Sit to Greet (No Jumping!)

Exercise 8.3 - Say Hi!

Trained slowly and progressively this exercise will help your dog pay attention to you, walk calmly up to people and greet them politely by touching his nose to their hands.


‘Say Hi’ builds on the Sit and Keep Sitting exercises and the Target to Hand exercises so you will need to have successfully trained those behaviours well before moving on to this exercise.  By ‘well’ I mean that both skills have been trained in a variety of places in the face of moderate distractions before moving on to ‘Say Hi”


We are aiming for:

  • Your dog to keep sitting while your helper approaches 
  • Your dog to calmly touch the helpers hand on cue to Say Hi.
  • Your dog to be able to calmly ‘Say Hi’ to new people and in new locations.


The long-term benefit of this exercise is that your dog will no longer feel a need to jump up to greet people. He will learn that he will be rewarded for a more acceptable greeting - a nose touch to the hand. This will allow the dog to satisfy his curiosity about visitors, but he will also learn to come back to you after calmly greeting the new arrival.


For those dogs who worry about people reaching out to them, this is a great way for them to overcome the fear of hands. These dogs learn to recognize human hands as a target they can touch with their nose and then receive a reward, rather than worrying about being touched by an unknown person.


“Touch" the helper’s hand

  1. Warm your dog up by practicing a few easy sets of the Target to Hand exercise. Once again, you should have your dog on-lead.
  2. Now ask your helper to stand four to five feet away from you.
  3. Have your helper present his or her hand for your dog to target. You will say “Touch” and direct your dog’s attention to the person's hand with your own hand. Your dog should be used to following your hand by now, so he should readily step with you. When you can see that your dog is just about to touch your hand, move it out of the way and see if he will touch your helpers hand instead.
  4. Use your marker to indicate when he touches your helper’s hand, but rather than feeding your dog right there, you will instead move back two or three steps, then give him the reward on the side where he normally walks. Your dog should turn from your helper for the reward after he hears the marker. He will now see that he has to move away from the person to get the reward from you. 
  5. If he is unsure what to do, encourage him to move to you by using a kissy sound or patting your leg Praise him as he takes his reward, so he understands that he got the exercise correct.
  6. Step back toward your helper when you are ready to practice again, and have your dog carry out touching your helper’s hand for about ten repetitions.


Keep in Mind


Moving away to reward your dog after he targets your helper’s hand is a preventive measure. By moving away, it prevents the person from “ambushing” your dog by trying to pet him when he might not be comfortable with that or if it would be too stimulating for him.


With this exercise, your dog will be less likely to get aroused or worried if he knows that you will always move him away after the greeting. This is also a very helpful tool for dogs who would normally jump on people, since they don’t get the opportunity to linger long enough to jump. They will quickly learn that people are not for jumping on, rather, they are for targeting.


Switch the "Touch" cue to a "Say Hi" cue

The reason for switching cues is so your “Touch” cue will still mean to touch your hand, whereas the “Say Hi” cue will mean to touch someone else’s hand. It’s easier to have each different behaviour identified in your dog’s mind, so it is clear to him what you want during any level of your training.


  1. To switch the cue, you will use the new cue, “Say Hi” then say the old cue, “Touch,” one right after the other as you direct your dog to touch your helper’s hand.
  2. Practice adding the “Say Hi” cue in front of the “Touch” cue for about ten repetitions with both cues, then switch to using only the “Say Hi” cue the next time.
  3. Most dogs complete the behaviour without too much thought and you can then use the “Say Hi" cue by itself going forward.


When you present the new cue without the old, you may see your dog hesitate, but give it a few seconds as he might just be processing the information. Since you are also guiding him with your own hand to the other persons hand, it should be clear that it is the same exercise. If your dog doesn’t seem to understand, say “All done,” and go back to the two cues again and practice a few more times or take a break and come back after your dog has had some time to take in all this new information before you try again.


Building the Behaviour


Now that your dog can target to someone else’s hand, you are ready to put it all together. You will need a helper and do this with your dog on-lead in a low level distraction e

nvironment in the early stages.


Send your dog in "Say Hi":

  1. Instruct your helper to stand about ten feet from you and to ignore your dog as you ask your dog to sit at your side.
  2. Use a high rate of reinforcement with your high-value treats as your dog sits by your side. Mark and treat every three to five seconds to make it easy for your dog to Keep Sitting.
  3. Have your helper move toward you slowly, just like when you are walking your dog outside. This is the new component to this exercise. Keep an eye on your dog to make sure he is still able to Keep Sitting as your helper approaches. 
  4. Remind your helper to stop and take steps away if your dog gets up or even appears that he will get up. If your dog remains seated, have your helper stop five to six feet away from you and ask her to hold her hand in the target position so the moment you instruct your dog to “Say Hi,” he can move up to the person.
  5. Use your marker to tell your dog he is correct as he touches your helpers hand, and then step back a step or two and feed him at your side.
  6. Train four to five times in a number of locations around your home each time you practice. You are looking for your dog to look for the persons hand, “Touch,” and turn quickly back to you after you mark so he can get his reward.

Keep in Mind


This part will go much faster if your helper avoids making eye contact with your dog during practice. At some point you will want your helper to make eye contact and even reach out since these are things that people do in real life. Avoid adding these things until your dog is able to reliably “Say Hi,” turn back and be rewarded at your side eight out of ten attempts in several locations.


Raising the Bar - Generalise to new people


You will want to generalise this behaviour to as many different people as possible so your dog has a clear understanding of the behaviour before you take it on the road. Practice with people who are new to the dog both in and outside your house.


Generalise in new locations and people

As you take this behaviour to new locations, you will have to deal with two variables - new locations and new people.


The best way to keep this in check is when you see someone who looks interested in your dog, stop them at a distance where you can watch your dog before any interaction. Six to ten feet is a good distance, or far enough away that your dog is unable to jump if that has been a problem. 


As you hold your hand up in the universal “Stop” signal, smile, and say something like “Hi, my dog is in training, and we are teaching him to greet people in a calm manner. Do you mind if my dog walks up to you so we can practice?”


If they agree, continue your conversation by saying, “Will you wait right there? I’m going to have my dog walk to you and touch your hand. If you wouldn’t mind, please put your hand out and he will come and say hello by touching his nose to your hand.” Be sure to show the person how you would like them to hold their hand before moving forward. This gives you time to watch your dog and see if he is comfortable, rather than having someone rush right up to him, which might end with your dog jumping.


After you practice what to say a couple of times when people look interested in your dog, it will come naturally and you will be able to take charge of the situation.  Keep your dog’s comfort level in mind, and always be willing to go back and practice earlier pieces of the behaviour if he seems too excited or even confused or worried about anything as you work with members of the public.


If it seems too much for your dog with that person or in that environment you also should reserve the right to tell people that your dog is not ready just yet, and thank them for trying to help.


With several weeks of practice, this exercise can help your dog relax and behave calmly in public and when greeting new people.  People will now just be another target, rather than someone they should jump on when greeting. 


Problem Solving:


When people approach, my dog keeps getting up after I have asked him to sit.

To keep your dog sitting while people approach, you might have to present your reinforcements faster as the person draws nearer, have better treats, or go back to more of the distraction work before adding new people to the exercise.  Usually, if you can reinforce faster, and/or with better treats, you can move through this problem quickly. Try doing one to two mark and treats for every step forward your helper takes (having them stop as you reinforce each time) to see if a higher rate of reinforcement will keep your dog focused on you. Take your time and go at your dog’s pace so he really gets the idea that sitting and sustaining the sit are the way earn treats and get the person to come forward to visit.


What if helpers or people we approach while practicing don’t do what you ask them to do?

As you practice, you will find that people don’t always follow your instructions perfectly, and that’s okay. Their hand may be too high or too low or they are standing strangely, but it is essential that you don’t worry about the other person’s presentation. Instead, help your dog do a good job. If your dog doesn’t or can’t touch their hand, mark for the effort and step back to feed.  If you linger there trying to get it right, your dog might decide to engage old behaviours such as jumping.