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Addressing Attention-Seeking Behavior in Dogs

Addressing Attention-Seeking Behavior in Dogs

Attention-seeking behaviors in dogs occur when a dog solicits attention or interaction from their human through vocalization, physical touch, or disruptive actions. Dogs are social animals that thrive when they receive affection and engagement from their owners. However, excessive attention-seeking can become problematic if the dog constantly demands attention in disruptive or inappropriate ways.

Some common attention-seeking behaviors in dogs include incessant barking, whining, jumping up, nudging, staring, following their owner, stealing items, or repetitive actions like scratching at the door. These behaviors are the dog's way of saying "look at me!" or "pet me!”. Dogs seek attention for a variety of reasons including boredom, stress, fear, or even a lack of adequate training. While all dogs need and appreciate human interaction, it's important not to reinforce excessive attention-seeking with rewards.

Why Dogs Seek Attention

There are several potential motivations behind attention-seeking behavior in dogs:

  • Boredom or lack of stimulation. Dogs left alone for long periods without exercise or mental stimulation may act out to alleviate boredom. Chewing, barking, or destructive behaviors can acquire their owner's attention. Providing puzzle toys and physical/mental exercise is key.

  • Lack of training. Dogs who haven't been taught calm behaviors or who receive intermittent reinforcement for demanding behaviors may default to attention-seeking. Consistent training is important.

  • Anxiety or stress. Dogs experiencing anxiety, fear, or insecurity may become clingy and overly dependent on their person for comfort. Creating a predictable routine and safe space helps.

  • Medical issues. Dogs with pain, illness or cognitive decline may vocalize or act out due to discomfort or disorientation. Checking with a vet is advisable.

  • Social isolation. Dogs are pack animals that can become distressed when left alone for long periods. Adding environmental enrichment and/or another pet can help address feelings of loneliness.

  • Negative reinforcement. If attention-seeking behaviors inadvertently get rewarded by owner interaction, dogs are likely to repeat them. It’s important not to reinforce bad habits.

  • Genetics and early environment. Some dogs are genetically predisposed to demand attention through breeding or lack of socialization as young puppies. Training counterconditioning is needed.

  • Seeking resources. Smart dogs learn that certain behaviors earn treats, toys, playtime, etc. It’s important not to reward demands.

Problems Caused by Excessive Attention-Seeking

While most dogs seek some attention from their loved ones, excessive attention-seeking behaviors can become problematic. Issues caused by over-the-top attention-seeking include:

  • Disruption of household. Excessive vocalization, destruction, accidents, or repetitive behaviors disrupt family routines.

  • Stress on human-animal bond. Constant demands can frustrate pet parents, damage the relationship, and lead to resentment or neglect of the dog.

  • Dangerous situations. Jumping, nipping, or rough play can pose safety issues, especially with children, seniors, or strangers.

  • Self-rewarding habits. Dogs repeat behaviors that accidentally get rewarded, fueling a cycle of escalation. Bad habits become ingrained.

  • Constraints on lifestyle. People may hesitate to board, travel, work late or have visitors over if the dog has extreme separation anxiety or acting out. The dog’s needs end up restricting normal activities.

  • Noise complaints and citations. Excessive barking or destruction when owner is gone angers neighbors, apartment managers, or local authorities.

  • Surrender or abandonment. Families become so fed up with attention-seeking behaviors that they resort to surrendering the dog to a shelter or abandonment.

  • Euthanasia. In rare cases when behaviors are severe and other options are exhausted, attention-seeking behaviors can lead to euthanasia.

It’s clear that extreme attention-getting behaviors in dogs have consequences. Addressing the issue early provides the best outcome for all.

Stop Rewarding Excessive Attention-Seeking

The first step in curbing problematic attention-seeking is to stop reinforcing the behavior with rewards. Giving a dog what they want each time they whine, bark, jump, steal things or otherwise act out teaches them these behaviors work. Be aware of accidentally rewarding:

  • Petting, soothing or otherwise interacting with the dog when they demand.

  • Allowing the dog on furniture, laps or beds whenever they attempt to jump up.

  • Verbal reprimands (these still count as attention.)

  • Taking the dog on walks, car rides or adventures right after bad behavior.

  • Treats, meals or toys given when the dog acts out.

  • Opening doors, interacting with the dog or otherwise responding to scratching, destruction or noise.

It’s tempting to respond to the dog “just this once” but even intermittent rewards keep the behaviors going. Be consistent and resist attention as a reward.

Teach Alternate Settled Behaviors

Once excessive attention-seeking stops being reinforced, work on teaching and rewarding alternate calm, settled behaviors:

Impulse Control

Impulse control training teaches dogs delayed gratification. Useful skills include:

  • Sit/stay and down/stay for gradually longer durations before receiving anything (attention, meals, walks, play.)

  • “Place” training – rewarding calmness on a dog bed or mat.

  • Loose-leash walking without pulling toward stimuli.

  • “Leave it” skill – ignoring food or toys until released.


Capture and reward natural relaxed behaviors like laying down in a calm setting:

  • Mark and treat desired behaviors with a clicker or verbal marker like “good.”

  • Reward calm interactions around people with praise and treats.

  • Practice having the dog relax nearby but not constantly demanding attention.


Prevent boredom by providing:

  • Food puzzle toys and stuffed rubber toys to stimulate natural foraging.

  • Changing toys available to renew interest.

  • Sufficient physical and mental exercise daily.

Positive Reinforcement

Use rewards-based training and management:

  • Reward and praise wanted behaviors.

  • Prevent access to rewards until dog is calm and quiet.

  • Teach an “incompatible” behavior like “go to your mat” to interrupt and redirect attention demands.

Provide Proper Outlets for Energy and Stress

Pent up energy and anxiety often contribute to over-the-top attention-seeking. Make sure the dog has productive outlets:

Sufficient Exercise

  • Most dogs need 30-60 minutes of activity daily including walks, play sessions, or off-leash exercise. Adjust to the individual dog's energy level.

  • Physical exercise helps dissipate built up energy and tires the dog out.

  • Aerobic exercise releases feel-good endorphins and helps anxiety.

Mental Stimulation

  • Provide problem-solving toys, training sessions, scentwork, learning tricks/cues or food puzzle toys.

  • Change activities regularly to prevent boredom. Nosework boosts mental stimulation.

  • Learning and problem solving tires the brain as much as physical exercise does.

Off-Leash Play

  • Playing with other friendly dogs helps satisfy social needs and burns energy.

  • Supervise play sessions and avoid dogs with incompatible play styles.

  • Allow regular playtimes but interrupt over-arousal or bullying behavior.


  • Rotate novel toys to keep things interesting and introduce food puzzles.

  • Provide chew toys to satisfy natural chewing instincts. Supervise high-value items to prevent resource guarding.

  • Try hiding kibble around a room or yard to mimic natural foraging behaviors.

Set up the Environment for Success

Managing the dog’s environment can help prevent or minimize attention-seeking behaviors:

Reduce Access to Triggers

  • Use baby gates, crate, leash or confinement when unattended to reduce access to human interaction or triggers like the door.

  • Restrict access if the dog redirects onto furniture, rugs, trash etc. when unattended.

  • Keep the dog out of high traffic areas when unable to supervise or provide enrichment.

Create a Positive Association with Being Alone

  • Use high-value food toys only when leaving the dog unattended. Frozen and stuffed Kongs or food puzzles keep dogs happily engaged in your absence.

  • Keep arrivals/departures low key and ignore attention-seeking behaviors upon return.

  • Practice brief absences building up to longer spans.

Provide “Jobs”

  • Give the dog a task like carrying a toy, finding hidden treats or fetching specific items on cue.

  • Teach skills like tidying away toys into bins to exude mental energy.

  • Jobs boost confidence, focus, and fulfillment.

Ensure Adequate Physical and Social Needs are Met Before Departures

  • Walk and play session first, then place in confinement space with special chew toys or food puzzles.

  • Provide attention and training when you’re home and available to supervise, not right before departures.

Use Calming Aids if Needed

  • Adaptil, lavender, or calming music may take the edge off.

  • Try an Anxiety Wrap or calming supplements if separation anxiety is severe.

  • Consult a vet or certified trainer for appropriate use of anti-anxiety medication in extreme cases.

Interrupt and Redirect Demand Behaviors

When attention-seeking behaviors do pop up, gently interrupt them without rewards or interaction:

Interrupt Persistent Barking or Whining

  • Use sound interrupters like brief air horns, penny cans or spray bottles. The noise should startle but not scare. Reprimands actually encourage some dogs, so neutral interruptions work better.

  • Distract with high-value treats or toys like squeaky balls, but give them only when dog stops vocalizing.

  • Time outs of 1-2 minutes in an empty room or pen can help calm the dog down.

Discourage Jumping Up

  • Step on leash, cross arms and turn away from jumping to remove access to greeting or touch. Only reward 4 paws on floor.

  • Practice impulse control entrances and exits. Use baby gates to enforce a calm sit or down before allowing access.

  • Ask for a simple obedience cue like ‘sit’ first, then reward by petting.

Remove Rewards for Nudging, Barking, Grabbing Clothes

  • Completely neglect problematic behaviors. Any reaction rewards it.

  • Ask for a simple obedience behavior first before giving attention.

  • If grabbing clothes for play, become a tree and stop moving until dog disengages. Then redirect to a toy in a constructive way.

Provide an Incompatible Alternative Behavior

  • Train a positive cue like “go to your mat” or “kennel up” to redirect the dog’s focus. Reward for compliance.

  • Ask for a down/stay on the mat for duration before rewarding with treats, praise or play.

Prevent Destructiveness

  • Exclude access to potential items through confinement, baby gates or closed doors when unattended.

  • Provide plenty of acceptable chew outlets – food toys, bully sticks, stuffed rubber toys.

  • Interrupt with remote correction sound or spray bottle. Provide appropriate chew toys.

Practice Impulse Control

  • Ask for sits, down stays, or time on a place bed before door exits, access to furniture, meals, playtime and attention.

  • Gradually increase duration before rewards. Impulse control creates calmer habits.

When to Seek Professional Help

For minor attention-seeking behaviors, training adjustments at home are usually effective. However, it may be time to enlist a professional if:

  • Destructiveness or vocalizing is ongoing and solutions have failed. The habits have become ingrained.

  • Separation anxiety is extreme. The dog injures themselves, destroys property or disrupts neighbors when alone. They are in distress.

  • Aggression develops toward people or animals around resources like food, toys or access due to lack of training.

  • Attention-seeking is excessive and disruptive to quality of life or relationships. You’ve reached the end of your rope.

  • The root cause may be an underlying medical, anxiety or compulsive condition needing medication or specialized behavioral therapy.

Qualified help includes behaviorists, certified trainers, or veterinary behaviorists. Never hesitate to reach out before small issues escalate or result in surrendered pets. Help is available.

Prevention Through Early Socialization and Training

While all dogs seek human attention, the seeds of excessive attention-seeking often begin in early development:

Lack of Early Socialization

Puppies need positive exposure to people, places, sounds and handling from 3-16 weeks old. Those deprived of socialization may become insecure, fearful or overly dependent later on. Make socialization a priority.

No Training Foundations

Dogs allowed to jump, nip, and demand from puppyhood often carry those habits into adulthood. Practicing basic obedience and setting rules helps prevent entitled behavior.

Inadequate Exercise or Stimulation

Puppies given insufficient outlets like training, chew toys, playtime and exercise are more likely to develop neurotic attention habits out of boredom and frustration. An exercised puppy is a good puppy!

No Independence Training

Dogs never taught to self-soothe or be comfortable alone can develop clingy, needy behavior and separation anxiety. Crate and confinement training in gradual steps prevents this.

Intermittent Reinforcement of Demands

Randomly rewarding nippy, whiny, or pushy behavior teaches dogs to escalate their persistence. Ensure good behaviors are the only ones reinforced.

Preventing attention issues from the start is ideal. The following tips set up future success:

  • Expose the puppy to new things, people, sounds and handling in a positive way.

  • Enroll in early obedience classes for structure and training.

  • Provide toys and outlets for energy starting day one.

  • Crate and confinement train puppy in small increments to build independence.

  • Reward calm, polite behaviors; ignore or redirect unwanted behaviors.

  • Set boundaries and structure via house rules and obedience foundation.

An ounce of prevention truly saves heartache and headaches later on. Start pups off right.


Attention-seeking behaviors are common in dogs, but can become disruptive without appropriate training and outlets. Stopping reinforcement of demand behaviors, building impulse control, providing sufficient exercise and stimulation, and addressing root causes of anxiety or boredom curbs excessive attention-seeking. Have realistic expectations, be consistent with training, and don't hesitate to enlist a professional for help. With time and dedication, attention-seeking behaviors can be minimized, leading to more harmonious relationships between dogs and owners.

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