Dog Talk: From leaping to lounging


  • Animals
  • Sunday, 28 Jan 2024

An older dog in a household can teach a younger dog how to behave. Photo: 123rf.com

When seeing a friend, a happy dog will bounce over, turn several circles in joyful excess, and then stand on its back paws and jump up on you.

It’s adorable if you like pets and you aren’t fussed about having your clothes sprinkled with fur and the odd bit of muck picked up by the busy paws.

Unfortunately, what is awesome in dog culture isn’t so hot for those who are wearing their Sunday best. Worse, a big heavy dog can knock people over. Also, doggy claws cannot be retracted, and so an enthusiastic paw can scratch and even draw blood.

Sensible dog lovers know they must train their pets out of the behaviour. However, as it is a natural one, it can be a challenge.

Why dogs jump up

The study of dogs, including wild canids from foxes and African wild dogs to grey wolves, has exploded in the last 20 years. Most interestingly, many beliefs about dog-like behaviour have been proven wrong. Therefore, knowing what is going on is a challenge.

What is evident from video is that animals greet each other differently from the way they greet us.

Wild and zoo wolf puppies bounce about and roughhouse. Adult wolves don’t jump up at each other, but wolves who live with humans do. So do foxes, jackals, coyotes, and big cats like lions and tigers and even bears, chimpanzees and orang utan.

It suggests that the jumping up may be due to a very natural impulse. When we see an old friend, we can’t help but grin and hold out our hands. Maybe dogs do the same. However, as they are typically at knee height, they stand on their back paws so they can look into our eyes.

Eye contact is a natural thing among all species. We do it with kids too. When we see young friends running over, they reach up at us and we pick them up – sometimes swinging them around in a circle for fun.

Given that dogs will always be shorter than us, is jumping up hardwired into them? Definitely not!

When happy, confident puppies meet, they run around like little furry maniacs, yipping excitedly, sniffing each other’s faces and bottoms, and jumping all over each other.

In contrast, older dogs approach each other politely, holding back as they sniff the air, then sniff each other’s faces and bottoms. It’s much slower, and there is a strong sense of decorum.

Therefore, dogs learn company manners.

How dogs learn

In human homes, puppies are mostly socialised by their mums. As excitable puppies mature, the older dog begins to teach them adult manners. It’s done with paws pushing them away and with little growls.

If there are multiple dogs, a grumpy elder may sometimes snap or nip at an over-familiar junior too.

In nature, pups stay with their mums for a year or so. For pet dogs, that happens rarely. Most pups are taken away when three to four months old.

Dog experts point out that this is where many problems start.

Dogs love us and they love our attention. So when they jump up as pups and we grab their paws and push them away, they think we are having fun.

Loud voices can intimidate a dog with a history of abuse, but for a well-treated dog, shouting can be perceived as joyful barking – human style.

Therefore, a key component to effective training is to send unmistakable signals.

How Enzo learned company manners

Alene Ellsworth is from Kuala Lumpur but she now lives in Durham, England, with her husband, their two children and Patterdale terriers Enzo, seven, and Willow, a pup of just four-and-a-half months.

Enzo and little Willow. Photo: Alene EllsworthEnzo and little Willow. Photo: Alene Ellsworth

“Willow has only just had her second vaccination so she’s not been out much until now,” Ellsworth explains. “We plan to teach her the same way we trained Enzo.

“When he was a pup and jumped up on us we would say, ‘No. Down.’ And gently push him down. We did it every time and eventually he got it.”

Curiously, while it took Enzo a while to get the house rule, he was a fast learner when out for a walk.

“When we are outside, he is on a leash,” Ellsworth clarifies. “It is a very different environment from all of us being at home. When Enzo sees his leash, he knows we are in boss mode.

“When we started training him to walk on the leash, we would keep him close if someone was coming near us. As he didn’t have an opportunity to jump up, he learned very quickly that when outside, you don’t jump up on the people you meet.

“We’re taking the same approach with Willow. We gently push her down when inside the house, and when we go out, we keep her close so she can’t jump up on strangers.”

She adds, “Teaching dogs is like teaching young kids because we all learn in the same way. It’s about telling them what you want, and being very patient and consistent. Kids and dogs appreciate a loving consistent message.”How long will it take to train Willow? “I think it will depend on how often she meets people outside of the family. Also on her personality. Some dogs are quick on the uptake and others a bit slower,” Ellsworth muses. At the moment, Enzo is a bit grumpy at having a puppy invade his personal space but the older dog is already providing a useful example to the pup.

“Willow has already learned to sit,” Ellsworth shares proudly. “Enzo sits before getting dinner and when Willow saw him do it, she copied him.”

Enzo also gives a paw before a treat, and when Willow figured that out, she was all over it.

“It took her three days to give a paw for her treat and as soon as she got it, she came running up at intervals, holding out her paw, hoping for extras,” Ellsworth laughs. “She was very sad when she learned it doesn’t work that way.”


Adopt Me

Photo: Shereena LimPhoto: Shereena Lim

Lucy is six months old and healthy. Rescued in December 2023, she has been vaccinated, dewormed and spayed. Ready for rehoming, one can expect a calm, gentle, and fun canine companion. Docile in nature, Lucy gets along well with cats and other dogs. Her current fosterer is a 74-year-old woman who needs help. Those interested, please contact dog rescuer Shereena Lim in Subang Jaya, Selangor (012-298 0845).

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