Attention Seeking – Are You The Problem?

Attention Seeking – Are You The Problem?

There is an argument that dogs suffering from separation anxiety are blameless and that we, the owners, are the cause of the problem. It is a valid proposal: the problem is complex, but in my experience when dealing with dogs and their owners over many years, I have observed that we inadvertently condition our dogs for our own psychological comfort and to fulfil our needs. We may not notice or recognise changes that occur in our homes that alter the dynamics of how we go about our daily lives, for example, changing jobs, acquiring a new partner or bringing a new baby into the home. This affects the pet dog in many ways.

The amount of attention and affection given to the dog may be substantially diluted, so she has more time to get up to mischief; more time to spend home alone and more time to experience boredom. In other words, the dog is not needed as much and reacts to the new circumstances by attention seeking; it is also the classic scenario for separation anxiety to develop.

Insecure dogs enjoy company and attention on demand. They follow the owner around the home, paw when the owner may be relaxing or involved in a sedentary task; when frustration reaches the point of exasperation the dog may also bark incessantly to gain attention, even being shouted at or punished, which are forms of attention, may be worth the risk.

When we comply with the dog’s demands, the successful action becomes a habit embedded in the dog’s repertoire of methods to get attention. It works!

When the dog is left alone for any period of time – the owner may be at home in another room – attention seeking becomes a behaviour, which has the potential to develop in separation anxiety. When the owner is getting ready to leave the home, the dog may become boisterous, excessively excitable, quiver or nervously shake and once she is left alone barking and destructive behaviour are common responses.

Problem Solver: Be a Balanced Leader

1            Ignore attention seeking

2            Tell the dog to wait until you are ready to interact with her

3            Ration strokes and cuddles. When your dog demands attention, send her away from you; after a short time call your dog to you for a fuss.

4            Attention should be earned, so simply by calling the dog to you means that she has responded positively to you and can be rewarded with    your affection.





Communicating with our Dogs – Keep It Simple!


Our communication skills are influenced by our upbringing and interactions with parents, family, friends and work colleagues. Our characters are shaped and developed to enable us to be part of human society. Subliminally, we communicate using facial expressions, gestures and verbal sounds (not necessarily words), so that our body language betrays our feelings without us always needing to resort to spoken language. Take for example, when we speak on the telephone we still use all these components of human communication, but the person we are speaking to only hears our voice and the inflection we use to emphasise certain words or phrases. In such circumstances, we need to convey our spoken message in a manner that is clear to the listener.

Now, put yourself in the place of your dog. We chatter away telling her what to do, what not to do and many other things in between that simply serve to confuse her. When she does something not to our liking, often inadvertently, we raise our voice or shout; the tone is  sharp and our body language generally matches to ensure that she understands that her behaviour displeases us. Using complete sentences when talking to the dog is confusing at best, so it is far better to keep things simple and use the trigger words clearly so that she immediately understands what we want. Giving a calm, firm command to “sit”, “stay” or “come” helps the dog to act without hesitation and give us the response we want immediately.

It is often clear to me when visiting a home to resolve dog behaviour issues that there are two sides of the story. The owner tells me all the things that are wrong with the dog and the dog’s behaviour tells me another story. The owner is frustrated that the dog does not respond to a command, such as “sit” even if it is shouted and the dog is confused by the owner becoming unbalanced and shouting the command louder and louder, to no effect.

Dogs don’t speak any particular human language – German Shepherds are not fluent in German; Spanish water dogs are not fluent in Spanish – but that does not mean that we cannot communicate with dogs verbally.

Dogs are pack animals and in a group of wild or feral dogs, they communicate amongst themselves to achieve a social, balanced and harmonious pack. They seldom are aggressive towards each other and have a system of signals that indicate that they want to play not fight. It works well.

All animals – lions, buffalo, elephants, wolves, etc. – use their energy as the basic means of communication. When two dogs meet they circle, sniff each other and tentatively, but calmly, indicate their intentions. There is a respect between them; they are calm; their energy is relaxed; they are comfortable being together. Dogs are drawn towards calm energy, so it is important that we remain calm with relaxed energy. When dogs are aggressive towards “stranger dogs” there is a reason; perhaps one dog resents the attention of the other having been on the receiving end of an attack previously or it may be that the owner has not been proactive when she needs protection from an  approaching dog that gives off signals that it has aggressive intentions.

Now, consider the difference when the dog is on lead and the owner sees another dog approaching. The human reaction is to pull the dog into us, the lead becomes tight and we give off pheromones, the heart rate increases and our energy is excited by the fear of what may happen. The dog picks up these “flight or fight” signals and becomes more and more agitated.

The problem for most owners is that they miss the signals given by their dogs long before any action takes place. Their body language communicates what the dog is thinking, so it is vital that we learn to observe and understand these early signs before they become actions. To give our dogs confidence in our ability to make the right decisions as good leaders do, we must remain calm and assertive. When another dog approaches, it is vital that we are proactive. Communicate to your dog that you are in control by keeping your body language strong, your speech calm and simple. It is our duty as dog owners to be alert and protect our dogs. Make the right decision and it is unlikely that a nasty incident will occur. Communication is key: Dogs are confused when they receive mixed messages, so Keep It Simple and enjoy your dog!

Arriving Home


When any member of the family arrives home the family pet dog generally likes to greet them and then joins in the pleasure and excitement of seeing each other. Boisterous behaviour can have an added aspect. The dog is effectively welcoming the family member back into its home, after all, she was left in charge of the home when her human family left her alone.

To stop boisterous welcomes, when you arrive home verbally say “hello” to the dog, just to acknowledge her, then take your coat off, put the shopping away and settle yourself before attending to the dog. This may take a few minutes, but ideally she should wait patiently for your attention, respecting your position as being a higher ranking member of the family. Allowing a dog to jump up is disrespectful and enables her to reassert herself.

Seeing our dogs on our return home is one of the great pleasures of owning a dog, so remain calm and enjoy a respectful, happy reunion. Visitors will appreciate you having trained your dog to be respectful of them too, especially when they arrive wearing their best clothes!