Begging for Attention

Dogs can be real gluttons for attention. This often means they're a bit anxious and fearful and in frequent need of reassurance. Or they may simply be accustomed to getting a lot of attention, and the more they get, the more they want. It's gratifying when your dog pushes his head against your hand for the occasional rub or lies close to you when you're relaxing, but no one enjoys being hounded by a canine "shadow" who can't bear to be alone even for a minute.

It's not difficult to teach dogs to be less demanding, but first you need to understand what they're telling you with all their clinging.

"I'm insecure." Even the most self-sufficient dog has certain fears -- of thunderstorms, for example, or the sound of firecrackers -- that will send her in search of attention. There's nothing wrong with giving a frightened dog a little reassurance, but you don't want to make too big a deal of it. If you do, she may get the idea that there really is something to be afraid of -- or at least she'll get in the habit of turning to you whenever she gets nervous.

"Don't go overboard with affection because that tells your dog it's okay to be scared," says Kovary. "You're reinforcing her fear."

Rather than just giving comfort, she recommends a more proactive approach. Think about the things that scare your dog silly. It may be thunderstorms or fireworks, or even the sound of a newspaper rattling. Whatever it is, think about ways to expose her to small doses.

Dogs who are afraid of thunderstorms, for example, can learn to cope with them when their owners make tape recordings of storms and play them back at very low volumes, rewarding their dogs as long as they stay calm and relaxed. The idea is to gradually decrease the "fear factor" by playing the recording a little bit louder every day. If your dog starts getting nervous, reduce the volume. But as long as she stays relaxed, keep giving her praise and treats. If you do this slowly -- and it may take months of daily "exposure" -- she'll probably get a little better, and less demanding of your attention.

"I want to be in charge." "If a dog tends to be pushy in all sorts of situations, demands for attention may indicate that she wants to be in control," says Miller. Your dog needs to be taught to earn any attention you give her. For example, if she's demanding to be petted, she should be told to sit or lie down before she gets those loving strokes. It's also better to keep the petting session brief. That way, she learns to relax and be less controlling.

"I'm bored." Dogs who don't have a lot to do will sometimes beg for attention merely because they can't think of anything else to do. For example, if you're working on a computer project at home, and your dog begins to nudge you persistently after several hours, she may be saying that she's tired of just lying around while you're crunching spreadsheets.

You really can't expect dogs to entertain themselves all the time, Miller says. Dogs are social creatures and they want to spend time with you more than anything else. This doesn't mean you should give in to their every demand, but you will have to remember to schedule some time when they can have your undivided attention. As long as you take them for walks or play with them for 30 to 40 minutes a day, and don't let them con you into giving them attention in between, they'll learn to wait for "their" time, Miller says.

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