It’s so, so cute when they are puppies.  The nose nudge, an occasional paw smacking your arm, the look of love, the undivided attention to you – the one they love. So irresistible and appealing to our need to be loved. But when they grow up, so annoying! Some dogs learn at a very young age that if they ask to be petted by barking or nose-nudging or any other clever means, they will get attention. And they will never stop. That wonderful feeling of being loved turns to annoyance just as quickly.

I’ve met quite a few dogs through my behavior consulting business who have caused their owners to reach the breaking point. They simply could not stand the constant neediness of their dogs.  And I had to be the one to inform these people that they actually created the problem. When their dogs asked to be petted, they petted them. Yes, it sounds reasonable but it’s so easy to create a behavior issue when the dog is placed in the position of leadership.  And how is this leadership? Simply put, when the dog asks to be petted and gets petted, the dog has trained his person. The dog is in charge. 

I’ve said it so many times – the smartest dogs can often be the worst-behaved.  They quickly learn how to get what they want. When you combine an insecure dog with a very soft-hearted human, you get an attention-seeking dog. Attention-seeking is also very difficult to eliminate if you do not understand how a dog thinks. Most people will try to stop their dog’s insistent need to be petted by giving in to them.  But they do not realize that giving in rewards and reinforces the behavior.  The dog knows that if they bark or nudge, they will eventually get attention.

Just like begging which we covered in the Dog Training Tip of the Week on January 24, once the dog learns that their behavior results in the response that they want from their humans, the dogs will continue doing it.

Attention seeking behavior is very, very difficult to eliminate. It takes a great deal of consistency and persistence. My advice often seems cold-hearted to some owners but it‘s very necessary in order to restore the relationship.

Attention seeking can be stopped if the owner withdraws attention to the dog when the dog asks for it. Simple, huh? Not really. Most people will get annoyed and frustrated with their dogs when they are constantly pestering them. The people will yell at the dog and push them away, as well as other corrections. Well, that’s the problem with corrections. You are still giving attention to the dog – which rewards the behavior.  Behaviors are rewarded when the dog receives attention, regardless if the attention is intended to be praise or punishment.  The dog only sees it as attention. So the dog continues to attention seek.

Ignoring the dog when he asks for attention is the first step in extinguishing the behavior. The other step requires that you reverse the relationship. Instead of your dog asking for your attention, you need to be calling the shots. You initiate the petting instead of your dog.  And if your dog seeks attention, first ignore him, then have your dog sit or do some other activity. By doing this, then you are in charge, not your dog.

 So the next time your dog nudges you for attention and you can’t stand it anymore, here’s what you do:

–          Completely ignore your dog. Do not talk to him or touch him.

–          Stand up and walk away if necessary.

–          After ignoring your dog for a few seconds, call him to you.  Ask him to sit or do something else. Then you can pet him.

As with most behavior modification plans for your dog, everyone who interacts with him must adhere to the rules. It’s not only unsuccessful but confusing to the dog if someone allows the dog to attention seek. Consistency is the language of dog!