Attention Seeking

(See also Destructiveness and Stealing)

Often dogs have a 'valid reason' for seeking our attention at inconvenient times, like an upset tummy, which means they need to go outside urgently, even if it's 3am. First thing in the morning, you want a pee, and so does your dog. There's no need to get properly dressed for a five minute 'comfort' walk, you can fling on whatever clothes are to hand. If you let him out, or walk him round the block first thing it means you can have a coffee in peace with a good conscience. Dogs may also have 'cabin fever' especially if they have been good and quiet for several hours while you have been ignoring them, or shut in while you were at work. Too much attention can make dogs pushy, but they do need their basic needs met.

Dogs that seek attention are in a way paying you a compliment, saying they want you to do something interesting with them. Structuring your dog's day tells your dog when something interesting is likely to happen. When dogs are walked at a regular time, they are more likely to settle if asked until it's walk time. Then they watch you for cues that you are going to take them out, and will remind you if you delay too long. Youngsters sometimes have a manic period in the evening, and if you have a youngster with manic moments, keep a diary and see if he has his 'internal clock'. Then, if you can, initiate an activity beforehand, so you can channel his energy. You could schedule his walk for his most active time, or play a ball game in the garden, or even indoors. Make him 'earn' the throws by sitting first, and if he is a keen retriever, build on that to sitting and staying, only fetching on command rather than straight after the ball is thrown.

Now attention seeking is a funny thing, it works both ways. Do you ever go up to your dog when he's asleep and stroke him because you 'love him to bits'? If so, that is attention seeking, as if your dog pawed you while you were asleep. If you love him, wake him gently by calling his name, give him a chance to work out where he is, then call him to you, and offer him what he wants, a chance to do something interesting with you. Petting sleeping dogs sends them confusing messages. It's begging dogs for affection. It's being so greedy for affection that dogs' needs for undisturbed rest are disregarded. If you want to give your dog affection, give him what he wants, which is direction, to be told 'this is what we're going to do together, and you'll love it'. He'll give you affection of his own accord when he can trust you as his leader.

Young dogs especially need to run off some energy, but all dogs like mental as well as physical exercise. 'Hunt the titbit' is a simple fun game for indoors or out. Get him to stay outside the room while you hide the titbits, which he has to sniff out.

When you are training your dog to behave well with visitors, remember that dogs tend to be much more relaxed and biddable after exercise. So if you know visitors are coming, take the dog out for a good run first, or a ball game, then it's easier to get him to settle. It also helps if he has his own place, like a basket, that you can send him to. Chew objects can help keep dogs occupied when you want your guests left in peace. Ask guests who adore dogs to help you train your dog to be polite by spending part of their visit ignoring the dog. Stress that you want your dog to be petted when he is well-behaved, and when all four paws are on the ground. Explain that he needs to learn that he can't always be the centre of attention. If your dog behaves well with visitors who like dogs, it's easier to control him if you have visitors who don't like dogs. 

Where humans sit is important. Dogs usually take sitting on the floor as an invitation to come up to you, so they can be very pushy if you then ignore them. Teach an 'off' command to use if the dog tries to join guests on the sofa.

Some dogs can develop great curiosity about telephone calls, especially if they hear the voice of human or canine friends over the phone. They realise that you are somehow engaged in communication with those friends. This can trigger attention-seeking behaviour, including barking, and also 'stealing' objects from places they normally respect, like pens from tables, or potatoes from vegetable racks, and then chewing them in plain view, but just out of reach so you have to move to stop them. Leashing the dog during phone calls helps, if you can manage the logistics. Then the call can be treated as a normal conversation with friends in the flesh, where the dog is expected to hold a quiet down stay while the humans talk. The ingenuity of dogs can make you laugh, but they do need to learn to let humans talk for a while without interruption. The more train your dog to settle quietly while you talk to friends on walks, or to visitors, the better control you will have over his behaviour during phone calls.

Dogs, then, need to learn limits, they can't jump on guests uninvited, or monopolise the conversation when you talk to someone. If you realise you've spoilt the dog a bit, and he's become too pushy, teach him to wait a short while. When he paws or nuzzles you, greet him and ask him to settle, and then pay full attention to him after a few minutes. It's worth greeting him before asking him to settle, because that way you encourage communication, and if you try to ignore him, he may just paw you more insistently. You can also teach him to give you a paw on command, which gives you more control over pawing.

There are 'ball mad' dogs like collies, which ask you to play retrieve when you want to finish the game. Obsessive retrievers, as collies often are, will tend to carry on retrieving until they collapse, and may still plague you for more, even when they are obviously near exhaustion. Long before they get to this state, use an 'off' switch like 'All gone', at which point you pocket the ball and refuse to throw it. Having an 'off' switch helps a lot. Then you can give an 'at ease' command like 'OK', whereupon the dogs will behave like normal dogs, and do whatever they had forgotten to do before, like pee, or eat grass.

Old dogs like to snooze a lot, but young dogs need to run around off the lead, and benefit from walks, games and training with their owners. How much attention to give dogs, and when, is a question of balance. A trainer can help you to develop a timetable, to structure your day and achieve this balance, if you are unsure of how to do it on your own.