Attention-seeking dog behaviour is common – and normal – in puppies. After all, they love playing with their littermates, need the care and attention their mother gives them, and are learning how to interact socially with others – canine and human!
Attention-seeking behaviour in dogs is common – and is a totally normal survival mechanism in puppies who rely totally on the care of their mother. Once we take puppies into our lives, we become their family, and it is our attention that they need – so they will try and find ways to get the interactions that they crave.
What counts as attention-seeking dog behaviour?
Dogs are social animals – that what makes them such great companions – and when a puppy comes home with us, they need to form a social bond. It’s normal for your puppy to jump up at you when you greet them or feed them, or when you are playing, or dislike when you leave them alone but excessive nudging, whining, barking, scratching etc may well be examples of excessive attention-seeking.
This may all seem harmless enough – and some dogs and breeds can be ‘needier’ than others - but excessive attention-seeking can be indicative of deeper problems with your relationship.
This is a basic dog need, and if you are not providing it, you can fully expect your dog to try and get your attention – and certainly shouldn’t blame them for it.
Sometimes dogs that are left for long periods of time become far clingier when their owner is there, and what is perceived as attention seeking is actually a separation-related issue. This behaviour will often increase if the dog is continually left.
Other dogs who lack confidence or are fearful can use attention-seeking behaviours, as contact with their owner helps them feel safer.
And, of course, there may be so some things that you naturally do as an owner that can accidentally increase attention-seeking behaviours!
Dogs value our attention and are naturally affectionate and social – that’s why we have them as companions! So, every time your dog jumps up at you, paws at your leg, or drops a toy in your lap, it’s easy to ‘reward’ them with a cuddle or a game but this means that the behaviour is reinforced and so your dog will do it more often. Only you can decide if you enjoy this interaction or if you look on it as a problem. If this is an interaction you enjoy – and after all, this is a two-way relationship – then it isn’t a problem, even though your dog is seeking your attention.
Some dogs like to get their owner’s attention by stealing something and running off with it - and the more intense our reaction, the more attention your dog feels they’re getting, so the more valued the prize and the more they do it. This can be a great game for a clever dog!
How to deal with attention-seeking dog behaviour
First of all, spend some time thinking if your dog’s behaviour is warranted. Are they getting enough exercise? Is the exercise they are getting giving them outlets for their hardwired breed behaviours and energy levels? Do they have plenty of mental stimulation – especially for smart working breeds? Do you spend enough time with them?
If you don’t provide your dog with what they need in terms of physical and mental exercise and social interactions, they can hardly be blamed for going self-employed! Very few totally fulfilled dogs need to attention-seek.
Also consider whether you want to reduce your dog’s attention-seeking behaviours. Your dog craving your attention is the other side of the ‘building a strong relationship’ coin –. They want interaction with you because you are their life.
Once you are sure your dog doesn’t have every reason to seek your attention, and you have addressed any deficits here, you can start to work on reducing excessive attention-seeking behaviours.
What is important however is to reward your dog when they are doing what you want them to do. A sad fact for many dogs is that the only way they can get their owner’s attention at all is by doing something their owners thinks is ‘wrong’. Many people totally ignore their dog when they are sitting or lying quietly, doing exactly what they want him to do, and the only time they are the focus of their owner’s world is when they do something they don’t want them to – like barking at them, jumping on them, chewing things they shouldn’t, running off with something valuable… anything to get their beloved owners to pay some attention to them.
And, of course, our attention is rewarding for our dogs, and so once they work out how to get attention, they will keep doing it – because it works!
How to prevent or stop excessive attention-seeking behaviours
- Don’t ignore your dog when they are being good. Give them your attention when they are doing what you want them to. Reward good behaviour so they are very clear about the appropriate ways to get your attention. In general, if a dog is seeking your attention at the wrong time, it is because you are not giving them enough of it at the right time.
- Once you are sure your dog does not have every right to expect more attention from you, if they do something you do not want them to do, totally ignore them (if it is safe to do so). Don’t interact with them, talk to them or even look at them until the behaviour stops.
- If you ignore these behaviours, they will stop (although they may escalate first!) because they aren’t achieving the desired effect, i.e., getting your attention.
- The instant the behaviour stops, you have to be very quick to reward its absence with your attention. This is very important. Your dog needs your attention in that moment – so be clear in showing them how they can get it. Reward what you like, ignore what you don’t.
- Don’t be tempted to tell your dog off or push them away – that is giving them attention!
- If the behaviour is not safe to ignore (nipping guests, jumping on children, terrorising visitors etc), make use of house lines and baby gates to reenable you to prevent these behaviours without any kind of interaction from you.
- At times when you know your dog is likely to pester you (such as when you are working), you can give them a chew or a toy stuffed with food to distract them and give them something enriching and rewarding to occupy them instead.
With some patience, understanding and management, you can prevent excessive attention-seeking behaviours but if you are struggling to get this under control, seek advice from an accredited and experienced behaviourist.
We hope this article was helpful! Next, see our guide on how to help a scared dog for more information on dog behaviour training.