Would you ever tell your dog, “Be a dentist!” and expect him to go to the computer, pull up applications and start typing out his resume for dentistry schools? Of course not! It would be insane to tell your dog this cue and expect him to actually follow through.
Yet, many dog unknowingly owners ask for similarly unreasonable behaviors all the time. Things like get off, lay down, leave it, come here–these cues can all be as ridiculous as “be a dentist” when they’re not previously trained. If a dog hasn’t been trained to drop it, he knows as much about dropping a toy from his mouth on a cue as he does about applying to dentistry schools. That is to say, his knowledge on both subjects is a big fat zero.
As a dog trainer, I meet a lot of dogs and their owners. Usually, their dogs are friendly, excited and eager to get to know me, so they either jump or put their front paws on me. And immediately, their owner yanks their leash back, yells, “Get off!” and apologizes to me. And I quickly respond with, “It’s ok.”
And maybe I don’t make it clear that it really is okay. Jumping on people is a common dog behavior, and most dogs are smart enough to have figured out that when you jump on someone, they pay attention to you. Bingo, it’s exactly what they want. It’s normal, whether we like it or not. Unfortunately, we don’t like it, which is why we are yelling at the dog in the first place, and why I’ve been hired to train the dog.
But until you work with your dog and train this cue and behavior, don’t tell your dog to “get off.” I know it can be embarrassing, and it’s tempting to cave to social pressure and just yell the cue to make sure the person being jumped on knows that you saw what your dog did and you’re not happy about it. But in reality, having a dog who knows exactly what “get off” means and doesn’t do it, is probably worse perceived than a dog who just doesn’t know better. It would be better for you and the dog to remove the dog from the situation without negativity while apologizing to the other person. Plus, most knowledgeable dog owners will completely understand why your dog is jumping and chances are that their dog does this too. I don’t know how many times I heard, “Oh, I don’t care. He’s just being a dog,” when I apologized for my dog, as a puppy, jumping when greeting strangers.
If you do chose to still yell “get off!” to your dog before training polite greeting behaviors, acknowledge that you’re doing this for your and your company’s benefit. Your dog has no idea what you’re saying and there’s very little chance he’ll actually settle down. Recognize that he will not follow through because the phrase “get off” doesn’t actually mean anything to him. Know that expecting a dog to listen to a cue he has not yet been trained to do, is as ridiculous as asking him to be a dentist.
I understand it’s frustrating even for us with the best of intentions, and sometimes we can’t help reacting by yelling, “Get off!” It’s a natural behavior for us, just as it’s natural for your dog to jump. But if you’re not upset, for your sake and your dog’s sake, when your dog jumps on me to say hello, don’t yell. Instead, let’s work together to train him that “get off” means put all four paws on the ground and that he should greet people by sitting politely at their feet. Because if your dog actually listened, without training, when you told him to “get off,” you’d have a miracle on your hands, not an actual dog. And that would be a whole other story.