In my blog last month, I discussed attention-seeking behavior. There are two types of attention seeking behavior: necessary and nuisance. Here, I will discuss why nuisance attention-seeking behavior persists and what to do to stop it.
As I always say in my classes, the consequence of your dog’s behavior is either good or bad – in the dog’s eyes. If the consequence is good, your dog will do this behavior more frequently. If the consequence is bad, your dog will stop doing the behavior.
Good is any form or reinforcement or reward: a treat, a pat on the head, a word of encouragement. Contrary to popular belief, something “good” can also be as simple as a hard look from their owner, a no, a push away or an uh-uh. Yes, even a “no” can be a reward in the dog’s eyes if what they wanted was your attention.
Therefore, the absence of our attention is a very powerful tool. We hold all the good things in our dog’s life and if we ignore them when they are acting inappropriately, this bad consequence will lead your dog to stop doing the behavior.
Another way to stop attention seeking behavior is to avoid it all together. Keep your dog occupied with lots of exercise, play and mental stimulation with things like Kongs or a marrowbone. Think about the times when your dog’s attention-seeking behavior is worst. If it is when you sit down to watch T.V. in the evening, save a frozen Kong just for that time.
The best way to do this is to employ a Nothing in Life is Free (NILF) Protocol, like our trainers discussed in this Google+ Hangout. We often micromanage our dog’s behavior by asking them to sit, sit, sit, sit! What we want our dogs to learn is that offering a sit without being asked is the way for them to get what they want.
How do we teach them this? Choose one specific attention-seeking behavior you want to replace with more polite behavior- for example, maybe your dog is pawing you get you to pet him. Our goal is that he sits rather than paws when he wants to be petted. When the pawing starts, ignore your dog and see if he, on his own, sits. The moment he sits, start petting. If they get up or start pawing, the petting stops. If your dog doesn’t offer sits spontaneously, ask him to sit before petting for several days. Then test your work. Call them to you and then wait. Don’t ask for the sit rather just wait (30 seconds even) to see if they will offer the behavior. When they do, start petting!