Attention Seeking Behavior in Dogs
Dogs are social animals and they love being with people. When we humans are around is when our dogs really come alive. So, is it any wonder that they seek our attention when we are around? Attention-seeking behaviors range from harmless to irritating to potentially dangerous. Golden Retrievers are notorious for their desire to have your attention.
Ways A Dog Might Seeks Attention
Different dogs will seek your attention in different ways. Let’s look at a few things that dogs will do in order to seek your attention.
- Perform the trick you most recently taught him
- Lick you
- Stare at you
- Jump on you
- Refuse to move from your lap or feet
- Nudge you
- Paw you
- Ask to go outside, constantly
- Put toys in your lap
- Mouth you
- Act restless
- Potty in the house
- Steal something of yours and then hide it or play keep-away
- Do something that they know they are not allowed to do
- Fake an injury or lameness
- And more!
Reasons Why Your Dog Want’s Your Attention
Golden Retrievers are social animals. They are happiest when they are with their whole “pack.” Even in multi-dog homes each dog needs to get time and attention from you.
The first step in deciding why your Golden is seeking your attention is to asses how much attention you are actually giving him. Is he actually getting enough of your attention or is he neglected? Take a look at your typical day, write it down with appropriate amounts of time that each task takes. Or go through your day and pay attention to how much time each activity you do takes. Check to see how much time that leaves for your dog.
Here is an example. You work 8 hours a day, at a non-pet friendly employer. You have a 1-hour commute if the traffic isn’t too bad. You get 8 hours of sleep a night. So far that’s 17 hours without your dog and 7 hours left for your Golden Retriever. But that is not all you do in a day. What about picking up the kids, cooking, laundry, grocery shopping, hanging out with friends, cleaning, hitting the gym, helping the kids with homework, and finding a minute for yourself? When we add all that in, how much time do you really have to spend with your Golden?
In those few hours that you have left to give attention to your dog, you have to fit in all of his care. Grooming, feeding, walking, playing, training, socialization, and snuggles. Ask yourself this: when you are performing the tasks to care for your dog, are you doing other things or really giving your dog your whole attention? Do you listen to a podcast while walking him? Do you watch TV while brushing him? Do you dump his food in his bowl and then just walk away? Is your poor Golden really getting your full attention, ever?
I always say that “a tired dog is a good dog.” Your Golden might be seeking your attention because he has too much extra energy. Increasing the amount of or length of walks or playtime could be all it takes to reduce your dog’s attention-seeking behavior. Be sure to give him your attention while you engage in these activities for even better results.
Even if your Golden is getting enough physical exercise he might not be getting the mental exercise he needs. Dogs need mental and physical exercise to keep them in the best of health. If your dog is seeking-attention because he has too much mental energy left if would be a good idea to give him a job or teach him a new trick. These will both burn mental energy.
Some injuries or health problems will also cause a dog to seek your attention more. If the attention-seeking behaviors come on suddenly, seek out a holistic vet who will help you discover the root cause of the behavior.
Meant To Be With Humans
Golden Retrievers were bred to work in the field, retrieving all day. Obviously retrieving is not something that a dog can do alone. Indeed, the dog must bring the fallen duck to the hunter in order to retrieve it for the hunter.
This shows us two things. One, Golden Retrievers were bred to be active all-day. Running after falling prey to bring it back to the hunter over the rugged terrain of the Scottish highlands. That’s quite a workout, both physically and mentally. Two, Goldens were bred to work with a hunter all day. Bred to be with at least one person all day, with very rare alone time.
So, it is in a Golden Retriever’s genes to want to be with people and exercise all day.
It’s Worked In The Past
If you think that you are giving your Golden enough exercise and enough attention, then there are some other reasons why he might be seeking your attention. It could be that you have inadvertently encouraged the behavior at some point. This is really, very easy to do without even knowing that you are doing it.
Suppose that you got your Golden Retriever as a puppy. When he was young he jumped up on you to get your attention. He was so cute that, of course, you give him your attention. Perhaps you snuggle him or pick him up on your lap to snuggle him. You have reinforced him jumping on you. Once reinforced he is likely to do it again. Every time you respond positively to his jumping on you, the more he is going to jump on you.
Now, this is fine when he is just a puppy, and even as an adult Golden you might not mind too much until you have company over. Then the jumping becomes a problem when your dog scares an 8-year-old girl to tears by jumping on her or when he knocks over your 95-year-old grandpa. So, keep that in mind. Before you praise or reward a puppy with your attention ask yourself “Is this a behavior that I will want this pup to do when he is fully grown?”
Because You Are His World
If you think about it, this is a really obvious reason for your dog to seek your attention, but it is often overlooked. To your dog, you are the most AWESOME thing EVER! The most amazing human, the coolest person, and just the BEST! Think about it for a second all that you have accomplished in life, all the goals reached, all the gains! You are some epic person and you deserve a medal or, at least, a round of applause. And that is what your Golden is attempting to give you.
If you saw your favorite celebrity walking down the street wouldn’t you run over and seek their attention? Tell them how much they have meant to you, how awesome they are, how much you love them?! Sure you would, and so would most people in the world. You are the celebrity and your dog is your biggest fan!
Look at it from your Golden Retrievers perspective. You hold all the good in his world. You have his food and treats. You open the door so he can go outside. You throw the ball. You take him walkies. You take him to the beach and the park and the mountains. You brush him and bath him and trim his nails. You take care of him. You are his world! If you were in his place you would certainly seek your attention too.
Good or Bad Attention
Dogs are strange creatures in some ways. One way is that dogs often do not see attention as good or bad. It is simply attention from you, and that is what he wants. We would look at good attention as things like giving him a treat, petting him, or offering him verbal praise. We would look at bad attention as things like shouting at him to be quiet or giving him a whack with a newspaper.
We mean some of our attentions to encourage our dogs and some of our attentions to discourage them from doing things. However, this is not how our dogs perceive it. For a dog attention is attention. So, when you mean to discourage a behavior, you may actually be encouraging it by giving your dog some form of attention.
Before Attempting To Stop The Behavior
Before you choose to try and stop the attention-seeking behavior your dog is performing, take a look at how much attention you are truly giving him. Try to give him your full attention when you are giving him your attention. Fully immerse yourself in the moment you and your Golden are sharing.
You can also increase the amount of mental and physical exercise he gets. Taking him for extra walks and giving him some extra playtime. Train him to do a new trick or attend a training class. You could even do train for canine sports like urban herding, agility, canine freestyle, and obedience. All of these are great ways to burn lots of energy.
A diet change may also help your dog. Food sensitivities or foods that cause your dog inflammation can affect his behavior. I know a dog who barks 3x’s more than normal if he eats beef. When he doesn’t eat beef he hardly barks at all. So, switching what your dog eats may prove very helpful in reducing the amount of attention he seeks from you.
How To Stop Your Dogs Attention-Seeking Behavior
There are a few ways that you can go about stoping your Golden Retriever’s attention-seeking behavior. Or if you prefer you could just step into your awesomeness and allow your dog to honor you by being you number one fan. It all depends on how you choose to look at it.
If you can’t take all the attention-seeking behavior that your dog displays then you can try to ignore it. This one can be tricky but it is one of the best options. If your dog is trying to get your attention don’t look at him, don’t smile at him, don’t talk to him, don’t scold him, don’t punish him, don’t laugh. Just ignore him. This can be a little bit tricky because the dog will often escalate his behavior before he gives up. Even when he intensifies his behavior you must ignore it, otherwise, he will learn that you will give in if he intensifies the behavior.
Leave The Room
If ignoring the behavior is not an option for you, then leaving the room might work better. If your Golden is baking for your attention, leave the room and close the door. Wait until your dog has calmed down and is no longer barking or whining before opening the door. Then call your dog to you, have him sit, and give him a treat. This shows your dog that you love him, but you do not love the behavior that made you leave the room. This can work pretty well. If your dog is trying to gain your attention, but you leave the room because of his attempts, he will learn that that doesn’t work.
Teach A New Behavior
It might be possible to train your dog to perform an alternate behavior. Preferably a behavior that cannot be done at the same time as the attention-eeking behavior that you are trying to stop. An alternate behavior that you want your dog to do and you wouldn’t mind him doing in order to get your attention.
This could be things like asking your dog to sit or lay down when he is jumping on you. Then and only then would you give him the attention that he seeks. Or asking your dog to “shush” instead of barking, howling, or whining. Once he is silent that is when he gets attention. Or aks him to go to his bed instead of trying to climb onto your lap, once in his bed he gets attention. The more that you reward this behavior, the more he will do it. It is important to notice when your dog is doing these things even when you have not asked him too. Give him attention when he is laying down, being quiet, or laying in his bed. This will help him to choose these activities more often. If you give him attention for behaviors that you want him to do, this will make him want to do the behaviors in order to get the attention he craves.
Set A Schedule
Establishing a routine can also go a long way to reduce your Golden’s attention-seeking behavior. Look at your day and see what is important and when you need to not be disturbed. Then try to set up your schedule so that you always walk or play with your dog right before the activity that requires your full attention. This will give your Golden more reasons to sleep while you work. You will also need to ignore any attention-seeking behaviors that your dog does while you work. Eventually, your dog will see you headed for your workspace and settle down in his bed instead of trying to get your attention. For this to work you must be very consistent.
Having a routine can be a great preventative as well. If you start your Golden Retriever puppy out with a routine, that’s great. Take him out to potty or for a walk and then put him in his crate while you work. Take a break and play with the pup. Back in the crate with a stuffed Kong, while you do more work. Once the pup is grown you can replace the crate with a bed. Your pup will go straight to his bed and not bother you while you work.
Giving your dog his daily food allotment in Kongs instead of a bowl is a great way to keep him entertained while you work or do other things. Having your dog get his food out of a Kong also provides more mental and physical stimulation than just eating out of a bowl. Praise him for his efforts to get his food out of his Kong. This will encourage him to keep at it.
A key principle to keep in mind with all of these techniques is to keep your eyes open to what your dog is doing right. Always praise your dog and give him attention when he is doing something that you want him to do. Praise him when he is laying in his bed ready for a nap. Give him a little snuggle when he is sitting patiently waiting for you. Play a game of tug when he is quietly entertaining himself. Doing this from the very beginning of when you get a dog can help you avoid a lot of issues down the road.
Management may be necessary at times. Management would be, putting your dog in another room when you have something that you must get done and cannot be disrupted. An example would be if you have a work deadline and can’t be bothered to ignore your dog’s attention-seeking behavior. This will not be effective long term but is rather a tool that you can use in a pinch.
If you work consistently on your Golden’s attention-seeking behavior and you are not seeing the results you want, it might be a good idea to work with a professional trainer or animal behaviorist. Choose one that will use positive methods and is familiar with attetnion-seeking behavior.
With any dog, or person for that matter, focus on what you want and like for them to do. Praise them and give them attention when they do things that you want them to do. The more you reinforce what you want them to do, the more they will do it. So, look for the positives and show gratitude when you see it.