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Even though we love our dogs, we don’t want them jumping or lunging at our faces. Dogs may jump at your face for many reasons and most likely don’t intend to cause harm. Even if it’s unintentional, having a dog jump at your face could quickly lead to a scary or dangerous situation.
So, why do dogs jump at your face?
In most cases, dogs jump at your face for innocent reasons, like getting over-excited when playing or trying to greet you face to face. However, in some cases, dogs jump at your face for more serious reasons, like aggressive behavior.
Before delving deeper into specific reasons dogs may jump at your face, let’s first cover the basics of dog body language. While humans predominantly communicate verbally, dogs can’t talk, so they communicate with their body language. Observing the rest of your dog’s body language as they jump at your face is helpful to determine their intent and what they’re trying to communicate.
Understanding Dog Body Language
Dogs communicate their intentions and underlying emotional state in a unique way that is very different from humans. Dog communication relies on nonverbal body language and various whines, barks, and growls. Dogs can communicate with their body subtly, so it’s important to pay close attention to their facial expressions and body posture.
A playful dog will appear very loose and bouncy with its tail and ears up and a soft, happy facial expression, possibly with its mouth open. Playing is one of the most common reasons for a dog jumping at your face, which we’ll discuss in more depth, so it’s essential to familiarize yourself with playful dog body language.
Conversely, a dog exhibiting aggressive behavior will appear very stiff and tight with a tall, high posture. Its ears are likely to be forward and straight, and it will have a tight mouth that may be open with visible teeth. Its hackles may or may not be raised, and its tail is likely to be straight and raised. A dog displaying this body language while jumping at your face could be a scary situation, so we’ll also discuss this topic in greater detail.
A tail on a dog is one of the most visible (and anatomically interesting) body parts to observe so you can begin to understand what your dog is trying to communicate. One study even shows the direction in which a dog wags its tail may indicate its emotional state. Dogs tend to wag their tag to the right when they’re feeling optimistic or happy and toward the left when they’ve encountered something negative.
The height a dog holds its tail is also a clue to how they feel. The higher the tail, the more confident and assertive the dog is. The lower the tail, the more scared and fearful the dog feels. Most commonly, a dog will hold its tail straight and level, which indicates feelings of security, stability, and calmness.
Soft eyes indicate the dog is calm and happy. A hard stare is often a precursor sign to aggressive behavior and is part of the reason why some dogs aren’t comfortable with direct eye contact. If a dog is showing the whites of its eyes, known as “whale eyes,” that’s another signal indicating they are becoming stressed and uncomfortable.
Why Is Understanding Dog Body Language So Important?
Dogs use very subtle body language signals to indicate how they’re feeling. Some of these signals are easy to miss if you’re not looking for them. Understanding what your dog is trying to communicate will deepen your relationship and allow you to understand your dog so you can respect its boundaries.
Dog body language is an incredibly complex topic. We’ve only scratched the surface here to establish a baseline knowledge of body language signals that you’ll now be able to identify when your dog is jumping at your face so you can understand his intent.
If you’d like to learn more about dog body language, you may want to check out this more in-depth article This video also does a great job if you’d prefer to watch:
Reason 1: Playing
The most likely reason your dog jumps at your face is that they’re playing. Your dog simply wants you to play! Lunging and mouthing are normal behaviors when dogs play with each other. It makes sense that these behaviors will also occur when your dog is trying to play with you.
If your dog is jumping at your face because they’re playing, the rest of their body language will indicate that they’re in a playful mood. Your dog’s body will appear loose and bouncy with a soft, happy facial expression. It may also be proceeded by a “play bow” where a dog lifts their butt and lowers their head.
Even if your dog is jumping at your face in a happy, playful way, it can still be an annoying behavior. Dogs can still have sharp nails that hurt, and you don’t want them to get in the habit of jumping on people in general. If your dog frequently jumps at your face when playing, training them to play more nicely is essential.
Reason 2: Greeting
When dogs meet other dogs, they commonly greet nose to nose. It makes sense that when dogs are trying to greet you, they jump up at your face in an attempt to greet you face to face as well.
To dogs, our faces are fascinating. One study showed that dogs responded differently to humans’ different positive, negative, and neutral facial expressions. Jumping at your face is a way for your dog to get closer so they can read your facial expression.
In addition to reading your facial expression, your dog may jump at your face trying to smell you and your breath. One study examining the greeting behavior of dogs discovered that if dogs greet nose to nose and one dog has just finished eating, the other dog will go on the hunt for the food. In addition to that, another study shows dogs can smell 1,000 to 10,000 times better than people. The closer they are to your face, the better they can smell you!
While we already know it’s common for dogs to gree nose to nose, both of these studies support that their nose-to-nose greeting behavior may be fueled by wanting to find food. Our dogs are food-motivated chow hounds! When your dog jumps at your face, he may just want to smell if you’ve had any food recently.
Reason 3: Aggression
Aggression in dogs is defined as the threat of harmful behavior directed at another individual. For dogs, aggression is a normal form of communication. Even though aggression is a normal form of communication, it is unwanted and undesirable behavior that can be problematic when directed at another person or animal.
Dogs can become aggressive for many reasons, like an attempt to de-escalate a conflict, displace another individual, or the intent to cause physical or emotional harm to another individual. Dogs commonly become aggressive when they feel threatened or trapped.
Most aggression in dogs is caused by fear or anxiety, and dogs will display warning signals before acting aggressively. These warning signals may include avoiding eye contact, licking the lips, crouching, stiffening or freezing, and growling. Dogs display these warning signals, also called appeasement signals, to diffuse the conflict.
When these appeasement signals are ignored, and the dog isn’t left alone, the dog may escalate the situation by jumping at your face to force you to leave them alone. In these aggressive scenarios, its body will appear stiff with a straight or high tail while showing teeth.
Aggressive behavior is a serious concern because, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs yearly in the United States.
One retrospective analysis conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital over twenty years from 1997 to 2018 found over 300 patients had been bitten in the face by a dog. In most aggressive incidents, dogs commonly bite at legs and arms because they’re within easy reach. If a dog is jumping at your face aggressively in an attempt to bite, this is an incredibly alarming and dangerous situation.
Due to their small size, children are most at risk of being bitten in the face. One study found that out of 132 individuals who had been bitten in the face, over two-thirds of those bites were to children. Dog bites are extremely painful, need medical care, and sometimes require cosmetic surgical correction. In some cases, dog bites can be fatal.
That same study showed that before the dog bite occurred, 76% of people bent over the dog, 19% put their face too close to the dog’s face, and 5% had their face in close range to the dog’s face. This is good news because it means that most dog bites are preventable! If we avoid risky behaviors encroaching upon a dog’s personal space, the risk of being bitten in the face decreases.
If your dog is experiencing an aggressive episode and is jumping at your face, you should take this very seriously. To keep yourself safe, you should calmly walk away and isolate yourself from your dog. You can either go into a separate room or lead your dog into a different room and close the door.
Since most dog bites are preventable, it’s essential to recognize the dog’s subtle body language signals and stop interacting with the dog when they indicate they are becoming stressed. Working with a professional dog trainer is a good idea because they will teach you to understand what your dog is trying to communicate so you can address these aggressive behaviors before they escalate.
Should You Worry If Your Dog Is Jumping at Your Face?
If your dog is jumping at your face with loose, happy, bouncy body language, your dog is likely just trying to play or greet you. While you may not appreciate your dog jumping on you with sharp nails, your dog isn’t trying to harm you in any way.
Since jumping at your face while playing and attempting to greet you are normal behaviors, you’ll have to train your dog not to do that. In the next section, we’ll cover some things you can do to prevent your dog from jumping at your face in different scenarios.
If your dog is jumping at your face with a tight, stiff appearance and visible teeth, your dog is likely displaying aggressive behavior. Aggressive behavior is concerning and could quickly lead to a dangerous situation and even a bite.
In these situations where your dog aggressively jumps at your face, you should separate yourself from your dog by putting them in a different room. Since this could escalate quickly into a dangerous situation, you should immediately contact a professional dog trainer. Aggression is scary, but with professional help, it is possible to modify and change this behavior.
How Do I Get My Dog to Stop Jumping at My Face?
As we’ve discussed, the most likely reason your dog is jumping at your face is that they want to play with you or greet you. Dogs love being near us! When playing with your dog, sit on a chair or stand up straight, so your face isn’t at your dog’s level. If you’re sitting on the floor, your dog is much more likely to jump at your face.
If your dog continues to jump at your face, stand up, stop the interaction, and turn your back to your dog or walk away. Dogs love attention, so if you continue speaking to your dog, you’re inadvertently rewarding the behavior of jumping up. If you become quiet, walk away, and ignore your dog, your dog will understand that jumping at your face isn’t allowed.
When playing with your dog, end the playtime session before your dog gets too over-aroused and excited. You can also take breaks throughout the play session and reward your dog for sitting or lying down. This will help teach your dog to calm down quickly.
If your dog is jumping at your face in an attempt to greet you, remember to remain calm whenever you greet your dog. Making a big fuss and talking to your dog as you come home will only encourage your dog to jump up at your face. Instead, stay quiet and calm and reward your dog by keeping all four of its feet on the floor.
If your dog jumps at your face mostly when you enter the front door, it’s a good idea to have a jar of treats by the door. Take a small handful and scatter the treats on the floor away from you for your dog to find. When your dog finishes the treats and begins walking towards you, take another small handful of treats and reward your dog for sitting in front of you before they have the chance to jump at your face.
If your dog is aggressively jumping at your face, it’s best to seek the help of a professional dog trainer as soon as possible. Professional dog trainers can work with you and your dog to prevent aggressive episodes from happening in the future.
Dogs communicate with their body language, so it’s essential to look at all of your dog’s body language signals to see what they’re trying to communicate when jumping at your face or jumping on you at any other time too.
In most cases, your dog jumping at your face is an attempt to play with you and greet you. Your dog wants to be with you and doesn’t mean to cause you any harm! Having a dog jumping at your face is still an undesirable behavior, and they may inadvertently hurt you with their sharp nails. It’s essential to be consistent in your training so that they learn all four feet should stay on the floor at all times.
There’s also a big difference between a dog that suddenly starts jumping on you and one that’s jumping directly at your face.
In the unlikely scenario that your dog aggressively jumps at your face with a stiff body posture and teeth showing, it’s essential to recognize this and quickly remove yourself from the situation. If your dog is aggressive, it’s best to separate them, so they don’t cause any harm and immediately seek help from a professional dog trainer.
In all likelihood, your dog is most likely jumping at your face because he loves you and wants to be close to you!