Attention-seeking dog behaviour

Attention-seeking dog behaviour is common – and normal – in puppies. After all, they’ll want their mother to dote on them, will love playing with their littermates and will still be learning their rights from wrongs!
Labrador looking at woman
Labrador looking at woman
Labrador looking at woman

But as adult dogs, excessive jumping, pawing or barking may indicate a dependence on their owners that they should have grown out of.

What counts as attention-seeking dog behaviour?

It’s quite normal for your new puppy to jump up at you when you feed them, or whine when you leave them alone, but this excessive begging, nudging, whining, barking, jumping on furniture and bringing you toys are all examples of attention-seeking.

This may all seem harmless enough, but an excitable dog around small children or elderly people can sometimes spell trouble. Plus, if your dog makes an extra effort to vie for your attention it means they’re not entirely happy in their own company, and naturally you want your dog to be as happy as possible.

Dog looking up

Why do dogs become attention-seekers?

Woman holding large dog

There are lots of reasons why dogs initially become attention-seekers; they might be bored or perhaps not getting enough exercise. Then, of course, there are some attention-seeking behaviours that dogs do simply for the love of it, such as digging, chewing, stealing food and ripping up their toys.

However there may be some things that you do as an owner to accidentally help to turn them into attention-seekers.

Dogs value human attention and are affectionate animals – that’s why we have them as pets! So every time your dog jumps up at you, paws at your leg, barks for no obvious reason or drops a toy in your lap uninvited, it’s easy to reward them with a cuddle or a game, but this means that the unwanted behaviour is reinforced.

Some dogs like to get their owner’s attention by stealing something – slippers are a favourite! – and running off with it. But they’ll quickly learn what gets us leaping from our seats, and the more intense our reaction, the more attention your dog feels they’re getting, so the more valued the prize. Your dog will quickly learn to seek out these objects in the future.

Your dog needs lots of love, of course, but rewarding this type of behaviour may mean that they become more dependent on your company and less able to find enjoyment in their own interests, such as playing with their toys independently or snuffling out an interesting smell.

Dogs value human attention and are affectionate animals – that’s why we have them as pets!

How to deal with attention-seeking dog behaviour

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the best way to deal with an attention-seeking dog is to tell them a firm ‘no’ every time they nudge you or jump onto your lap, but this, pushing them away or giving them any other negative response won’t help, because it still involves giving them attention. From your furry friend’s viewpoint, any attention is better than no attention!

Instead, every time they use an attention-seeking behaviour, ignore them. Don’t look at them, speak to them or touch them, and if they persist, calmly get up and walk away.

You might find this hard at first, especially since you quite naturally want your dog to feel happy and loved, but stick with it! Then, when your dog is happy in their own world – perhaps they’re playing with a chew toy or happily watching the world go by from their bed – call them over and give them a cuddle. This tells them that you want to give them lots of attention and affection, but that it’s on your terms. Consistency is key.

Does it take long to treat attention-seeking dog behaviour?

Once you start taking action, your dog’s need for attention may get worse before it gets better – bear in mind your dog is used to getting a response from you (positive or negative), so they may become a bit frustrated when you no longer react to them. This might mean they’ll bark louder, jump higher or nudge harder in a bid to get your attention. But be strong and do your best to ignore their attempts, or you’ll soon be back to square one!

If your dog is still vying for your attention after you’ve been taking action for several days, you might consider talking to your vet, who may refer your dog to a behaviourist who will be able to take a broader approach to your dog’s attention-seeking behaviour.

You can find out more about dog behaviourists at The Coape Association of Pet Behaviourists and Trainers and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

With a little patience and understanding, you should soon have a well-behaved dog that you can happily play with and reward for being so good.

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If you’d like more information on attention-seeking dog behaviour or have any other queries, contact our PETCARE EXPERT TEAM.