Attention seeking – what does this actually mean?After all, it appears that most dogs are show off’s, love attention and dogs wouldn’t be dogs unless they did. In fact dogs which seek our attention are the most trainable and many trainers develop a plethora of methods to attract a dog’s attention in order to teach them obedience and general sociable manners. Conversely when we pay little attention to what I always describe as Social Dog Training the good manners the bad behaviours we don’t want creep up on us over time and the dog generally is oblivious to our frustrations. This problem is often a result of spoiling a young puppy. It may have been allowed to sleep in its owner’s bedroom and given constant attention on demand. It may have attracted a lot of attention from visitors because it looked cute and cuddly. These situations can produce a dog which thinks it has a right to seek attention whenever it wishes. Dogs which go everywhere with their owner, day and night, can also turn out to be excessive attention seekers though more often than not they develop separation anxiety, another common behavioural problem when the routines stop for a reason.
Of course a dog only learns what we allow or from what react to. It learns how to get attention, fun and affection. Sounds quite an intelligent dog really.
Dog Behaviour wired drivesFrom the day a puppy is born it has an instinctive drive not only to survive but eventually to develop behaviours that give it opportunities to succeed in life and one of these innate drives is the ability to get attention. Dogs which demand your attention on cue, by order, by stealth or by looking dolefully into your eyes – whatever gets noticed. Dogs which get noticed, get on in life and that is why dogs seek our attention. Of course the attention will have a reward outcome from the dogs perspective which we are not always aware of. Of course be aware that all these behaviours are designed for dog on dog intercommunication only. Because we own dogs which are transposed onto us whether we like it or not.
So what’s the big deal about a dog attention seeking?Well, the main problem is that when we want our dogs attention it should be on our terms, not theirs. Most dogs, if allowed to do so, think that it is a better deal when they grab our attention for their use and ultimately control our time and lifestyle. Yes they can become control freaks! Like young children they need to learn limitations of what is acceptable behaviour. Now those of you who have had the experience of bringing up children will know a great deal about sibling rivalry and attention grabbing behaviour. It appears that this practice is pretty well developed in humans and dogs alike both species being pack (group) animals. Have you noticed how children want our attention for their own ends, like money for the cinema and late nights out but when we need their attention for car washing, room cleaning or other terribly demanding work like dish washing, it is not so easy to attract them – one blink and they’re gone! Dogs are just better at demanding attention than most children. If they were not, people like me would not have a job.
So when does dog attention seeking become excessive?Excessive attention seeking on your dog’s terms simply means that the behaviour is so over developed that it is unbearable or that you cannot go about your daily chores without tripping over the dog, which has already worked out yet another way of interrupting your routine, like sitting on your knee – all ten stone of him. Attention he definitely gets and of course, it is to his benefit.
Of course unlike children the dog cannot reason or moreover understand it is upsetting us.Its simply living in a simple world which it develops within our environment and social structure.
Now depending on what kind of household your dog lives in the basic criteria as to whether he or she is a nuisance or a delight depends on your character as well as the dog’s.Some people simply love and encourage their dog’s attention as it makes them feel more important, loved and subsequently therapeutically helps their well-being and their dog’s likewise. Some of these people will read this and wonder what all the fuss is about. If they are happy, that’s fine – it is their dog and lifestyle and not mine. I have met dogs which literally run their owners lives more or less and jump on tables, knock cup’s of tea onto the floor and trash the placer regularly. Something I would not condone or allow. However, they do and it’s their dog and house and that’s what they like or put up with.
In essence its what you allow and wish to live with regarding various behaviours.Conversely and that’s what this article is about, it is when the attention seeking disrupts the lifestyle in a negative way and the dog/human relationship is on the rocks. Too many dogs get dumped for these incessant behaviours which many owners cannot cope with. Of course the bad behaviours – say jumping up constantly – starts off with a puppy and may not be a poblem but as the dog grows in size and persistence it becomes intolerable and or dangerous especially to children and elderly people. This I term Dog Mission Creep. So let us look at some of the excessive attention behaviours which are commonly brought before me.
Examples of Dogs Excessive Attention SeekingDoodle the 18 month old Black Labrador – mugging guests and mounting everything A client, John contacted me through a friend and I subsequently paid him a home visit with regard to his dog Doodle who was driving him potty. Meeting John was like seeing an old friend whom you’ve never met but feel that you know because you have heard this dog behaviour problem presented so many times before. John lived with his wife Belinda in Hertfordshire and in the most splendid country setting, with Doodle his 18 month old Black Labrador. Doodle is a delight when he’s behaving well. Doodle also likes receiving guests at John and his wife Belinda’s house. When I say receiving guests I mean completely taking them over, from front door to sitting room. The guests are ushered in with Doodle clambering over them, sorting them all out into who is important, (dog style, this means who is a soft touch) and who is boring. The boring ones are the non doggy types who never give eye contact, touch or pass a single good doggy word or welcoming gesture. We’ll come back to this type of guest later as their style can be very helpful in retraining attention seeking dogs. Doodle’s definitely the dirty old man; he bonks his bedding with relish. John had already learnt to ignore the bonking behaviour and this has kind of worked. Unfortunately for John, Doodle was clever enough to have worked out that he really gets attention with guests who have extra legs to bonk which is a great conversation stopper and interruption on this dogs terms. Their visitors naturally comment. John is a strong willed man and that is needed because Doodle is a strong willed Labrador who is not easily thwarted by an owner wishing to contradict embedded behaviours. Doodle also likes bossing other dogs around when he’s not trying to mount them; male, female or in-betweens (neutered). He also likes performing any new or old antic which puts him centre stage. After a few more consultations and dog training lessons Doodle adapted to his less attention seeking role in life. John and Marilyn are getting to grips with Doodle and he improved incredibly, but it can be hard work which I am afraid is sometimes what it takes to modify your dogs antics. Clyde, another Labrador – barking and being the centre of attention Another Labrador, who’s name is Clyde had developed such an uncanny ability to spot a gap in the attention market, that he is like a guided missile. He hits his unfortunate human target with such precision that Doodle would be proud of him. Clyde uses his voice box to engage all human attention on to him only. If the telephone rings Clyde is in there barking. If his mum and dad want to cuddle Clyde is in between them before their arms meet. Clyde is also good at interrupting only the best TV programmes and when they invite guests round. This is tantamount to world war three. Clyde has more acts than a circus performer and if only Doodle and Clyde knew each other they could jointly rule the world of Doggy Attention. Toy Dogs Attention Seeking The majority of dogs presented to me for excessive attention seeking behaviour are in fact the toy breeds like Yorkie’s, Pekingese and rescue dogs, many of which are cross breeds or mongrels. These pets are very transportable in human hands and unfortunately in their early youth didn’t have to use their own legs as doting owners cuddled and carried them about. The result? Over attached doggies who feign invalidity.
So what’s going on? Attention seeking on demand is what’s going on or to be specific, passive dominance over their owners and friends.All the aforementioned dogs have a propensity to become top dog in the attention department. The rules of the human family pack are simple; use your brain to get what you want and when you want it. The only way this can be stopped is by a smarter, more consistent, intelligent fellow pack member acting like a leader assertive dog and demonstrating this leadership behaviour by example. If you have problems with your dog’s behaviour, then you have to act as if you are the boss in all matters all of the time. It is not draconian and much of this is through teaching the dog what it can do for you and be rewarded. It’s new positive learning delivered by Psychology combined with dog behaviour programmes. The end result will be your dog changing into the best behaved dog around and moreover a dog that respects you and loves you even more because you are interesting and black and white in rules.
Some people are indifferent to dogs – there is a lesson hereSome people don’t like dogs and the feeling, as I mentioned earlier with Doodle, is mutual. These people are indifferent to the presence of animals -full stop. But we can learn from them what turns dogs off as we already know what turns dogs on. Over demanding dogs are generally confident, but they can be insecure as well and therefore often need or want attention on demand. However, if you comply on cue, your dog will expect to have it’s way every time until the habit becomes more embedded. If you are reading this article with your eyes out on stalks, your dog is probably a serious manipulator; if you are just enjoying the read, keep an eye on your furry friend for future reference remember – Doggy Mission Creep.
So while there’s little doubt that this behaviour problem is learnt, there is a lot of difference of opinion as to what is excessive.What one owner thinks is much too much, may be quite acceptable to another. Inconsistencies can also occur within families, causing variations in reaction that can confuse a dog and make it more difficult to alter the behaviour which is often the crux of the problem – family members rewarding the dog inappropriately without a set behaviour programme. This happens when some visitors encourage your dog’s advances with rewards (touch, praise, rough play) whilst other visitors go bonkers at the sight of a dog hair heading for their black chiffon dress. Whatever, the dog is still being intermittently rewarded so will continue to try to solicit more attention until all visitors IGNORE his advances. When the visitors finally get to their destination, the sofa, they need to continue to ignore the dog’s advances until the behaviour ceases to be a problem. This may even mean your leading the dog into the house on a collar and lead and popping the end of the lead over a hook or fixture to keep him at bay until he has calmed down somewhat when visitors arrive. Of course, most dogs work by stealth and especially when you are on your own. Many owners fall into the trap of petting their dog when it seeks attention repetitively without thinking, they have shown it enough attention; they stop and expect the dog to understand that they have been fair. This is the classic human error of anthropomorphism attributing human intelligence and rational to a dog. Very wrong. What they don’t realise is that dogs of this type don’t know what is fair and what is not but do know that by persevering it receives the attention it wanted in the end. So only stroke your dog when petting is initiated by you; at all other times, ignore. Behave like a higher ranking dog. My pack leader only offers attention to the other dogs on his terms and when it suits. Eventually your dog will think you are the best owner in the doggy world which his mind understands because simultaneously you will have supplied him other avenues of attention through dog training and good Dog Social Manners. Now many crafty dogs bring toys for you to throw – and yes, we, being humans, are moved, impressed or feel important at such cleverness. That’s fine with a normal well balanced dog, I love every day playing such games with my dogs. For the excessive attention seeking dog this is indeed maybe another ploy which the dog learned to control you and get attention within type of dog simply respond at all. Keep your hands still and your mouth shut and wait until your dog becomes bored and goes away. Then maybe later, get the toy, throw it, encourage him bring and release it on command. When the game is over, put the toy away. Again your dog will see you behaving like the leader but moreover as the trigger for the game and respect and focus on you – focused dogs learn. In time he can still have fun on yours (not his) terms and eventually his pestering tactics will cease in-between your fun instigations of play. We hopefully do the same with our kids and don’t let them push in on our adult engagements of conversation at their volition, though they’re not so hot at fetching toys.
Dog Attention Seeking Tips
- Change your dog’s diet to Natural Instinct raw food in case of chemical additives to its normal food produces hyperactivity.
- Let any attention be on your terms; you decide when enough is enough.
- Make all the family and any visitors follow the rules. Consistency is important.
- Remember that as far as a dog is concerned, being pushed off could be a reward. To a dog, touch is very potent praise.
- Don’t allow your dog to decide when attention should be forthcoming.
- If your dog tries to get on your lap, simply stand up quickly before he gets on.
- If he barks or whines give no eye contact, no shouting!
- Obedience train your dog to down and stay then use this when the dog is being demanding.
- Teach the dog to go and stay in its bed as a fun game – use a reward.
- When the dog has got the message in a positive way normally after 10 or 20 lessons then this can also be used to get some relief from these dogs.
I have found that most dogs respond well with the previous advice. and eventually you can reinstate a normal amount of affectionate response when appropriate.Colin Tennant – Expert Dog Behaviourist – MA Canine Behaviour & Psychology