In the same way a human toddler might act out to get attention from their parents, your pet might do the same thing. A little mischief can be a quick way for your canine companion to gain your focus. It’s very important to know when a dog’s behavior is attention-seeking and when their behavior is communicating real discomfort or stress, because your response will need to be different.
Are you worried that you have a dog misbehaving for attention? See if these signs look familiar, and follow our tips to ensure your pooch stops acting out for the wrong reasons.
Dog Attention-Seeking Behaviors
If your dog is misbehaving for attention, you might notice the following behaviors:
- Consistent and unexpected jumping
- Nipping at clothing
- Chewing or destruction
- Vocalizing when you’re focused on something else
- Stealing things or entering off-limits areas
Dogs May Seek Attention with Jumping
Jumping is a common behavioral complaint among dog parents. This behavior can be especially concerning because it can be dangerous when your dog jumps on a child, and it can be very upsetting for a person who isn’t comfortable with dogs. Jumping is often a result of your pet’s excitement to meet a new person, go to a new place, or see you for the first time after some separation. But sometimes, a dog will jump simply to get your attention.
Jumping as an attention-seeking behavior in dogs usually manifests specifically when – you guessed it – your attention is focused on something else. Your dog might jump up on you when you’re trying to work at the computer or cooking dinner in the kitchen. Because jumping is invasive and startling, it often achieves your dog’s goal by distracting you (at least temporarily) from your other task. If you find that your dog is jumping up on you when you are trying to engage in an activity that doesn’t include them, it’s likely an attention-seeking behavior.
Your Dog Might Nip at You or Your Clothes to Gain Attention
Nipping is another way your dog might try to gain your attention. This is very concerning, as well, because a nip can sometimes accidentally catch skin and become a bite. A dog might nip at your hands to demand petting or even nip and pull at your clothes to distract you from your other task.
Chewing, Scratching, and Destruction Can Be Attention-Seeking
Sometimes, dogs will resort to destruction in an effort to gain your attention. Your dog might chew on furniture, scratch up doors, or otherwise damage your property and household either because they are bored or they want you to focus on them. It seems counterintuitive, because the reaction they get is likely negative, but from a dog’s perspective, sometimes negative attention is better than no attention at all.
Your Dog Might Use Different Vocalizations to Get Your Attention
Vocalizing is another obvious way dogs will try to misbehave for attention. Your dog might whine, bark, or howl when they notice you are engaged with another activity. Sometimes, this can even be pre-emptive – they might start vocalizing before you take your attention away, to deter you from doing so. You might notice your dog whining in protest when you get out the car keys or your laptop, because they know those items mean that you’ll be otherwise occupied.
Engaging with Off-Limits Areas and Objects Can Be Attention-Seeking
Other misbehaviors that dogs might use to get attention could be “stealing” an item that is known to be off-limits, such as a shoe or a child’s stuffed animal. Ever noticed your golden retriever go into your room and snag a sock when you’re busy, then prance around the house proudly with their mischievous object? That’s classic attention-seeking dog behavior. If you have specific space boundaries for your dog (perhaps they’re not allowed in the bedroom if you suffer from pet dander allergies, or you keep them out of the kitchen so they don’t interrupt your cooking), they might also try to push or violate these rules in an effort to gain your attention.
What to Do When Your Dog Is Misbehaving for Attention
Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to redirect and retrain these attention-seeking behaviors in dogs. Here are some techniques to follow:
- Ensure your dog’s daily life includes enough attention
- Ignore attention-seeking behaviors
- Reward polite requests for attention
- Create a stimulating environment for your pet
Spend Quality Time with Your Dog Daily
Your dog needs a variety of things to live, including food, water, and exercise. But they need much more than that to thrive. We know you want your pet to live his or her best life, so it’s important you create a well-rounded daily routine for your dog that includes all of the bare necessities as well as additional enrichment, including play time with you, affection, comfort, toys, and plenty of attention.
At least once a day, you need to enjoy individualized, focused time with your dog. This can include other family members, but it shouldn’t be a half-distracted moment where you’re tossing the ball and looking at your computer at the same time. Maybe you gather as a family and play fetch in the backyard every afternoon for a few minutes when the kids get home from school, before busying yourself with dinner duties. Or perhaps you take a few minutes on the couch to pat, snuggle, and talk to your pooch before you sit down at the desk to work. This attentive time can take many forms, and it doesn’t have to be the exact same thing every day – but it does need to happen daily.
Attention-seeking behaviors do not always mean your dog isn’t getting enough attention. By your dog’s standards, there might not be such a thing as “enough attention.” But it’s good practice to have a routine established so you know your dog’s social and emotional needs are being met before you try to change their attention-seeking misbehaviors.
Ignoring the Misbehavior Is the Best Policy
If possible, when your dog begins to misbehave for attention, you should try to ignore the behavior. If you know for certain it is an effort to get your attention and not a true need or some kind of stress response, the behavior should go unnoticed by everyone in the vicinity. When attention-seeking behavior stops working, it is less likely that your dog will repeat it.
This isn’t always possible (case in point: jumping for attention). Remember that responding with aggression or negativity still achieves your dog’s goal, so ignoring their behavior is the most effective approach. Rather than scolding your dog or trying to “redirect” them to another activity, you should just let the bad behavior run its course.
Unfortunately, it will probably get worse before it improves: your dog might bark louder and more often once you start ignoring their vocalizations. Be patient and consistent with your stoicism and, eventually, they will give up the behavior because it is ineffective.
Reward Your Dog When They Approach You Politely
Positive reinforcement is another great way to retrain your dog not to misbehave for attention. This means you need to pay close attention to more appropriate ways your dog might request your focus. Ideally, the only way your dog should communicate a need for your attention is by approaching you and sitting nearby quietly. When your dog does this, reward him or her with plenty of treats or praise.
Rearrange Your Pet’s Environment to Increase Mental Stimulation
Attention-seeking behaviors are often a result of your dog’s boredom. An entertained or exhausted dog is much less likely to nip or jump for attention when you are occupied with something else. If your dog seems truly bored, and you have a demanding schedule that doesn’t allow for a lot of play and exercise, you might consider changing their routine or environment to provide distractions.
This might mean choosing a few interactive, mentally stimulating dog toys that you can rotate through and give to your dog when there are going to be long periods of no interaction (consider a noiseless dog toy if you need to keep them occupied during a Zoom meeting). It also might mean enlisting a dog sitter or choosing a doggie daycare where your pet can get more stimulation throughout the day. If your dog is resorting to bad behavior to get your attention, they might simply need more engagement in their day-to-day life, and it’s your job to provide that to them.
Consistency and Patience Can End Your Dog’s Misbehaving for Attention
A dog misbehaving for attention means something needs to change, whether that be their behavior or their routine. You deserve to live peacefully and have a life outside of your pet, and your dog needs to learn independence – but you also want your pet to be comfortable and happy. Strike a balance among everyone’s needs with our tips to reduce attention-seeking behavior in dogs.