Ask Ashley: Jumping, Crate Training, “Leave It” and More

Ashley kneels on a log in front of a large body of water in the background. Her hands are on a dog in an orange body harness next to her.

By Guide Dog Mobility Instructor Ashley Nunnelly

Ashley here! Thank you all for the fantastic feedback from Ask Ashley blog #1! I am loving diving into these questions and problems with you, and if my answer doesn’t give you quite enough information, please reach out for follow up!

Renee writes:

When people arrive at our home, how do you keep the dog from getting so excited and wanting to jump on them?

Hi Renee!

Gotta love a full body slam as a greeting!

First, let’s talk about WHY they do that. Oftentimes, they are trying to get up to our faces to get near our mouths. It’s one of those leftovers in the genetic wolf-y behaviors. They want to lick your mouth and sniff your face and gather all sorts of information about what you did in your day while you were away from them.

“Mmm, I detect a leftover hint of coffee from this morning, I smell that Caesar salad she ate at lunch (anchovies, yum yum) aaaaaaand, what is that I smell? Did she cheat on that summer body diet and have a cookie as well? THE DELIGHT!”

All of my “voice of the dog” jokes aside, their noses are truly that sensitive and much of their understanding of the world comes through their noses. And our breath holds a lot of information about us: what we ate and drank, our health, our stress levels, etc.

Another reason why dogs jump up is that MOST of the time, it has been reinforced. There are always those people who squeal and say, “Oh, I don’t mind!” while they’re petting and kissing your dog right back.

There are also people who use their hands to push the dog off, or even just to block, or they bend down, etc. And if we use our hands and talk to the dog, then the dog is being reinforced with that attention, even if we don’t realize it.

So, I have several suggestions for working on this behavior and I recommend trying a variety, maybe a few together, maybe one at a time and see which one is effective for you and your dog! Different learners and teachers often require different strategies.

  • Teach an incompatible behavior. For example, teach your dog a rock-solid “go to your bed” behavior. The ideal of this behavior is: you stand at the door, cue your dog “go to your bed,” your dog runs to their bed, lies down and stays there until told otherwise. If you practice this skill enough, your dog will be on their bed and therefore not jumping at the door when guests arrive. To be frank, this takes A LOT of practice sessions. With my dogs, I practice each step of all the things that mean “guest is arriving.” So—door knock, reward on the bed, door open, reward on the bed, me saying “HIIIIIIIIIII” in a cheery voice even when no one is there, reward on the bed. I would also practice having a family member coming in and out so that you get practice with someone actually entering. Practice hugging the “guest,” practice talking excitedly, practice them handing you a bottle of wine and a tasty cheese plate—practice all the things that typically happen when you have a visitor. And practice them frequently. This way, when a real guest does come, your dog has “rehearsed” so many times that during showtime they know exactly what to do, even when they’re super excited.
  • Be prepared. Have your guest call you when they’re in the driveway. Put your pup on a leash and grab the treats. Ask your dog to sit. As your guest comes in, if your dog remains in a sit position, then feed, feed, feed! If they get up and try to jump on the guest, then you can use the leash to get them to take several steps backward and farther away from the guest. Typically, distance helps dogs make better decisions when they’re excited. The hardest part here will be to control your guest. Ask them to only pet the dog if the dog is sitting. And if the dog gets up or tries to jump, ask them to back up some and give you the space you need to get your dog’s attention back. With a lot of practice, you will no longer need the leash once your dog realizes that sitting is the key to attention and treats!
  • Management. A lot of the time with young, excited and social dogs, it’s easiest for you to put them in the crate or the other room during the “high excitement period” of the door opening and people coming in and you and your guest greeting each other. Usually by the time the guest has settled on the couch to chat, the general feel of the room is calmer. This is a better time to let the dog come out to greet the visitors. Dogs are very much mirrors to our emotions and the environmental situations. So, if you bring them into a calm setting, they are more likely to exhibit good calm behavior, or at least settle down quicker.
  • This is sort of a #3.5—this same technique applies if your dog jumps all over you to greet you when you come home. I know all of us can’t wait to greet our best furry friends when we get home, but if you’re coming to them all excited and they’re all excited and you let them out to run zoomies all over the room and leap upon you with delight, then you’re just reinforcing that you coming home is a massive event. Come in, put your stuff down, don’t make a fuss and wait for your dog to be quiet and relaxed in the crate. THEN open the crate and let them out. Save your snuggles for once your dog has relaxed a little bit so they will be less likely to turn into a Tigger.

With all three of these techniques, I recommend a lot of practice! Practice with family members, practice with you coming home, practice in the morning and in the evening when it’s dark. Practice with a handful of friends and have the same people come in and out five times each until it’s not such a big, exciting event for your dog. And start thinking about how you’re going to reinforce your friends for being training assistants! 😉

Doug writes:

Ashley. Our 7-month-old lab puppy has trouble with being in his crate when no one’s around. He barks for as long as there is no one in the room. We give him things to occupy him like KONGs but he just barks. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks. Doug

Hey Doug,

Poor little dude! Separation distress can be such a hard one!

It seems like he’s got himself pretty wound up about being alone so you’re going to need to go WAY back to the beginning of building a good crate behavior.

Start with teaching him to go into his crate on cue. Here are some general steps:

Note: THIS WILL NOT BE ALL IN ONE TRAINING SESSION. This will take days to weeks, especially depending on your puppy’s attention span and threshold to begin to get concerned about being left alone. Your goal is always to end the training session BEFORE your puppy gets to the point of vocalizing.

  • Toss a treat into the crate. As your pup runs in to get it, say “kennel up!” (I’ll use this cue throughout the steps, but you can use whatever you want your cue to be). Repeat roughly 5 times.
  • Without moving your body away from the crate, say “kennel up.” If your dog heads toward the crate, mark the behavior with a click (if you’re using a clicker to train) or a word (“YES” works great!) and feed your puppy in the crate. Release puppy from the crate with an “okay!” Repeat successfully 5 times.
  • Take a step away from the crate and cue “kennel up.” If your puppy is successful, feed in the crate and release with an “okay!” Repeat successfully 5 times.
  • Cue “kennel up” and when your puppy is in the crate, feed several times in quick succession until you cue “okay!” Repeat until you notice your puppy lingering in the crate and not wanting to come out.
  • Cue “kennel up,” close the door and open immediately. Feed. Repeat successfully 5 times.
  • Cue “kennel up,” close the door and open after 2 seconds. Feed. Repeat successfully 5 times.
  • Cue “kennel up,” close the door and open after 5 seconds. Feed. Repeat successfully 5 times.
  • Cue “kennel up,” close the door and open after 10 seconds. Feed. Repeat successfully 5 times.
  • Cue “kennel up,” close the door, latch the crate and open after 10 seconds. Feed. Repeat successfully 5 times.
  • Cue “kennel up,” close the door, latch the crate and walk away from the crate. Walk back and feed. Repeat successfully 5 times.
  • Gradually increase time until you can walk away for 30 seconds.
  • At this point you can walk all over the room, walking past and dropping a treat in the crate as long as the puppy is quiet. Be sure not to push too long so that they start barking. You want to come back and end the exercise before they get upset.
  • Start walking out of the room for gradually increasing amounts of time and coming back, treating, opening the door and releasing them on “okay!”

A few notes: Depending on your puppy’s level of concern, you may truly be playing with only seconds of success at first. It will feel painfully slow, but I promise it will be worth it! We want them to remain calm and end the exercise before the puppy gets upset. I threw out specific increasing seconds of time only because I do want you to actually time it and keep count. If 10 seconds is too long, then you work on 7 seconds until they’re successful at 7 seconds. Then 9 seconds, then 10. Then 12. Keep track of yourself so that if you accidentally push too far, you know exactly where your last successful place is so that you can master that place and build back up.

Some other useful things to think about while you’re building all the way back from step one:

  • Feed breakfast and dinner in the crate and leave the room while they’re eating, coming back just before they are done.
  • Work on crate behavior right after you have exercised them and they are tired.
  • I love that you’re trying to use a KONG. Maybe try different long-lasting types of treats so that the puppy is self-reinforcing for calm while they are playing with it (with practicing calm crate manners, they should quickly move up to being calm enough to play rather than just barking and concerned for you).
  • Cover the crate. Sometimes making it more cozy and den-like and removing sightlines to you helps the puppy to settle quicker.
  • Do not open the crate door if the puppy is barking. Wait for even a split second of quiet and open the door then. That way, your dog is associating calm manners with “people coming back.”
  • You can also practice Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol in the crate. This can help to reinforce calm behavior in the crate as well as to help your journey to build the length of time that your puppy is calm in the crate! What I love about this is that you can follow along and the MP3 times it for you. It helps keep you random on your treat delivery. 😊
  • You can play soothing music while you’re gone. There is music specifically for calming dogs like Through A Dog’s Ear. You can also try an Adaptil Diffuser, which is calming as well.
  • You could try a remote treat dispensing machine like a Pet Tutor, Treat And Train or Furbo dog camera so that you can reward your pup for quiet/calm without you having to be in the room.
  • A professor of mine from a graduate certificate program that I took through the University of Washington is quoted in this article on pet separation anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Start thinking about what your life looked like during pre-pandemic times and start preparing your pup for what that will look like when we are all free again! This is important for everyone reading who has older dogs with no current concerns as well! We’ve been locked in at home with our pups for a long time now, but let’s keep our eye on the prize and continue working to make them successful for when we leave again.

Timothy writes:

When I am out walking with my guide dog in our neighborhood, sometimes there are loose dogs that approach us and cause total chaos with my dog’s work. They bark and they follow, causing my dog to forget what she is doing and her attention is given to the other dog. How do I fix this? And when should I correct her?

Hi Timothy!

This is SUCH a hard one. I so feel for clients living in areas like you do. There is nothing more challenging than working a guide dog around loose dogs. Honestly, it presents a significant danger to the safety of you and your dog.

I would change your route if possible. Avoid areas where you know that dogs may be loose.

If you can’t, then I would talk to the owners and ask them to keep their dogs on a tie out or in a yard. Or AT LEAST to call them inside when you are walking past.

If the owners are not helpful, call Animal Control. In most cities there are ordinances against loose dogs. You should explain to them that this significantly impacts your dog’s ability to work and puts your safety in jeopardy.

Also, feel free to call Leader Dog’s client services team! As an organization, YOU, our client, are our top priority! We can help you advocate for you and your dog. If this advice doesn’t help you and you need more ideas, give them a call and feel free to ask for your original instructor or me (Ashley)! We absolutely want to hear from you and help you work through this so that you feel comfortable and safe working with your dog.

For those lovely readers reading this who are not guide dog users—if you’re on this page, I know you are an ally! Please help to educate your friends and neighbors about how interfering with a guide dog team by distracting the dog with greetings or with other dogs can create a dangerous situation for a guide dog user. While our Leader Dogs are highly trained, at the end of the day, they are still dogs. They do occasionally get distracted or scared. And a situation where a loose dog is charging at a guide dog could scare the guide dog and be a severe detriment to the life of the team.

Thank you all for your help in being advocates with us!

With care,

Ashley

Cindy writes:

I would love to raise a puppy but I have a 7‒10 year old border collie that worships me! She is always by my side and am concerned that if I get a puppy, she might be jealous and be mean to it. Have you ever had that situation?

Hey Cindy!

So much of this depends on your dog’s personality! If she has been socialized from a young age with other dogs and loves to play and has been around puppies, then I would say you’re just fine!

I have an older shepherd/collie cross who is my main girl, and she has raised many puppies with me! She teaches them so much about learning to be a respectful canine member of society. There are absolutely doggy manners and social protocols that only an older, wiser dog can teach a young puppy. It’s imperative that puppies interact with dogs of all ages and kinds to be a well-rounded, socialized member of canine society. Your border collie could be invaluable to you and help you teach the new pup the ropes!

Even if your dog loves her new puppy, make sure that you still carve out individual time for her. Help monitor to make sure that puppy isn’t mugging her or chewing on her ears and snatching her toys. Spend some special time with just you and her without the younger sibling tagging along. In my house, the only dog that is allowed on the furniture is my old girl. That’s her special snuggle time with me. Plus, it allows her a safe place to be able to retreat from the rotating door of dog hooligans that I parade through her house.

That being said, honestly, I have decided to stop puppy raising full time until Ronnie (my special girl) is no longer with us. The last time that I had a temporary very young puppy in the house, she tolerated it, but I could tell that she didn’t enjoy it like she did when she was younger. She used to love romping with the babies and let them climb all over her and chew on her and she was so perfectly tender and had so much fun. With this last puppy, I could tell that she kept retreating to the couch and having the puppy “piranha” in the room was just making her world smaller. I’ve decided that she is retired from being a puppy “aunt.” She still likes her “brothers” who are both 4 years old. But she told me that she would prefer not another infant. I love her so much. And even though I love puppy raising, I will honor what she says to me.

If your special girl is like mine, then listen to her as well! Cherish with me the twilight years of our girls who are our entire hearts. Even in your short description, I feel that I can just SEE the way that your girl looks at you and adores you, and I know that you and I will treasure every day with them.

All sappiness aside—if she is one of those dogs who adores other dogs, then sometimes having a baby in the house can keep the old girls young! It is adorable to watch them play like babies themselves with the baby puppies! My suggestion before you commit is to bring your girl around a friend’s puppy or young dog for a short time if she is well socialized with other dogs and to give her the chance to tell you how she feels. I know you’ll listen.

Give your girl a kiss from me!

Ashley

Karen writes:

Hi Ashley, 

I’m the breeding stock host for [Leader Dog Mom] Alexa. I have two questions. How do I get her to stop jumping on me? I keep telling her “OFF” and she’s still a jumper. I’m afraid she’s going to knock me down one of these days. Secondly, the other dangerous habit she has is taking off after we encounter cats on our walks. I’m using a harness so it eliminates pressure on her neck, but when she sees a cat, she’s chasing it! It’s a wonder she hasn’t jerked me off my feet. I’m worried about her safety and my safety. 

Thanks for any advice that you have. 

Hey Karen!

Thank you SO much for being a breeding stock host home! We value your help SO much!

Take a look at the other answer above about jumping up. I gave a lot of solutions there! But another addition for you is to ensure that she has a way to ask for your attention that is appropriate. Like sitting in front of you. Before she gets petting or attention, she needs to be sitting to ask for it. If she gets up, stop petting and ask her to sit again. Then resume petting.

If she doesn’t sit and tries to jump, then step out of her way, stand straight up and tell her to sit again. You can add a “stay” too if that helps her sit.

Also, try to be mindful of keeping her calm when you come home or in whatever time it is that she is all jumpy and excited. Keep your voice calm and your body still and movements slow. That will help her “read the room” and lower her energy to match yours. Only greet when you think she has herself under control. 😊

For the kitty-cat chasing: I would build a really solid “leave it” skill!

For all those readers who have Leader Dogs or Future Leader Dogs—they are NOT taught a “leave it” cue. They are taught that in the face of any distraction, they should maintain focus. For pet dogs or breeding stock dogs though, teaching them a cue that means “look to me and please leave that alone” is helpful.

Training plan for “leave it”:

Step 1: 

  • Present a closed fist with a treat inside.
  • Click or say “YES” when dog pulls her chin away from investigating the hand.
  • Treat.
  • Repeat 5 times successfully before moving to step 2

Step 2:

  • Present a closed fist with a treat inside.
  • Click or say “YES” when dog pulls her chin away from investigating the hand and say “leave it!”
  • Treat.
  • Repeat 5 times successfully.

(This step helps the dog associate the words “leave it” with sitting back away from the item that they want.)

Step 3: 

  • Present your hand flat open holding the treat (be prepared to close your hand if they mess up to prevent them from getting the treat).
  • Say “leave it.”
  • If the dog moves forward and back without taking the treat—click or say “YES!” If they stay still and don’t move to take the treat—click or say “YES!” Either option is fine here.
  • Treat.
  • Repeat 5 times successfully.

Step 4:

  • Present flat hand with a treat closer to the ground than you were before (you’d be surprised—this makes it harder!).
  • Say “leave it.”
  • If the dog moves forward and back without taking the treat—click or say “YES!” If they stay still and don’t move to take the treat—click or say “YES!” Either option is fine here.
  • Treat.
  • Repeat 5 times successfully.

Step 5:

  • Put treat on the ground (be prepared to cover it with your hand or foot to prevent the dog from getting to it if they mess up).
  • Say “leave it.”
  • If the dog moves forward and back without taking the treat—click or say “YES!” If they stay still and don’t move to take the treat—click or say “YES!” Either option is fine here too.
  • Treat.
  • Repeat 5 times successfully.

Step 6: Generalizing

  • Choose items that the dog typically tries to steal or chew on and practice the above steps using those items as “bait.”
  • Start with an item that is easy, such as one of the dog’s toys, so that they learn that the words “leave it” mean to do the same thing in a different context.
  • Then move to items that are more “valuable” but easy to keep the puppy from actually stealing if they mess up. Something like a paper towel that you can close up in your hand.
  • Remember, the goal is to slowly build success in these steps and items, not to tempt the puppy into messing up. We want them to have successful practice sessions of leaving something that they want alone. That makes them more likely to pay attention to us when it is not a practice session and we really do need them to leave it alone!
  • It’s a good idea to have practice sessions with items that you will need the dog to “leave” in real life. Paper towels, socks and electrical cords are some examples that come to mind!

The big part of this is to practice! Use HIGH value treats, especially when you bring this skill out into the real world! We want her to automatically be SO excited and look at you whenever you say “leave it” that she forgets all about the cat!

You’ll notice in the video that I let Gryffindor get involved in playing with the food toy and say “leave it” after he is already distracted by it a few times. This is an important step to make sure that they can practice refocusing to you when there is something that they really want.

Another useful tool that can help you feel a bit safer is a Gentle Leader head harness! They are a great management tool that helps control pulling. It can help you get some good practice in around the really tough distractions so that you can build a reinforcement history with them around. Later, you can take it off if you want and see those skills shine!

Check out my previous blog for more information about dealing with distractions as well. Basically, distance is your friend and take things slowly and successfully!

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Ashley

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