If you have come to this page first, please go back to read “Puppy Basics” and “Puppy Troubles” first. I know, but take the time. This page is for level 3 dogs, preferably after obedience training, that are not responding to the simpler and less intense corrections on those pages. You may not have to become this powerful in your behavior to achieve the results you want.
Jumping and excitability can be both a learned and instinctive response. So if there is ample exercise provided, absolute pack leader authority has been established, and your affection is given only at appropriate times (ie, not ”soothing” when excited, growling, or cowering), then we get serious about correcting. We also need to get serious about rewarding calm behavior when they offer it.
Nobody likes the feeling that nothing they do is right. Dogs react with even more wildness, in an anxious attempt to please, or just a frustrated explosion of misbehavior. We have to let them know what we do want and praise them for doing it! The more praise and affection they get after calmly approaching you for attention or greeting, the more they approach calmly.
One excellent way to enforce this more polite approach is teaching the dog to automatically sit when someone comes to see you and him. First you teach them the command, and every single time they sit, whether asked to or not, you praise and reward. Everytime. It will become a default behavior, and you won’t even have to ask them to sit. Then when you approach them, ask them to sit and reward it heavily. When you no longer have to ask, continue to reward for a long time.
Next try with someone they don’t know (and don’t have the habit of jumping at), and have the dog sit long before the person is close. If they break the sit, you’ll need to back the person up, and return the dog to a sit. If you have to have them come closer one step at a time and reward for holding the sit, then do it. Patience and calmness from you is essential.
There are two ways I have used in the past to deal with excitability, in particular on Merlin the rescue, and on Taj the Tajmonster. My thinking has shifted about how to handle excitablity since then, recognizing the benefits of positive reward for behaviors we want. But all the same, I’ll give you both the “dominance/force” method I used with them, as well as the “positive reconditioning” method I would use now. You can choose what is better suited to you and your dog.
THE PLAYMONSTER: For Taj, who would just get carried away, I used a “snout snatch” when all else failed. He just wasn’t paying attention, not being aggressive. So if turning my back and sitting down, a forceful “hey” (my word–use your own), or a standing up and frowning poke didn’t work, I would arrest his attention.
A snout snatch is exactly what it sounds like: I grabbed his muzzle with both hands and forced him to look at me, and I wasn’t happy if I had to do it. He never failed to wilt and look away when I did this, so long as I wasn’t angry.
Don’t frighten your dog–you are simply demanding they stop and pay attention to your stern disapproval. You will get big eyes, and in the back of your head you will probably hear Scooby Doo’s “rut-roh”. But if your dog piddles, shakes, trembles or cries, he is a bit too frightened. If you’re angry, you’ll either frighten them or set off an equally aggressive response.
If you were calm but still found a puddle or cowered the dog, you don’t need the snout snatch to make your point. Go back to the “Puppy Basics” and “Puppy Troubles” pages and use those corrective ideas with a bit more sternness, and rewarding more frequently for being gentle and attentive to you.
Once you have their attention, you will have stopped the jumping and misbehavior of a overly happy puppy more often than not. To reinforce the idea that roughness and wildness is not tolerable, I would command Taj to go lay on his bed when I let go. Not on the couch for cuddles. Muzzle nudges were ignored. He was not comforted by Mom or anyone else. He was put on his bed, because interacting with people is on my terms and by my rules, and it will not be granted if we are treated roughly.
I didn’t leave him there long, because he was plenty smart enough to figure it out. And when he had calmed down, I called him back over, I asked him to sit, and when he did, we began our introductions to people or reinstated playtime again. He was always gentler. Playing again was his reward.
Taj was a puppy, who never lived long enough to “outgrow” his puppy-like stages of development. And manhandling was not an option were I inclined to do so, since he suffered from HOD. So if your dog is just acting “scatterbrained” and the calming signals/mild corrections aren’t getting through, try the snout snatch–it does create immediate focus.
The other half of correcting wild excitability is to heavily reward calm behavior. Anytime your dog is relaxed and calm, mark that behavior with a sound (clicker, good, yes, nice etc) so the dog notices that he’s done something and reward so he knows what he did was right. When he’s laying quietly at your feet, mark and reward. If you’ve had to correct him, reward when he approaches you gently.
The idea is to make the difference between what you want, and don’t want, a very stark contrast. The dog will choose the reward, given sufficient time to see the difference and think about it. Yes, dogs think. Not in the sense of Aristotle philosophy, but they problem solve remarkably well.
THE SERIOUS TROUBLEMAKER: With Merlin, who was both aggressive and dominant as well as wildly excitable, I had my hands full. This aggressiveness is not for the faint of heart, literally. If you are at all fearful, hesitant, or aggressive with an aggressive dog, you could get yourself bitten. Find a professional trainer with rescue experience.
I didn’t have a trainer that was helpful, so I learned a few things the hard way; namely that any physical correction when Merlin was really in a wild state would cause him to escalate rapidly. A snout snatch at that time would be met with equal aggression from him. I never got bitten, but I was growled at a couple of times. Okay, my learning curve doesn’t match Einstein’s ….
We began small, with being able to control him on a walk. “My problem is jumping” you say, but if there is aggression or dominance in combination with excitable jumping, you have more trouble than jumping. If your dog is actually knocking people down, or growling before jumps, he or she is becoming a danger. A dog like this requires far more effort and time, and you must be able to control and correct at any time and any place before you will really be able to stop the jumping up and roughness.
Like I said, correcting an aggressive dog when he is dominant and excited will escalate the situation. So read on, and in the meantime, simply keep the dog removed from other people until you can control him or her. Don’t risk someone getting hurt for the sake of being a little embarrassed that the dog is currently ill behaved. With time and effort, that will change.
The key to Merlin was ridiculous amounts of physical exertion. He was so exhausted he couldn’t really muster up a red zone response. Followed up with absolute dominance (not meanness, not aggressiveness) on my part during every single activity of every single day, I eventually got the idea in his head. I fed him by hand, and he earned every bite with sits, downs, comes, and stays, which is a potent way to assert dominance. The tools then for breaking jumping in Merlin was exercise and a leash.
We started by walking up and down my country driveway on leash. I gave him no leash to roam or sniff. He was right beside me, and any pulling was corrected by a solid single tug sideways towards me. If you pull back, they only pull forward harder. Any head dropping to sniff was prevented by having the leash up directly behind the ears, the most sensitive part of the neck. I didn’t keep tension on the leash, but there was about 6 inches of leash between my hand and his neck (Merlin was a Dane–you will need more if your dog is a smaller breed).
If Merlin began to fix his eyes on a squirrel, person, or car, he was given another leash tug and I kept moving. He could look, but not fixate. If he began fighting the lead so he could fixate on something, that meant that he was building up excitement. My response was a really hard leash tug and forceful down command, turning his back to the object. I made him do it, no complaints tolerated. Everytime he shifted his gaze towards something, he was leash corrected.
At some point you will know whether or not your dog has “given up” or is escalating. If he has given up, you wordlessly start walking again as if it never happened, and give a little body petting while you walk, because he submitted and became calm.
If he is escalating, get moving immediately. Dogs don’t multitask–he can walk or he can escalate but not both. And check your own emotions: anticipating, tension, fear will only make it worse. Calm and confident is the only attitude to have with an aggressive dog.
Once I could walk him through mild triggers, we gradually moved up the scale. And as he showed more calmness I began introducing him outside to friends who understood he was being retrained and were not afraid of him. Or more accurately, friends that trusted me so they didn’t feel anxious. Outside was the word to notice, because an aggressive dog can be more territorial at home. Merlin wasn’t, but many are.
The introduction was simple and quiet: Merlin was commanded to lay down, and there was no touching, talking, or eye contact with him. My friend(s) and I just stood there and talked until Merlin was calm. If I saw him or felt him beginning to get up, he was corrected with the leash and returned to a down stay.
If he remained calm, he was allowed to get up with “ok” or “up” and was petted, though eye contact was still off limits. I did this constantly, rotating friends, and continuing the heavy exercise and exposure to new places. (Other dogs are a whole different approach, and complex enough to need its own page…)
As his behavior changed out of doors, I slowly introduced him to people in the house. The leash was on, and a down stay was how it began. When the person came in, we followed the same procedure above. I found that if Merlin was really giving me trouble while facing forward, towards the person, if I turned him around he would calm down more easily. That doesn’t work for very territorial dogs, though, at least in my experience.
For Merlin, the ultimate goal was to walk calmly through a pet store: the other dogs, the loud birds, the kids having tantrums was an absolute test of his composure, and mine. One day he did it, no fuss, no misbehavior. We stopped for french fries on the way home!! I had to continue the daily exercise, and maintain my dominance but eventually he just quit trying to jump anymore because he knew I wouldn’t allow it.
I wish I had known about the benefits of positive training when I worked with Merlin. I believe it would have reduced his reactivity considerably without having to manhandle him as much. If I was working with Merlin today, I would approach him differently. I’d still maintain my dominant status, using the food, eating first then making him earn his. We still have to have that pack status for the dog to respect us.
However, the first thing I would teach him was to relax on cue. Using Tellington touch, or massage with a sound, like humming, for him to associate with the relaxation. Once he reliably relaxed with touch and sound at home when all was quiet, I would try it when he was a little more excitable and get him accustomed to going from a more excited state to a calmer one. The idea of gradual exposure is the same, but using conditioning rather than force is very different.
In addition to the relaxation cue, I would use the principles of the book “Control Unleashed” to teach him the “look at that” game: he can look at something, but the moment he turned his head away, turned to look at me, or any movement that “disengages” from the object would be marked with a sound and heavily rewarded.
In addition, any time he looked at my face, he would be marked and rewarded, as a “look at me” game. Look at me would be rewarded no matter when or where or why, because it is a foundation. If he knows look at me gets a treat, he will associate the look at that with look at me and learn the habit much quicker.
There would still be times when he could easily go over the threshold of look into stare, so the gradual introduction of stimuli is important if you don’t want to combine the positive with having to forcibly correct. For many people the combination works better, for some, like me, who cannot physically manhandle a grown Dane, the positive reconditioning is the best route to take.
With Merlin’s tendency to dominance, he would surely have tried the “stare”, which is a dominance challenge. So I would also teach him to have a softer eye contact. Anytime he blinked, his eyes were heavy lidded, he would hear “soft eye” and be rewarded. That way a dominance stare would be corrected, but a soft eye would be given treats. It would have to be used when he looked at other dogs as well, or the fight might be on!
As you’ve probably guessed, this method would take much longer in the beginning to get results. But once a dog catches onto the idea that the “correct” behavior hits the jackpot of Biljack treats, and the wrong behavior doesn’t, they run with it. It is slower at the start, but gentler, and they progress much faster than the dominance/force training once the foundation is laid. It does work!