Re-Training Attention-Seeking Behavior In Dogs
Has your dog ever barked at you for a treat? Scratched at your leg for attention? Shoved a muzzle under your arm while you are trying to work? And have you ever given that treat, and played with or petted your dog when he demanded it? If so, you are guilty of reinforcing attention-seeking behaviors in your dog.
When your dog does these things, he is often cute and difficult to ignore. But there always comes a time when you find the behaviors not-so-cute. The good news is that dogs are easy to train to “ask please.” The bad news is owners are slightly harder to train but can learn with repetition!
What Is Attention-seeking Behavior?
Attention-seeking behavior in dogs can manifest itself in many ways:
Why Do Dogs Exhibit Such Behaviors?
The answer to that one is pure and simple – because it elicits the desired behavior or object from their human, i.e. the dog gets what it wants!
How Can We Stop Attention-seeking Behaviors?
Although the answer on paper is simple, in practice it is not necessarily so. The simple answer is – DO NOT REWARD THE DOG BY GIVING HIM WHAT HE WANTS when he offers attention-seeking behavior. Often, the owner does not even realize how he is reinforcing these behaviors.
Example: Fido wants on the bed at night, so he whines, barks, and circles at the foot of his owner’s bed. In the beginning, the owner thinks this behavior is cute, and feels sorry for the poor neglected little dog! So, in a fit of compassion, he hoists Fido onto the bed.
Every night for several nights, the same scene unfolds. After a period of time, the owner has decided this behavior isn’t so cute, and he doesn’t want to share the bed anymore, so when Fido whines, owner says “SHUT UP, YOU DUMB DOG!” “BE QUIET,” “KNOCK IT OFF.” And finally, when he can’t stand it anymore, he gives up hoists Fido onto the bed! Mission accomplished! Fido’s take on this…….”I get it! If I bark, whine and circle LONG enough, I can get on the bed….now I know what my master wants!”
In this example, the human can be trained in as little as one night!
Solution: Following the previous example, the owner has decided this behavior isn’t so cute, and he doesn’t want to share the bed anymore, so when Fido whines, his owner completely ignores him. Fido, having had success with this method before, becomes louder and more insistent. After all, his owner obviously must have gone deaf! Finally, Fido gives up and lies down on the wonderful new bed that his owner has provided for him. At this exact moment, wonder of wonders, his owner tosses a fabulous chewy treat onto that bed! Fido’s take on this: “I get it, if I am quiet and lay on this great dog bed, dog treats rain from above! Now I know what my master wants!”
Remember, however, that Fido has had success in the past with attention-seeking. This retraining may take several nights of repetition. And Fido will not quickly forget if owner slips and yells, touches, pushes, or gives up and hoists even once during this retraining period.