Luca the Jumper

20 Apr

The princess, sitting pretty.

Today I’ve got to dish about my constant work-in-progress–my mini Aussie, Luca.

She’s a great dog and many of my readers have met her so you may know that she has a very lovable, playful personality. Australian Shepherds are among the most intelligent breeds of dogs, right beside their more popular cousins, Border Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs. With all her smarts, she stays out of trouble and instinctively guides other dogs to do the same, herding them at the dog park when things get to be too much for her liking. Aussies, specifically, are known for being independent and intuitive animals. She learns what I like and does that without being told and even more than that, she can also read my movements and feelings to predict what I’m about to do. On our walks, she knows I want to turn around before I do it or she can feel when I’m sick, often licking places where I hurt.

In many ways, she’s the perfect companion but the cost of her intelligence is that she’s very high maintenance. It’s a very common drawback to having a smart dog, actually. Although she’s easily trainable, I have to manage her energy because sometimes she’ll put all her mental powers to work on an activity that’s not totally healthy for her.  For instance, her favorite past time (or what would be her favorite if I allowed it) is watching out our window and barking at everything that passes…for hours. Since she knows better than to do something negative like chewing up things, she fixates on things that her instincts tell her are good things for me. Unfortunately for my little girl, she just doesn’t have an off switch for those instincts and the only thing I can do to help her relax is play with her and exercise her.

I’m slowly learning some activities and routines that really seem to help her stay calm but today I specifically want to talk about something that I’ve nearly mastered with her and something you may have an issue with as well.

Luca likes to jump on people.

A lot of dogs have this problem and I suspect that there may be different triggers for different dogs. For Luca, there’s a problem that will never go away.  Luca is a very pretty and friendly dog. Which means that when people see her, they automatically get excited and try to approach her. If Luca was a more mellow dog, this probably wouldn’t be as much of a problem but since she has such a high energy level to begin with, when she senses that other people are excited to see her, it just takes that energy overboard. She barks happily and tries to put her front paws on people, almost shoving them.

I’ve also noticed that some days Luca is very nervous when she does this. She’s panting heavily and barking sometimes when she tries to randomly jump on me. This usually happens after I’ve been gone for awhile and I come home and ignore her. Sometimes ignoring her makes her calm down more quickly but other times it really makes it worse.

Here are the things that I’ve found generally help her not to jump on people:

I guide them into the house through an area where I can control her: I try to bring people to the back door because it’s an easier area for me to block her from jumping. I have to put myself between her and our guests and send her away by pointing away and telling her no. Basically all this does is tell her that people coming in are my people and she’s not allowed to jump on those who belong to me. I also try to tell our guests to pretend that the dogs aren’t there…which is hard for anyone. After they’ve cooled down a little, they can give them affection.

I try to remind people not to knock: Both our dogs respond strongly to knocking or ringing and that’s not really a bad thing. Loud noises should put a dog on alert but right now, it’s better for Luca not to get that intense. Instead I listen and watch for people to arrive and I meet them outside  for the ritual above.

I speak very quietly to the dogs when I come home: I don’t make eye contact with either, I just put my hands down for them sniff and whisper my greetings. Then I keep going about my business. As Cesar will tell you, an excited greeting is great for a child but not so much for a dog. They really don’t need to be consoled when you come home and they can sense that you’re happy to see them without any words.

We practice the wait command: Which is basically “stay.” Luca will do this when no one is approaching right now but loses her mind when people come in. We’re working on this, though.

Just so you know and you don’t feel discouraged about your own situation, this whole not-jumping operation has been in the works for about a year. Some dogs can learn not to behave a certain way in a matter of days or weeks but when the behavior is instinct-deep, it might be something you have to manage every day for the rest of that dog’s life. You just have to remind yourself that what’s annoying for you is probably unhealthy for your companion and is worth the time and effort.

By the way, I don’t have a single submission for a guest post. Pleeeease? Please send me some help? I’ll love you forever!

The monkey sleeping on his giant bed.

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One Response to “Luca the Jumper”

  1. Dori Fraser April 20, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    Luca is a bright beautiful dog who wants to make sure all is right in her world. You are doing a good job with her.

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