Jumpy/mouthy (JM) dogs are adolescent or adult dogs who have an energetic, playful, and outgoing personality. These dogs energetically jump up, put their mouths on people (usually people’s arms and legs), and may even grab at clothing and/or the leash. Jumpy/mouthy dogs may display one or all of the aforementioned behaviors. Jumpy/mouthy dogs may either use a soft mouth (contact with teeth which causes no discomfort) or hard mouth (contact of teeth with pressure which causes discomfort or pain). Unlike biting, jumpy/mouthy behavior is NOT performed with intent to do harm. Biting is a form of aggression, often accompanied by growling, teeth baring and snapping, and most often occurs when a dog is fearful of something or protecting a valued resource.
Dogs jump and mouth for a variety of reasons. The first is play. Dogs play with each other by jumping and mouthing, so it comes naturally to play with people in the same way. The second is greeting behavior. Jumpy/mouthy dogs love people and exuberantly greet most new people that they meet, with jumpy and/or mouthy behavior. Jumpy/mouthy dogs often show this behavior when a person reaches out to pet them. The third is to get a person’s attention. There is no better way to get a response, either positive or negative, than by jumping up. Young dogs develop social and emotional attachments to other dogs and people through play. When playing with their littermates, puppies learn to control the pressure of their bites. If one puppy bites another too hard, the puppy who was bitten often reprimands the biting puppy, and either the conflict is resolved or a fight may break out. Puppyhood is also a perfect time for people to begin teaching puppies how to play. Often by the time a puppy is 4 months old, play mouthing decreases. However, if people are not around to provide consistent training and companionship, or less commonly, if people are around, but aren’t able to provide enough exercise, enrichment and training to meet a high energy dog’s needs, the mouthing may not decline. Influence of stress: The stress of being in a shelter, especially related to decreased interaction with people, decreased exercise, and lack of control of their environment, often results in increased attention seeking (jumping, mouthing, barking) behaviors. Some jumpy/mouthy dogs initially respond to a behavior plan, but their jumpy/mouthy behavior worsens as they stay in a shelter for long periods of time.
Identifying the Problem:
Jumpy/mouthy behavior may be identified in various areas:
Intake: Most jumpy/mouthy dogs have exhibited the same behavior in their previous home. Some owners misinterpret the mouthy behavior and describe it as nipping or biting. To distinguish between the two behaviors, the previous owners should be asked when the jumpy/mouthy behavior occurs. If the behavior occurs primarily toward familiar people during greeting or when the dog is interested in playing, it is likely jumpy/mouthy behavior and not nipping or biting.
Behavior evaluation: Jumpy/mouthy behaviors may occur in any subtest of the behavior evaluation, but are more likely to occur during subtests where the dog is allowed to freely interact with an evaluator (Room Behavior subtest, on the Match-Up II Behavior Evaluation) and/or when an exciting stimulus is present (Run and Freeze subtest, on Match-Up II, because running, giggling, and arm waving is exciting).
Shelter observations: Jumpy/mouthy dogs are likely to exhibit the objectionable behaviors more often when excited. Dogs often exhibit jumpy/mouthy behavior when being removed from their kennel and when spending time with people. The frustration which occurs when shelter dogs have not been given sufficient attention, exercise, and play, may result in exaggerated jumpy/mouthy behaviors.
Jumpy/Mouthy Behavior - Making Outcome Decisions:
If you have a jumpy/mouthy dog, please review Jumpy Mouthy Training Tips [PDF]. The jumpy/mouthy training sessions you find below should be broken down into periods of ignoring inappropriate behavior/rewarding calm behavior, play, training, and quiet time. Length of individual periods will vary depending on the individual dog, but a typical session (15-30 minutes) might look like (Sample Jumpy Mouthy Training Session [PDF]). Click on this link for steps on a management plan for dogs with jumpy/mouthy behavior.
Jumpy/mouthy behavior should be reassessed during routine interactions on a weekly basis with different handlers. Consistent training reduces the problem behavior to acceptable levels in most dogs.
Jumpy/Mouthy Behavior Plan:
- Note the existence of this specific problem on the dog's cage (Jumpy Mouthy Cage Card [PDF]). This document should be placed on the dog’s Canine Enrichment Chronicle clipboard or with the dog's record for daily guidance.
- Implement the Say Please Program [PDF] every time anyone interacts with them.
- Ignore jumpy/mouthy behavior and reward calm and/or friendly behavior. When the dog demonstrates jumpy/mouthy behavior, ignore it and do not reward it: Turn away from the dog, stand perfectly still, cross your arms and do not make eye contact with the dog. Some dogs keep jumping/mouthing despite ignoring them. With these dogs, it can be useful to tether them so that you can approach when the dog is not jumping and safely move away when the dog is jumping. Alternatively, you could leave the room when the dog starts jumping. When the dog is NOT jumping or mouthing, reward good behavior with a click (or praise) and a treat. Quick and accurate timing of your clicks/praise, and a high rate of reinforcement for good behavior will often drastically improve your success with these dog
- Play with people - Play is crucial as a method to exercise dogs and teach the dog fun and acceptable ways to interact with people. Dogs can also be taught to ‘drop it’ when retrieving or playing with tug toys, which is a very useful cue for jumpy/mouthy dogs. With jumpy/mouthy dogs, begin with Retrieve Training [PDF]. Once the dog retrieves well, move on to Tug Training [PDF] (and teaching the dog to drop the tug toy when asked).
- Training: Basic training allows us to teach the dog desirable behaviors (i.e., look, sit, down) which we can reward. Bouts of training should be brief (1-2 minutes each) to maintain the dog’s interest and motivation.
- Crate training: Training the dog to enjoy entering and tolerate staying in a crate is important, because adopters may need to use a crate to prevent destructive behavior from their energetic dog.
- Playgroup: If the dog enjoys other dogs, play sessions with other dogs are a great way to burn off excess energy! Playgroup Manual [PDF]
*Important Note: Some frequently recommended methods to stop jumpy/mouthy behavior such as “kneeing”, grasping the dog’s feet and squeezing, grasping the dog’s muzzle or scruff often make matters worse. Many dogs misinterpret these behaviors as play and think that they are fun. As a result the jumpy/mouthy behavior gets worse instead of better.
*The use of a Gentle Leader or other head collar will help to control the jumpy/mouthy behavior if it occurs on walks.
(Introducing a dog to a Gentle Leader [PDF])
Many jumpy/mouthy dogs do well after adoption. But even after a remedial training program in the shelter, jumpy/mouthy dogs are likely to continue the behavior to some degree in their new home, and some are challenging for adopters to manage. Therefore, it is best to send adopters home after a Special Adoption counseling session and training program similar to what was done in the shelter and advise that they attend training classes. Through the Special Adoption Program, the adopter learns (Jumpy Mouthy Special Adoption Handout [PDF]):
- How to discourage unacceptable forms of play and greeting
- How to ignore/discourage unacceptable jumpy/mouthy behavior
- How to provide their new dog with adequate exercise and enrichment