Hyper Greeters (jumping up – extreme)

Denise and Brito

Denise and Brito – Photo by Gadabout Photography

A few days ago I posted a blog about teaching dogs to keep their feet on the floor and off of people.  That blog included an excellent video by Chirag Patel.  In my opinion, his approach will work for a high percentage of dogs, especially puppies who are started correctly.  But some dogs are a bit different.  These dogs are not showing normal, thinking behavior patterns when they are in the presence of new people, because they are “hyper greeters.” In the presence of new people, they go over threshold.

“Over threshold” simply means that the dog is no longer able to make good (rational) decisions about their behavior.  And since training assumes a rational participant who is maximizing good things and minimizing bad things, training often fails on dogs that are over threshold.  Sad but true.  The more time a dog spends over threshold, the more easily they end up in this bad place, which starts a nasty cycle.

A hyper greeter isn’t a happy dog who simply loves everyone.  A hyper greeter is a dog with an uncontrollable need to get to people, yet the dog recognizes that their behavior is not appreciated.  That leads to conflict, and conflict is bad, because dogs in conflict go over threshold easily.

This blog post will focus on dogs that appear confident around people, including strangers, but who cannot handle themselves in a socially acceptable manner at an initial greeting.  My suggestions here do NOT cover dogs that are fearful of people but who are drawn to approach anyway.

What does a social hyper greeter look like?  This type of dog goes fast and hard at people – at the door when people walk through, walking down the street, coming out of their crate, etc. They almost always look right up into the person’s face when they approach and then lunge forwards, sometimes mouthing or clawing their way up the person.  Holding them down simply builds their energy to drive up into the person’s face, and dropping food often does not work because these dogs are fast; they eat and then launch, or they leave most of the food behind and go for the person instead.  Turning your back has no effect whatsoever; the dog simply claws your back or grabs your hair.

Needless to say, this type of dog is rarely appreciated by the victim and as a result, either the new person or the handler is very likely to strongly discipline the dog for their behavior, which in turn intensifies the conflict experienced by the dog.  Rather than subduing the dog – the punishment causes the problem behavior to become even more frantic, or worse, the dog starts out with the appearance of being under control and then launches “out of nowhere” when the new person is least expecting it.  Even a calm owner is going to have a really hard time hiding their frustration with this behavior.  If punishment makes it worse and traditional positive methods are not terribly effective, then what’s left?

There’s hope.  However, while working on this behavior, you MUST manage the dog.  You must!  Every episode of failure will exacerbate your dog’s behavior and will increase your own frustration.  Keep your dog on a front clip harness when you will be encountering people, and do not NOT allow your dog to get to people.  Crate your dog when people come to your house.  Keep the leash at a manageable length when you are working on this behavior.  Remember – your dog is miserable in the presence of new people, and new people are miserable in the presence of your dog.  Take a few weeks and really work on this.

Now – deep breath.  You’ll need a dog savvy helper to get started.  Here’s what you will do.

Give your helper a high value cookie.  If needed, throw it so they can get it from you without approaching.  Only one cookie,  because the person is not going to give the cookie to the dog. The cookie is only to prevent the dog from looking up into your face and becoming over aroused.  If the dog gets the cookie, the new person will have no way to prevent the dog from looking up at their face.  Instruct the person on three rules:

  1. Hold the cookie at the dog’s nose level.
  2. Keep the dog focused on that cookie.  Do not give it to the dog; it is only for distraction.
  3. The second hand will be used as a visual block of their face anytime the dog looks up – (if needed).

Ready?  Open the door.  Watch the following video that I made to show the process:

Hyper Greeter video

As soon as the person comes in contact with the dog, have them “magnetize” the dog with the cookie down at the dog’s head level.  Keep the dog smelling the cookie!  If the dog is mouthy then keep the back of your hand to the dog while making a fist with the cookie inside.The new person should be relatively neutral and casual.   A silent helper is better for most dogs.

The cookie will redirect the dog’s focus and energy from the person’s face to the food.  Now two things will happen; the dog will begin to adjust to the presence of the person which will allow them to practice being calm near a new person, and the dog’s focus on the food will re-direct their energy towards the new person’s hands rather than upwards.

Remember that the dog is not getting the cookie.  When some dogs figure this out they will go back to leaping at the person’s face.  If that happens, make the cookie a bit more active to keep the dog focused on it a bit longer.  It’s important that the helper work hard to keep the dog on the cookie and off their face or this method will not work.  It’s also important that if the dog is on leash, that there is no tension on the leash.  We want the dog operating on his own power and showing self control without external constraints.

It is very likely that at some point, the dog will turn back to the handler.  The instant this happens, the handler should give a cookie and praise their dog.  Then the dog should be verbally cued and encouraged to return to the baiter – where the process is repeated.  When the dog is barely willing to engage the new person anymore, it’s time for a quiet personal interaction.  Still no cookies from the new person and ideally a low key greeting.  The baiter continues to use the food as needed to keep the dog from making eye contact.

If the dog does not show any interest in turning back to the handler, the handler can make some small sounds or use another cookie to lure the dog back and then repeat.  Most dogs quickly learn to turn back to the handler, especially if they have been taught a re-orienting behavior.

After several episodes, the goal is a dog that moves towards a new person on a loose leash,  focused on the person’s hands rather than their face, and after a quick sniff at the stranger’s hands, turns back to the handler for a treat.

Soon, you will find that the new person no longer requires a cookie – simply holding out their hands as if they had one is enough to cue the dog to turn back to the handler after the dog investigates their empty hands.  And since success allows the dog to stay calm and under threshold, the dog will soon learn that they can be near people without losing control – an excellent end result.

This method can work very well with dogs that are simply unable to make a good decision in the presence of a new person. It is NOT appropriate for dogs that are fearful – the ones that bounce off the new person, backing up and barking hysterically, or dogs that alternate between extreme greeting behaviors and nervous nipping or barking at a new person.  Those dogs are fearful, and should not be allowed to approach new people until they show the ability to do so in a positive frame of mind.

If you apply this technique and the dog shows fearful behaviors such as growling or barking, you misread your fearful dog for a hyper greeter.  Stop.  This exercise is not for you.  That is a story for another day.

I have had extremely good success with this method but like all behavior work, it requires consistency in the application and management the rest of the time.  Good luck!

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About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.
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17 Responses to Hyper Greeters (jumping up – extreme)

  1. Kari Lavalli says:

    And what if you don’t have a useful dog helper to act as the “owner/handler”? How would you train a hypergreeter/sharknado dog then?

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    • dfenzi says:

      I may be misunderstanding. The owner/handler holds the leash and rewards for redirection. The trainer/helper trains the dog. If the dog’s issues are with a second person then you need a second person – I can’t see a way around that. A cooperative non-dog person can do it but for sure it will be harder.

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      • ejhaskins says:

        in this situation, I’ve found that the only real way around it is for the owner to work really, really hard on sit for greeting him/herself.
        At the same time, taking the dog out and about where other people are around, and rewarding calm behaviour. Stay away for the intense activity, have a mat for the dog, ad reward the dog initially for just being ON the mat, working through to the dog lying down on the mat. I take a book (easy reading or pretend reading) and a thermal mug of coffee. This ends to discourage strangers from trying to approach, at the same time as signalling to the dog that you are relaxed (important!). (Similar to Leslie McDevitts Mat Work.)

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  2. Karin Boyd says:

    This is something I will try for sure. Both my Goldens love people. I have worked variably for 3 years with the older dog. He has become better keeping 4 on the floor, but still cannot control lunging to greet a new person. There is no go up to new person on a loose leash yet. With my puppy, I have just( this week) started a version of this with telling her to “say hi” and do a nose touch to the “helpers” hand, then saying my “yes” 2nd reinforcer which brings her back to me and my treat. She is a mouthy dog, she needs something in her mouth. Her leash or a toy helps keep her mouth off people she greets, but thui isn’t always. She is improving even in the last 3 days. I haven’t tried this with the older guy. Thanks so much for this great advice. I’ll let you know how things progress!

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  3. Mary says:

    “A hyper greeter isn’t a happy dog who simply loves everyone. A hyper greeter is a dog with an uncontrollable need to get to people, yet the dog recognizes that their behavior is not appreciated. That leads to conflict, and conflict is bad, because dogs in conflict go over threshold easily.”
    This is such a great discription of these out of control greeters and yet I’ve never heard it before. I really appreciate how sensitive you are to seeing things from the dog’s perspective.

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  4. Rita says:

    I really enjoyed this article and video and am eager to try it with a helper. The other problem I have is my 5 month old chocolate lab likes to jump up on me and also bite me. I have had private lessons since he was a pup (we got him at 6.5 weeks) and use clicker training. I know to click and treat when he has 4 paws on the floor. I just don’t know how to prevent him from jumping and biting me. And lately he was started doing the same while walking him with a gentle leader. I can’t seem to control him by grabbing the leash under his throat. He just bites my hand and wrist. Any advice?

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    • dfenzi says:

      Two issues – for the first one – use the food as if you were the helper, turn the puppy sideways against your body, and don’t give him the food. As he calms, let him have small pieces (it’s basically the same technique but you’re doing it alone).

      Second issue – that’s frustration. Somehow your dog needs something. Maybe more physical exercise, maybe more stimulation, maybe more interactive training – I don’t know. Consider playing ball rather than walking for exercise. and make sure he’s getting lots of mental stimulation too.

      Like

      • Rita says:

        Thanks for the quick reply. Do you have a video demonstrating the first issue? I need to first get him to stop jumping on me before I can turn him sideways. And I’m not sure how successful I’ll be turning him sideways. He’s over 50 lbs and trying to turn him would result in more biting. I have practiced ‘It’s your choice’ with him a lot and I know that once he stops jumping that I can withhold the food until he is calm and sits. So, the problem is getting him to stop jumping on me first. Ignoring the jumping hasn’t helped.

        Second Issue: I can see that frustration might be a problem. But it’s during the times I’m trying to interact with him such as throwing a ball that I get the jumping and biting. Or while I’m trying to engage him in games or training. What do you suggest for mental stimulation. We feed him using a ball that he rolls around, a food puzzle toy, kongs, food under balls in muffin tins. Right now he’s in his kennel playing with a large plastic bucket. Also, when I take him for walks I try to engage him with hand targets and other games that can be done on a leash. And he gets lots of food reinforcement while walking. The other games that I play with him while walking often result in the jumping/biting. I try to do recallers games but the minute he gets excited if I move too fast or have an excited voice he’ll pull my clothes and bite me. I really just don’t know what to do or what he wants or how to get him to stop jumping or biting me. He doesn’t do this with my husband but then I spend most of the time with our dog during the day. If I sound frustrated, it’s because I am. Sorry for the rant. Advice or a video on how to settle him down when he is on a gentle leader would be really helpful. I know this is not the dogs fault but mine and I’m working really hard on trying different things but think I’m making the jumping/biting worse because I’m not handling it correctly and he sees it as a game that he enjoys.

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  5. I’m really excited to keep working with this method. Tracy and I practiced with our knuckleheads this morning and a couple of interesting issues came to light. Andre was far more obsessed with the cookie than her, to the point that his frustration got the better of him and his behavior got worse– I think I must have accidentally misjudged what was most valuable for him between the two kinds of treats. Apparently the one Tracy had was more interesting. He also kept offering some sits for the cookie, at which point I would call him back and give him a treat. I’ll retry this with a better ratio of treat values. Really underlined what you talked about with the root of the issue being conflict. Tracy’s Nik did really well with the greetings part, but she really busts out of the gate to get to the person, going ninety to nothing. So I think maybe more impulse control in getting out of the crate/car/etc– on the approach.

    I’m ready to try again!!

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  6. Pingback: Please!!!! Need advice on leash walking!! - Golden Retrievers : Golden Retriever Dog Forums

  7. Pingback: Over excited dog greetings - how to train your dog to stay calm.

  8. Sara says:

    Hi, I will be trying this with my puppy. I find though that he is learning to be reasonable with people, but is almost uncontrollably hyper when greeting other dogs. Could you give me any advice in this regard? Thank you.

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  9. Erin says:

    Thanks for this! I have a 10-month old golden retriever, and this describes her perfectly. We’ve gone through a couple pet obedience classes at a local positive training center, but none of their techniques have helped at all, for exactly the reason you pinpoint – once Abby is within about four feet of a new person, she’s not thinking at ALL. She’s waaaaaay overaroused and the entire idea of four-paws-on-the-floor flies out the window. This is specific to new people; she’s very good at other things that require self-control and focus, such as stays or leave-its.

    One question – do you think this method would work with toys as well as food, or in this instance would the addition of toys just make the overarousal worse? Abby likes food, but she loves a ball even more, and I’m wondering if having the new person and handler holding identical balls would be a possible alternative.

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