We All Need Attention

16 Apr


Our dogs need to have ways to ask for our attention, ways that we can live with. I can think of several dogs in my pet manners classes who have less-than-desirable ways of asking for attention. Can you think of any dog who might fit that description? Smile

The following is a list from Sarah Owings KPA CTP who lives in L.A. She listed the various ways her dog asks for attention and categorized them. I thought you all might find this a useful way to look at attention-seeking behaviors. Perhaps you might be inspired to make your own list using Sarah’s as an example?

Here are some ways my dogs have been taught to “ask” for attention:

Intentional ways that I have actively trained and reinforced…

1. Bring a toy
2. Default sit or lay down

3. Eye contact

Unintentional ways (but I don’t mind really because it’s really enjoyable).

4. Standing in front of me with wagging tail and really big, bright, happy eyes
5. Play bows/stretches

6. Goofy head twirls

7. Jumping up on the couch or bed for a full body snuggle (as only a Bully dog can do)

8. Yawning and tail thumping on the bed in the morning

9. Kisses–LOTS of kisses! :)

10. Making “Woookie” noises

Unintentional ways that I do sort of mind (but these have faded because I listen to her other requests so often)

10. Barking
11. Jumping on the coffee table and looking very pleased with herself because now we can’t see the TV

12. Chewing books

–Sarah Owings KPA CTP

Sarah brings up a good point: by teaching (and reinforcing VERY frequently) behaviors we like the dog to use for soliciting attention, the unwanted versions will fade away.

GOOD ADVICE: The unwanted ways of gaining our attention are often reinforced by us – usually inadvertently. By giving the dog our attention in these cases, even if it’s yelling no, pushing the dog away, telling him “off”, etc, we are unconsciously reinforcing the very behaviors we do not consider good ways to ask for attention.


Many of you have met my puppy, Rosanne, the shaggy hound dawg. Rosanne, at five months of age, is now having lots more freedom in the house (house training is well established). When I am propped up on the couch elevating my sore knee, she has a habit of running 60 miles per hour from wherever she is in the living room right up my body and right into my face!! Yikes! This happens about every 5 minutes when I am trying to watch TV. Naturally, like anyone would do, I grab her and cuddle her when she does this (because it is kind of cute) or I put her down on the floor or in some other way inadvertently reinforce this behavior.

Tonight I decided to set a better example for my students and ask myself how DO I want her to ask for my attention? Answer: I would like her to come sit on the floor beside the couch and look up at me with eye contact.

I got out a clicker and her whole dinner (very tiny little puppy kibbles, good for training) and spent ONE HOUR watching TV and clicking each time she gave me eye contact. I tossed the kibble bit to her and often she caught it in the air (bonus!) I didn’t do or say anything else. Just kept an eye on her with peripheral vision (it was a slow moving, boring movie – Mulholland Falls) and clicked every time she gave me eye contact. This is capturing a behavior – clicking it when it happens naturally while doing nothing other than reinforcing it when it does happen.

In that hour she had probably 300 or more repetitions of being on the floor next to the couch looking soulfully up at me. That’s money in the bank!


When you find yourself becoming annoyed with a behavior, consider what the dog could do instead of that annoying behavior. Then set up a way you can train for that, teaching the dog how to ask for your attention.

From now on when I see Rosanne coming to be next to the couch and looking at me, I’m going to give her attention. Even without a clicker and treats, I can reach down and pet her or give her the cue to come up on the couch onto my lap for a few minutes of relaxation training or get up and get a toy and play a few minutes of tug with her.

It will be interesting to see if this one big long session lessens the use of my body as a racetrack!

Helix Fairweather


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