When dogs jump on other dogs' heads there is some level of risk considering that not all dogs are accepting of this form of interaction.
Sure, it may work well in the context of play because jumping on dog's heads and backs is often part of that, but in a normal context such as when meeting an unknown dog or just being around other dogs not willing to play, this behavior can stir trouble.
Teaching a more polite approach is important considering that dogs may not tolerate this type of interaction.
The Behavior of Dogs Jumping on Other Dogs' Heads
The behavior of dogs jumping on other dogs' heads is reminiscent of early puppyhood when puppies are still in litter with their littermates and mom.
Back in those days, pups would greet their mom by jumping towards her head and often licking her mouth. This behavior originates from when pups are starting to be weaned, in other words, when they are transitioning from mom's milk to gradually more solid foods.
In a wild setting, prior to being domesticated, puppies used to lick their mother's lips and mouth to evoke her to regurgitate semi-digested food for them. This may sound gross to us, but this helped the pups transition from a diet of exclusive milk to one based on meat from prey.
It all makes sense, once we think that, back in those ancient times, pups were raised in maternity dens that were often underground. Back then, mother dog would hunt for food and it was difficult for her to transport a carcass back to the den, and puppies weren't mobile enough to go hunt with her nor would this practice have been safe.
The solution was therefore to regurgitate food for them which was evoked by the pups jumping up towards her head and licking her lips.
The regurgitated food was warm and easy for the puppies to eat and digest, providing an optimal intermediary meal somewhere in between liquid and solid foods.
Intrigued? This is just one of a dog's care seeking and care giving behaviors. Discover more about them here: Et-epimeletic Behavior in Puppies.
Transition into a Greeting Behavior
Interestingly, this behavior (the jumping up and mouth-licking behavior) tends to persist past the weaning phase and becomes a puppy's and young dogs' way to greet other dogs (and sometimes people too!)
It is not uncommon for dogs to want to instinctively lick our faces. You'll see dogs greet their owners enthusiastically, and often part of that greeting ritual includes licking the face area of people.
Indeed, one reason why dogs jump on people is because they would like to reach our faces to say hello. Intrigued? Discover other reasons dogs jump on people here: why do dogs jump on people?
While it is obvious that we are not a dog's parents, in some ways, dogs, perhaps see themselves a bit as being our children or perceives us as their parents.
In a similar fashion, young puppies and juvenile dogs are particularly prone to jumping up on dogs' heads to say hello. Adult dogs may engage in this behavior too, but it may be frowned up by other dogs.
Temporary Tolerated by Other Dogs
In general, adult dogs who are social and confident don't mind too much a puppy's greeting through bounciness and jumping towards the head. Young puppies are warranted what's known as a "puppy license to misbehave."
In other words, puppies are allowed to get away with what are considered rather annoying "naughty behaviors" such as space invasions, nipping and jumping and licking.
This because the older dog recognizes that the puppy in young and not capable yet of recognizing what is right or wrong.
Exceptions to the Rules
Not always a puppy license is granted. After all, not all adult dogs are fond of puppies as we would hope.
Sure, adult dogs may tolerate puppies more than they would tolerate adult dogs, but that does not mean a puppy can get away with obnoxious behaviors without being corrected.
Older dogs may particularly struggle with energetic puppies and can easily get stressed. As dogs get older, it may be more difficult for them to move away due to painful joints and they may are less capable of handing stress.
Problems Down the Road
Generally, the license to misbehave is warranted until the pups are about 4 to 4 and a half months old, points out Norwegian dog expert Turid Rugaas in her book: "On Talking Terms with Dogs, Calming Signals."
Things therefore start to change as the puppies develop and become sexually mature. "Once they're real dogs, then everything changes and they are expected to follow the rules in the canine world," points out Mary Burch, Ph D, in the book: "AKC Star Puppy."
Excessive jumping and boisterous behaviors are bound to be corrected by the adult dog and this often happens ritualistically. The adult dog willy typically growl and may snap, but no physical harm is done.
As puppies mature, they therefore should come to learn to control themselves and behave more politely.
"They still make many mistakes and errors, but are readily forgiven," points out Kyra Sundance in her book: "The Dog Rules, 14 Secrets to Developing the Dog YOU Want."
Problems With Other Dogs
A dog jumping on other dogs' heads may be acceptable at the dog park, where a dog gets to meet with other dogs who enjoy rough and tumble play and don't seem to mind these types of interactions.
In dog play, in the midst of rather rude behaviors such as jumping over other's dogs' heads or backs, there are often elements that remind dogs that all is part of play.
These elements are known as meta-signals, the most commonly known being the play bow, where dogs crouch down on front legs with the rump in the air and tail wagging side-to-side. Intrigued? Discover more on this: why do dogs bow down to play?
However, even at the dog park, it is possible to stumble on some dogs who dislike this type of interaction. Jumping on other dog's faces, heads or backs can be interpreted as rude and dogs may react negatively.
The same dynamic can occur when a dog with this jumping habit goes to meet random dogs on walks and these react with growl or snarl.
These interactions can be risky considering that an interaction with the "wrong dog" may lead to a squabble, possibly deteriorating into a fight with biting included.
Not All Jumping is Friendly
Of course, not all dos who jump on other dogs are friendly. Some dogs will jump to attack the other dog, aiming for the neck area. Such dogs would obviously display agonistic body language accompanied by threatening vocalizations.
On the other hand, some dogs may jump on the other dogs' head or backs as way to be a bully. This provocative behavior is likely to brew tension in the dog on the receiving end, considering that, in canine society, laying the head or paw over the top of another dog’s shoulders is considered very pushy, and therefore highly inappropriate.
Now That You Know...
As seen, dogs who jump on other dogs as a way to greet other dogs and in social play. however, in some cases, dogs may jump in a threatening manner, using aggressive displays.
While jumping on other dogs' heads is common in puppies and juvenile dogs, when this behavior persists, other dogs may not be very accepting of this behavior. Some adult and older dogs also struggle tolerating this form of jumping, even if coming from a young pup.
You may therefore be interested in knowing how you can tackle this behavior so to better protect your dog and prevent him from getting into sour situations.
How to Stop Dogs From Jumping on Other Dogs' Heads
Does your dog bark excitedly when he meets other dogs loves greeting them by jumping up? If so, you want to teach him the art of more polite behaviors considering the risks discussed above. Here are some basic management tips and ideas on what skills to train.
Avoid Rude Greetings
When you're on walks, avoid your dog dragging you to go meet other dogs. Meeting them head-on in full speed and jumping can put dogs on the defensive, which may lead to a fight.
Even if your dog is just being super friendly, these behavior come off as rude and obnoxious to other dogs.
On top of this, by allowing your dog to drag you on leash, you are reinforcing the pulling and overly excited, overly aroused behavior, when instead your dog should be learning how to walk politely on leash.
Have an Adult Teacher Dog Coach
If your dog is a young puppy, an adult sociable dog can help teach the puppy the correct way to greet. You'll need an adult dog who tolerates puppy antics, but is capable of communicating what behaviors are not acceptable explaining that "No" means "No!" but all without over-correcting nor emotionally harming the pup.
Dog trainers often have access to good teacher dogs that can be used to teach puppies good social etiquette. Consult with a dog trainer.
Invest in a No-Pull Harness
To avoid being dragged as your dog learns the art of loose-leash walking, you may find it helpful having your dog wear a no-pull, front-attaching harness.
There are many models around these days, but your dog may do better on a non-restrictive type. Here are some models that have received rave reviews: the Best Front Attachment Harnesses for Dogs in 2021.
Train Your Dog Polite Leash Walking
It all starts in a quiet place, with little distractions. Praise and reward your dog for walking on a loose leash.
When your dog pulls, stop walking in your tracks or do an about face, praising and rewarding your dog again when the leash is slack and more forward movement.
The loose leash is your accelerator, the tense leash is your brake.
Teach Your Dog to Ignore Other Dogs on Walks
This requires a good level of impulse control, but it all comes along once your start training.
No matter what age your dog is, he or she will benefit greatly and this training can also save him and the other dog from serious physical injury or the emotional toll of fights.
Create Set-ups With Feedback
If you really want your puppy to learn how to greet other dogs politely without jumping on their heads, you will need to create some set-ups with other dog owners who have social dogs.
Ideally, you will work on this under the guidance of a dog trainer.
The feedback entails walking towards the dog your pup would like to meet and advancing as long as your puppy is walking politely. If your puppy manages to try to jump, the other dog owners should walk with their dogs away.
Soon your puppy should learn that polite behaviors lead to meeting dogs, impolite behaviors makes them withdraw.
You may also find it helpful keeping those greetings brief, using Suzanne Clothier's 123 Go Say Hi method. Brief meetings prevent undesirable behaviors from popping up.