So many of the behavior problems I get calls about are not really behavior problems, but behaviors with a strong reinforcement history that allow dogs to adhere to the steadfast rule, "If it works, do it again."
Now that is not to diminish the fact that many of those behaviors are annoying, destructive and even dangerous, but to the dog, each instance is simply the correct answer to achieve reinforcement. And that is where the problem lies; the reinforcement isn't always as clear as one might think, and it sometimes takes special knowledge to figure that out to prevent it and/or teach the dog what to do instead.
Let's look at jumping on people as a classic behavior that is unwanted in most homes, and typicallly, the bigger the dog, the less it's wanted.
So how does jumping become such a highly reinforced behavior when people are constantly trying to stop it from happening with pushing the dog, yelling at the dog, trying to ignore the dog and more? Why doesn't the dog "get it," when everyone is trying to make it stop?
Why do dog jump?
Jumping on people often begins in puppyhood when it's "cute." The puppy is trying to jump up, lick, and barter for attention not to be "cute," but typically for attention or as appeasement toward the big humans in the puppy's life. Jumping and licking are both appeasement behaviors that are meant to say, "Hey, I'm a nice puppy and I don't want any problems."
In other words, jumping is a communication tool for puppies, and it's often accompanied by licking, frantic tail wags, paw lifts, ears pulled back and more. Many people mistake these behaviors for "friendliness," when in fact, this is often a puppy's means of trying to communicate they are feeling somewhat overwhelmed, or in need of something, such as rest/sleep, a potty break or food.
People tend to react one of two ways to this "cute" behavior, both of which can increase the jumping because there is either reinforcement or fear involved. Reinforcement occurs when the human responds with touch, excitement, and those high-pitched cartoon voices. The puppy quickly begins to put two and two together that when they jump and lick, the primate will respond with attention and more. Soon it becomes a habit and generalized to most or all people.
On the fear side of things, the puppy jumps up and the human pushes, or yells at the puppy, and because jumping is often an appeasement behavior, now the puppy feels a need to try harder to appease the person that is responding to the jumping. A viscous cycle begins and often results in more escalated jumping as the puppy matures and tries harder. Soon this also becomes a habit and generalized to most or all people.
Teach your dog what you want him to do instead
If you don't want your puppy or dog to jump, it will be important to set the tone, so to speak, and teach your dog what to do, while avoiding reinforcing what your don't want—no matter how cute it might be.
Teaching a strong sit behavior is a great way to avoid jumping, and by giving that behavior a strong reinforcement history, jumping is not such a strong option when sitting results in wonderful things, such as treats, a walk, play and more. It will be important to reinforce your dog for the correct behavior with yummy food treats so he/she learns that sitting is what works, all the while not giving any jumping attention.
But here is the trick to teaching this incompatible behavior—it is important to avoid creating a behavior chain where the dog jumps, you ask for a sit and then when the dog sits he gets a treat. That will quickly teach your dog to jump, wait for you to say sit, and then sit to get the food. Dogs are very clever at figuring those things out, so it's best to prevent the jumping in the first place. That can be achieved by asking for the sit sooner, and/or working with a barrier between you and the dog until he/she learns that sitting is a great way to earn reinforcement.
Teaching your dog a simple behavior such as a hand target, which most dogs love to do, is another good way to avoid jumping up and gives your dog a focus point, which is your hand lowered near his nose. Most positive trainers teach people how to use this behavior effectively for many useful behaviors and often as a mean to greet people by having the dog target their hand (see the photo attached) and then come away from the person to receive the reinforcement. By teaching something as simple as a hand target to greet, you will prevent your dog from jumping on others, because he now knows what to do instead. (For full instructions, my book, Chill Out Fido! How to Calm your Dog, has this and many other exercises that help dogs calm down and relax. http://www.dogwise.com/search.cfm)
When you teach your dog what is expected and how to do what is expected he will not only be more attentive, your bond and your relationship will blossom and your dog will readily do what works to everyone's advantage.