Adding Rules and Structure to Stop a Spaniel from Jumping Up on the Grandkids

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 12, 2015

Willow 1

This is Willow, a two-year-old Brittany Springer Spaniel who is a horrible jumper and doesn’t always listen to commands and corrections of her guardians.

It took all of 60 seconds to see what the issue was. Willow’s primary guardian loves her fiercely and he showered her with love and affection but failed to incorporate any rules, boundaries or limits. While he was abel to get the dog to obey for him, he had the advantage of being a male. While females can be just as good a dog guardian as a man, there are some distinctions that impact the equation. Men are usually bigger which dogs take into consideration.

But in this home, the other occupant and all of the guests were human females; including preteen grandchildren. Because they didn’t have the same size, it was more challenging for them to get the dog to respect them. As a result he jumped or crawled on top of them and frequently scratched their arms with his nails.

Making matters worse, their primary guardian’s habit of petting and giving affection when the dog engaged in behaviors that only he wanted were confusing to Willow. She literally climbed up on him or snaked her head through the opening created when he crossed his legs repeatedly. Each time she did this, he petted her. To Willow, this came across as “sticking my head or body in this position gets me attention.” As a result she jumped up or climbed on any human she encountered expecting the same reward, thinking this was the desired behavior.

I knew that a big part of the rehabilitation process for Willow will be changing that perception. I suggested that her guardians start only petting the dog when it did something they wanted or asked for. Instead of petting the dog for nudging a human, I advised them to give her a counter command of “sit,”or “lay down,” then only petting her after she assumed a sitting or down position. While this may seem like a small change, it has a big impact on the dog’s sense of self in relation to the humans. Petting her for a reason will help her to start thinking, “if i want attention, I need to go and sit in front of a human to ask for it.”

After discussing this with her guardians, I went over a leadership exercise to help the dog learn to practice restraining herself. I placed a high value meat on the floor in the middle of the room, then claimed it as a dog would. As soon as Willow laid down, I took a step back away from the treat. As soon as she laid down to signify she was no longer challenging for the treat, I immediately let her have it. This helps the dog understand that attempting to bypass or not recognize the authority of the guardian no longer works but surrendering to their wishes is rewarded.

Being a smart dog, it didn’t take long for Willow to figure it out. Once she did, I coached all the members of her family through the exercise until they got the same results. Seeing the members of the family with astonished looks on their faces was priceless and highly rewarding.

Willow 2

By the end of the session Willow was noticeably calmer, was responding to the new non verbal communications and seemed to be grasping the new concept of respecting the boundaries of people’s personal space. It will take time, practice at the leadership exercise and consistent rewarding for desired actions before these new behaviors become Willow’s default. But based on the reaction we got when the two grandchildren arrived (no jumping), I don’t think it will take long.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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