If your dog has been climbing on your shoulders, you might be wondering why and what you can do about it. This post will show you a number of possible causes and what you can do about them.

Possible reasons why your dog climbs on your shoulders are that it is excited, it wants something from you, it has learned that the behavior is rewarded, or that it is being dominant.

There are actually a number of possible reasons why your dog does it and it might be due to a combination of them. However, there are a number of things you can consider when figuring out the main cause and there are a number of things you can do about it.

Reasons why your dog climbs on your shoulders

Below are a number of possible reasons why your dog does it and what would make each of them more likely to be the main reason.

Excitement

The cause could be that it is showing its excitement. This would be more likely if it climbs on your shoulders more in situations such as when you arrive home or when you’re playing with it.

One reason why excitement could be a cause is that it might want to greet you at the face. It could also be because puppy’s mothers would feed them from the face and they would jump up to get the food.

Boredom

It might also be the case that it does it because it is bored and trying to get you to give it exercise. This would be more likely if your dog does it more before getting exercise and it tends to do it at around the same time that you would normally exercise it.

It wants something from you

The reason why it does it might be that it wants something from you. This would be more likely if it tends to do it more at around a certain time such as when you would normally feed it or give it exercise. 

Encouraging the behavior

The cause could be that it has learned that the behavior gets rewarded. If you tend to give it things such as extra attention, toys or treats, when it jumps on your shoulders, it will likely do it more in order to get more rewards. 

A lack of training

If you have not given your dog much training, it will likely behave the way that it feels like behaving. The way that it feels like behaving is unlikely to be the way that you would like it to behave. This is why it is important to give it lots of positive reinforcement training by starting with the basics and building up from there.

Anxiety

It might also be the case that it is trying to alert you to something that is causing it to feel anxious. This would be more likely if it does it more at a certain time such as when there is thunder outside.

Dominance

Often, people jump to the conclusion that their dogs do it because they are trying to be dominant. However, the alpha/beta dynamic has been disproven in studies showing that wolves take turns in taking the lead.

Despite that, it could be doing it due to bullying behavior which would be more likely if it tries to get you to move and if it shows signs of aggression when doing it. In this case, it would help to avoid giving it reasons to feel threatened and to get it to learn to behave the way you want it to with training programs such as NLIF (“Nothing in Life is Free) dog training

Things to consider

Below are some things to consider when figuring out the main reason why your dog has been doing it.

What else happened when your dog first started climbing on your shoulders

If your dog did not always climb on your shoulders, it would help to consider what else happened when your dog first started doing it. If it started doing it suddenly, it might be due to things such as learning that the behavior gets rewarded, something causing it to become anxious, or suddenly getting less attention.

What is different when it doesn’t climb on your shoulders

If your dog tends to do it more at a certain time, it would also help to consider what is different about the timing. For example, if your dog does it more at around the same time you normally feed it, your dog might be trying to remind you to feed it.

Its body language

It would also help to consider the body language your dog shows when it does it. If it shows signs of being excited, such as wagging its tail and being energetic, it would be more likely to be due to things such as getting you to give it something such as a walk or food. Whereas, if it shows signs of being anxious such as shaking or pacing around, it would be more likely that something is causing it to be anxious.

What to do about your dog climbing your shoulders

Below are some options you have when dealing with the behavior.

Avoid encouraging the behavior

As mentioned above, it might be the case that you have been encouraging your dog to jump on your shoulders by rewarding the behavior. Instead, it would help to reward it when it does not jump on your shoulders, to stop giving it attention when it does it and to wait for it to be calm.

Training

You could also train it not to jump on your shoulders using positive reinforcement training. This is where you reward it when it does not jump up and stop rewarding it when it does.

To use positive reinforcement training to get it to stop jumping on your shoulders, do as follows:

  1. Get some treats that your dog likes
  2. Get it to sit. If you haven’t taught your dog how to sit yet then you can do this by luring the treat above its head until it sits naturally
  3. Tell it to stay and then wait for half a second then give it a treat. The idea is to reward it for staying sat and keeping its attention on you so you want to reward it before it has a chance to fail.
  4. Do the same as above but increase the duration each time you get it to stay.
  5. When your dog is able to stay for over 15 seconds start to introduce distractions such as the squeaking of a toy. Start out with minor distractions such as simply showing it the toy and then build up to harder ones such as rolling the toy in front of it.

You can watch the video below to see how it is done.

Give it exercise

In order to keep your dog fully stimulated and to reduce how hyper it becomes, it would help to make sure that your dog is able to get the daily amount of recommended exercise.

Redirect its focus

Another option would be to direct its focus towards something else when it seems likely to climb on your shoulders. Things to direct its focus towards could include toys or a bone. It would be important to redirect its focus before it starts jumping otherwise you might teach it that jumping results in it getting rewards. 

Get help

If you’re unable to get it to stop and it does it excessively, another option would be to get help from a dog behaviorist or trainer. By doing so, you should be able to see what has been causing the behavior and what you can do to get it to stop.

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I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.