Understanding Attention Seeking Dog Behavior

Posted by Nicole Wanner, D.V.M. on

dog attention seeking

Just like humans, dogs crave attention. While it's natural for your furry friend to want to interact with you, sometimes things can escalate to a degree that disrupts your daily life.

This article will explore how to stop attention-seeking behavior in dogs and maintain a healthy, happy relationship with your pet.

Understanding Attention Seeking Dogs

Common signs of problematic attention-seeking in dogs include:

  • Excessive barking or whining
  • Jumping up on people
  • Constant pawing or nudging
  • Destructive behavior when left alone
  • Following you around

Attention-seeking behavior in dogs is related to conditions like separation anxiety, but they are not exactly the same.

For example, dogs with separation anxiety will misbehave when you're leaving the house or destroy furniture while you're away. In contrast, attention-seeking dogs are more likely to pester you throughout the day while you're at home.

Whether your dog struggles with attention-seeking, separation anxiety, or something else, correctly identifying the problem is essential. Consult your veterinarian to diagnose your dog's anxiety or other issues accurately, check for underlying medical issues, and build an effective treatment strategy.

Why Do Dogs Seek Attention? 

Before we can effectively address how to stop attention-seeking behavior in dogs, we need to understand why dogs pursue attention in the first place.

family with their dog

First, dogs are inherently social creatures. Their ancestor, the wolf, lives in large family groups. Additionally, we've bred dogs over thousands of years to work closely with humans.

As a result, our dogs need frequent, positive human interaction. This trait is a normal part of being a dog (1).

Compassionately Stopping Dog Behavior Problems

While we all appreciate our dog's love, there are times when their desire for attention can be disruptive.

Some anxious dogs need too-frequent reassurance and will paw your lap repeatedly rather than settle down.

Other dogs have learned that barking, jumping, or whining gets the attention of their favorite humans, even if that attention involves being scolded. It's a learned behavior like any other. Like young children, dogs follow the saying, "negative attention is better than no attention at all."

It's important to remember that your dog isn't trying to annoy you or be "bad."

Your pup is simply trying to communicate in the only way they know how. Remembering this fact can help you address your dog's attention-seeking compassionately and effectively.

Corrections for Attention-Seeking Dogs

Addressing your dog's inappropriate attention-seeking will take a combined approach and a lot of patience. Making small changes every day will help your dog build lasting good habits.

4 actionable tips

Here are our top tips for reducing your dog's attention-seeking behavior.

1. Consider Basic Needs

As we've discussed, attention-seeking in dogs is an attempt to communicate. However, knowing what your dog wants can be challenging. So, it's best to start with your dog's basic needs.

Well-behaved dogs share some key traits: they are physically healthy, have a predictable schedule, and receive adequate physical and mental stimulation.

Dogs that are sick are unlikely to respond to new training strategies. Similarly, exercise can help your pup relax and reduce attention-seeking behavior. Our furry friends are also creatures of habit.

Set mealtimes and playtimes can reassure your dog and lead to less attention-seeking.

2. Ignore the Bad, Reward the Good

Once your dog's basic needs are met, the thing to try is ignoring the behavior you want to discourage. In other words, avoid giving your dog any attention (positive or negative) when they paw your lap, jump up, or whine.

Some dogs will get the message and settle down nearby, while other dogs whine harder. If your pup doubles their efforts, continue ignoring the unwanted behavior as best you can.

Sending clear signals with your body language will help your dog understand your intent. You can look away, turn your face and body away, and fold your arms to clarify the message. For pushier dogs, you may need to stand up.

In addition to ignoring attention-seeking, reward your dog for good behavior. This step can be as simple as praising your dog or giving them a healthy treat when they're calm and quiet.

3. Teach a New Command

You may be thinking, "When I praise my dog for being calm, they get up and come over to seek attention!" Your dog may get confused in this way at first, but don't worry. Teaching a simple new command will help you and your pup communicate.

When you'd like your dog's attention-seeking behavior to stop, use a gentle but firm voice to say, "That's enough." At the same time, pat your dog on the top of the head three times (2).

Using the same number of head pats every time will help your dog recognize the signal: you want to be left alone. If your dog confuses these pats with petting, you can point across the room while saying "that's enough" instead.

4. Consider Professional Help

While attention-seeking behavior in dogs can be frustrating, it's essential to approach the situation with patience and understanding. Remember, your dog isn't trying to annoy you—they're just trying to communicate their needs.

Dog behavior advice can be overwhelming, so remember to keep it simple. Try one new strategy at a time, and if there's no progress after a few weeks, move on to something new.

Whether you're just starting out or have tried everything, consider getting help from a professional. A veterinary behavior specialist or qualified dog trainer can provide tailored advice for your dog's unique needs. With time, patience, and consistency, you can help your dog become a well-behaved, content member of the family.


1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23734243/

2. https://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/thanks-but-thats-  enough-how-to-discourage-relentless-attention-seekers

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Dr. Nicole Wanner graduated from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine in 2018. Currently, she is an academic research veterinarian studying CBD and DNA. Her research has been published in trusted international research journals. Dr. Wanner is passionate about pet wellness and has professional interests in genetics, behavior, and healthy aging. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and reading sci-fi novels. She shares her home with her husband Evan and their two mischievous rescue cats, Sylvie and Nemo.
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