Sunday, August 30, 2009

Coming Home to a Calm Dog

When you come home to your dog is she jumping on you with excitement? Does it take a while for her to calm down?

This is not an uncommon problem. As a trainer I don’t believe, as some do, that dogs that do this in this setting are acting dominant. I actually think they are trying to give appeasement gestures such as licking your face, hence, the jumping up. They really aren’t trying to take over your life or your bank account or anything. They simply haven'nt seen you in a while and want to connect with you.

We as Pit Bull lovers know how much our dogs love human folk and want to connect as well. We are so happy to see our dogs when we get home that we tend to show a lot of excitement toward them. We greet them in a very happy and high-pitched voice. This is fine, except that it also tends to overexcite your dog. Therefore, your dog has learned to get excited about your arrival from YOU.

Dogs don’t’ react to each other the way we do after being apart for a time. We teach our dogs to be excited when we come home because we are excited. Your dog learns that this is the way she’s supposed to be when you come in the door. The remedy is to come in the door and completely ignore your dog. Don’t give attention to your dog when she is jumping and being excited. Go put your keys down. Look at your mail. Don’t give any eye contact. Don’t talk to your dog yet. Don’t stand still in front of your dog. Walk through the house somewhat briskly. If your dog jumps on you, turn and walk away in the opposite direction.

Please don’t be concerned that your dog’s feelings will be hurt. They won’t. Your dog will not think that you don’t love her. She’s not going to be thinking, “How come he’s not saying hi to me, doesn’t he love me anymore?”

When you first start to ignore this behavior in your dog, she might act more excited and jump even more. This is called an extinction burst. A behavior goes extinct or stops if it’s not reinforced. Before it goes extinct, there is a burst of that behavior. You see the catsup bottle is almost empty and you shake it to get some catsup out. Nothing comes out. So you shake it even harder and faster to see if something happens. Nothing does, and you stop. Similarly, your dog may jump more when you first begin to ignore her. If none of these things work to get your attention, she will soon calm down. When your dog has quieted down, then you can say hello. Pet her in a calm fashion so as not to get her excited again. If she does get excited when you start to pet her, just ignore her again until she’s quiet. When she’s calm, give her attention. It’s as simple as that. You may have to do this many times before this become routine for your dog. Especially if this behavior has previous been reinforced even unintentionally.

Marthina McClay, CPDT


  1. We had this behavior with our adult PB when we first got her from the shelter 3 years ago. Unfortunately, her excitement was accompanied by a golden shower each time we came home. Since I was a PB newbie then, I hired a dog trainer to work with us, who explained it exactly as you did above. She taught us to ignore Cami, as hard as that can be, until she was in a calm sit. It can take about 5-10 minutes when you're beginning, but now when we come home, she goes right into a sit, tail banging the floor a mile a minute, but still sitting. With patience, this was a really easy thing to teach our dog!

  2. bbhlisa02,
    I'm glad you were able to be patient with this. That's the toughest part it waiting it out.
    I'm glad it's working out now and thanks for sharing this!

  3. When I first adopted my girl, she and I definitely had this problem. She had serious separation anxiety in the beginning that I believe was carried over from being neglected in her previous home.

    Ignoring her when I came in the door was extremely hard to do because it wasn't a large apartment and she was VERY strong! She was nippy as well. An excited nip, but a nip all the same. I felt she was frustrated and had pent up anxiety / energy from being alone, so I ended up doing a slightly different version of ignoring her.

    While I was out, I would keep her in one room. I bought myself a very large rope toy.
    When I came home, I would never speak to her, and I would take time opening the bedroom door. (a few minutes) When I opened the door, I would hold out the rope, let her get it and tug for just a few moments. Then I would tell her to "settle" and would pet her if she settled, ignore her and leave her with the rope if she did not.
    At that point I would wait a few minutes before taking her out for her walk, still not speaking to her other than commands, still no petting.
    She would not get full attention until she was calm. She had the option to be calm at several intervals of the "welcome home" process. I would have her stop and sit along the walk and would try to talk to her to see if she could control herself. In the beginning, she was usually not calm until after her long walk. Sometimes it would be during the walk.

    Next step was to make her sit before the rope was even offered to her. Slowly her ability to be calm was getting closer and closer to my initial arrival, and slowly I began to offer smaller and smaller toys with less physical activity.

    It was the only thing I could think of to keep from getting beat up when I came in the door, literally, and it worked with her.
    Eventually, I was able to talk to her through the door as I was unlocking it and upon opening the door she'd be waiting with a toy - calmly!! I'd get a quick hello and she'd play alone with her toy a bit, I'd get in the house and get settled, and then we'd have our moment.

    It was like that the rest of her life. People who baby-sat her for me would think it was so weird when I'd come to pick her up that she wouldn't smother me with kisses when I first came through the door. I'd always say "Give her about 5-10 minutes, she'll be in my lap and unmovable!". Sure enough, she'd soon slide her way onto my lap and say hello like a peaceful little pit bull.
    You are absolutely right - this takes time!!!!