Attention Seeking Dogs
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Attention Seeking Dogs

Dogs
Pet Psychology

Is your dog an attention-seeker? All dogs like fuss, attention and to play but while their attempts to get this from you can be cute and appealing, sometimes they can be a nuisance when they pester you at inconvenient times.In the dog world, one of the privileges of being pack leader is choosing when you want attention (play or grooming) from your pack-mates - and when you don't. So if your dog sees you as pack leader, he will respect your personal space and wait to be invited to you. But if it's the other way round, you will find your dog telling you when he wants your attention, and maybe even ignoring you when you want to play.

Personal Space

Dogs have personal space, just as we do. They expect it to be respected, particularly when they are eating or sleeping. In return, we should expect our dogs to respect our personal space too. This means you can fuss and play with your dog as much as you like, as long as you initiate it by inviting him to you. When he comes looking for attention from you - putting his head on your lap, nudging your hand, bringing a toy, or getting on to the furniture with you - it's so easy and even automatic to talk to him, put your hand out to stroke him, or take the toy. However, it would be better to teach your dog to respect your personal space by rejecting these intrusions. It's not being mean, it's giving a clear message that attention will be on your terms and not his, and will prevent those occasions when his attention-seeking is really not welcome eg when you're busy doing something important. So no speaking, no eye contact and if necessary, gently push him away or walk away. It's a hard habit to get into at first, and needs everyone in the family to be consistent, but it soon becomes the norm. If you do feel guilty, you only need to wait a minute or two, then call your dog back to you and fuss him or play with him as much as you like. However, it's just as important to end it when you want to. Incidentally, whenever you do call your dog to you, ensure he comes right up close to you. A crafty trick is to stop short and make you go to him, even a short distance, and he's got things back on his terms again. Also look out for subtle but clever ways of getting you to stroke/tickle the bit he wants eg presenting his back end, rolling on his back. And if you have more than one dog, only pay attention to the one you've called to you. A cheeky intruder should be ignored until it's their turn.

Stealing Trophies

This happens when your dog takes something he shouldn't have (so not toys). He's saying "look what I've got" and wants to start a game of chase or tug for you to retrieve your shoe, keys, TV remote or whatever. Pick your battles here. If it's something that really doesn't matter, ignore your dog - maybe even walk away and leave him alone with his trophy. He'll probably lose interest in it fairly quickly then. If he has something precious or dangerous that you really must get back, try swapping it for something else such as a squeaky toy or food treat. Sometimes, you only have to pretend you've got something better eg scratch at the floor as if you've spotted something really interesting - your dog won't be able to resist coming to have a look. The swap might appear as if you're rewarding his theft but it's just a means to get the item back safely and without getting into the game of chase or tug that the dog wants. If you do the swap with as little fuss as possible and immediately walk away afterwards, he's not getting the reward he really wants - your attention. And if stealing is a problem, the obvious and simple solution is to restrict your dog's access around the house ie close doors to certain rooms, and get into the habit of not leaving things lying around!

Jumping Up

While this may seem cute when a small dog does it, it certainly isn't cute when a dog is capable of knocking you over. Jumping up is rude and is the dog's way of demanding "pay attention to me now". You probably wouldn't accept the equivalent from a child - tugging at your sleeve, or tapping your arm - especially when you're busy doing something else. The problem with allowing a dog to jump up and acknowledging (ie rewarding) it, is that eventually it will lead to the dog getting told off - when he accidentally injures someone, knocks something out of their hand or puts muddy paws on their best outfit - and that's not fair. How is he supposed to know that jumping up is not OK today or with that particular person? So the best response to jumping up is to ignore it. Turn away or walk away and don't speak to or look at the dog. Even if you look at him to tell him off, you're giving the attention he's looking for so he's succeeded. Instead, only pay him attention when he's fully on the floor. And if the jumping starts again, you ignore again. He'll soon get the hang of it but will undoubtedly try it on with everyone he meets to start with, just to test if there's someone who will respond. Consistency is the key.

Furniture

There's always divided opinion on whether dogs should be allowed on furniture or not. Ultimately it's your furniture so it's up to you and no-one else! But as with anything else, your dog joining you on the sofa or bed should be by invitation only - and he should leave when you say so too. If you have a situation where the dog takes over, no-one else is allowed to sit down or you end up squashed at one end while your dog stretches out luxuriously, then you really need to take control back! Prevent your dog from getting up when not invited, by blocking him with a hand or arm. Once again, no speaking or eye contact (unless you want to add a verbal request such as "off" for future use). If you're not quick enough, calmly remove your dog, using a lead if necessary. If your dog is really stubborn, consider an alternative to a tug-of-war or wrestling match eg tipping the sofa itself or, like the stolen trophy, offer an irresistible alternative. But don't get into the habit of this, the alternative treat is an emergency - aim to prevent it getting to that point next time. If you want to stop your dog getting on the furniture when no-one's around, the only real prevention is restricting access to it, so stopping the dog getting into that room or some sort of physical barrier to prevent the dog getting close to or on to the furniture.

Begging

Another way for a dog to get what he wants on his terms. By all means give your dog treats and leftovers if you want to, but put them in the bowl with his regular food or get him to do something for them, even if it's as simple as coming to you to get them. But do this after your meal, away from the table. If your dog is really a nuisance when you're eating, the only solution is separation - he is removed to another room while you eat. If you don't want that to be a permanent solution, you may need to put up with a few disturbed mealtimes to follow this through, removing your dog every time he begs until he gets the message that to earn the right to stay with you he has to do it your way.

Barking / Whining

This is a way our dogs have learnt to get our attention. Because the sound is so annoying to us, it's hard to ignore, so as far as the dog's concerned, it's worth doing because it gets results. Once again, ignoring the dog is key and once again, that means no eye contact and no speaking. If your dog barks to be let out to the garden or in to the house, get into the habit of opening the door when there's a pause in the barking, (even a brief one) and leave it at that, no looking at or talking to your dog as he goes in & out. This way, he learns that the door only opens when he's quiet and there's no further attention to be had from you in the process. If your dog barks because he thinks it's dinner time or walk time, it must have become a habit at some time so if you want to break that habit, don't give in to it. Vary feeding times and walk times (a little earlier or later) so it's your choice and not your dog's. For more about barking see the article "Why Do Dogs Bark?"As a general rule, think about what your dog is being rewarded for (ie what's in it for him) and who's really calling the shots - you or him?

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