just stand still! Use the 'off' command as soon as they do this, then give the treat to the dog - do not allow the dog to come forward to the treat!
    Repeat until the dog is practised - 'off' means, back away a little and the goodies will be delivered.
    Begin to use this with toys, and then with people stroking the dog - you may just have to start with people simply talking to Diesel if she finds this very exciting! Use a lead to ensure that the dog doesn't make body contact because even pushing a dog away is attention! Allow Diesel to get attention but only when she sits back and waits. Gradually she will learn to sit back and wait first, before you even need to say the Off command.

    It takes time and practice - but that's dogs for you!

    It is hard to describe how to teach something like this in words I think, perhaps Beverley and team will put together a photo feature sometime soon?