Dealing with Attention-Seeking Behaviors in Dogs

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Dealing with Canine Attention-Seeking Behaviors

Dogs are smart; It doesn’t take long for them to figure out how to push their owners’ buttons with attention seeking behaviors. I’ll admit my youngest dog Bones, an English Shepherd, has experimented with some attention-seeking behaviors. For a while he even got away with it. His methods were so subtle I don’t even know for sure when these behavior began. Once I caught on, however, I had a good laugh. Every once in a while it’s good for a dog trainer to realize her dog is smarter than she is.

What Are Canine Attention-Seeking Behaviors?

These behaviors are appropriately named. When you aren’t paying attention to your dog and he does something to make you notice him, he may just remember that action and repeat it later.

One of the most common attention-seeking behaviors I hear about from dog owners concerns the phone. The dog might be relaxed and quiet normally but when the owner talks on the phone (or when the phone rings) the dog becomes active. He may run up and down the hallway, bark loudly and incessantly, or jump on the owner. This behavior often causes problems with dog owners who work from home.

Other common attention-seeking behaviors include inappropriate barking and whining, jumping on people (other than a friendly greeting), pawing, and playing “keep away” with inappropriate items. Nose bumping (hitting people hard with the nose, often in the back of the leg) is also common, as is shoving toys at you.

Once I caught on to what Bones was doing, I realized that the behavior he exhibited most frequently was staring at me. He has one blue eye that is quite striking so his stare is an effective attention-gaining technique. If I was reading and he sat in front of me and stared, I would stop reading and talk to him. If he was lucky I’d follow through and interact further with him. Bones’ stare worked in his favor.

Are Canine Attention-Seeking Behaviors a Problem?

Attention-seeking behaviors don’t have to be a problem. If I had been reading for a while and missed supper time but Bones was hungry, his need for attention wouldn’t be a problem. Or would it?

The first time this behavior happened I could put down my book to feed Bones and my other 2 dogs. But what would happen if Bones decided to remind me about meals every day? What if he began demanding meals 15 minutes earlier than normal, then an hour earlier? That could quickly become annoying.

Whether or not the behavior is a problem depends on the behavior, why it’s occurring, how you respond to it, and whether or not it turns into a habit. I like it when my dogs communicate with me and I like it when they think and solve problems. That said, I also don’t want my dogs to manipulate me. There’s a happy balance somewhere in the middle.

Reducing Canine Attention-Seeking Behavior

Sometimes your dog will try to get your attention for a reason; maybe he’s hungry, he wants to play, or there is something going on nearby. Many times, however, the dog is bored. You’ve been busy or maybe he didn’t get enough physical or mental exercise. Here are some ways to use up some of that physical and mental energy and potentially alleviate some of those attention-seeking behaviors:

  • Exercise: A long walk, a brisk jog, a swim, retrieving games, or a hike in the hills are all great for exercising the body and clearing cobwebs from the mind. There is no firm rule as to how much exercise each dog needs but a good general rule is that at least once a day a healthy dog should work hard enough that he needs to stop, pant, and relax. If your dog has health challenges or you have questions, talk to your veterinarian.
  • Obedience training: Try teaching the basic obedience skills, including sit, down, stay, and come. If your dog has already had some basic obedience training, do a training tune-up.
  • Trick Training: This is work–just as obedience training is–but it’s great fun that uses mental energy. Teach your dog to spin, weave between your legs, play peek-a-boo, or take a bow. If none of these strike your interest, why not teach him some new tricks of your own?
  • Play Games: Playing with your dog alleviates boredom but it’s also great for your relationship – you laugh and you both have a good time. The muffin tin game is inexpensive to set up and great fun. Push-ups use your training skills but also require energy from your dog. Commercial brain games are more expensive than the muffin tin game supplies, but are more challenging for your dog and more fun. No matter what games you play, they are great for relieving mental boredom.

    The other key to reducing attention-seeking behavior is to let your dog work only when you want him to work. Be aware of what your dog is doing and respond in his favor only when you are willing to do what he asks. If it’s dinner time and Bones has just reminded me, I may be willing to get up and fix the dogs’ dinner. However, if he’s asking to be fed ahead of schedule I may ask him to do twenty push-ups instead, then ask him to lie down and stay for a few minutes. I won’t yell or scold, but with a happy voice I will ask him to do something for me rather than the other way around.

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