Attention Seeking Behaviour

Although we love our pets dearly, constant attention seeking behaviour can soon become annoying and embarrassing, especially if it looks like you can't control your dog!  Understand the signs and causes and learn how to stop your Cocker Spaniel demanding your attention!

What Are The Signals?

When a puppy seeks your attention it's often cute and endearing, but when your puppy grows up and wants you all to himself, it can become a very different matter altogether.

And just in case you don't know what I'm talking about, check out the following:

Attention seeking behaviour in a Cocker Spaniel
  • your Cocker Spaniel may be so pleased to see you that he forgets his manners and jumps up just as you're trying to get through the door with your weekly shopping;

  • constant barking to get your attention;

  • jumping on and off the furniture and running round in circles - now that's attention seeking behaviour!

  • he may steal one of your socks, or something else that doesn't belong to him, and run off with it in the hope that you'll chase him;

  • while you're chatting to a friend, or using the telephone, he may bark to try and get you to notice him;
  • sitting on your toes or leaning against you;

  • your dog may try licking you to get you to pet him;

  • pooping and peeing in your home - that definitely get's my attention!

  • he may pick up a toy and circle just outside of reaching distance - again, he's trying to get your attention and is hoping that you'll chase him;

  • your dog may whine for attention (our Cocker used to do this constantly, but by ignoring him, he soon learned that it didn't work!);

  • I've even heard of dogs actually vomiting for attention!

  • begging for food is another attention seeking behaviour;
Black cocker spaniel displaying attention seeking behaviour by begging
  • feigning lameness (Oh, they can be really devious!);

  • he may bring you a toy and place it on your lap;

  • when you're relaxing, reading, or simply enjoying a leisurely cuppa, your dog saunters over and nudges or paws at you, or puts his head on your lap and looks up at you appealingly with those big, brown, liquid eyes. He's asking for attention, a cuddle or some petting - now who could resist that?
  • your Cocker may chew and destroy objects around the house knowing that this always gets a reaction from you;

  • he may pull at your clothes;

  • biting and nipping is another way of grabbing your attention;

  • in extreme cases, some dogs may become aggressive to get what they want;

Do any of these sound familiar to you?  I'm betting that at least some of them do.

Your Cocker Spaniel is using attention seeking behaviour to get what he wants from you.

Never Try To Resolve Cocker Spaniel Aggression Problems Yourself

If your pet's attention seeking behaviour turns to biting or aggression, you may need to seek professional advice and assistance from your vet or an animal behaviourist.

Causes of Attention Seeking Behaviour in Dogs

If your Cocker Spaniel is often demanding your attention, and it's becoming a problem for you, there may be a couple of reasons for this:

Golden cocker spaniel lying on side with one leg in the air
  • Boredom - your dog is often left alone for too long, causing excessive attention seeking behaviour when you return home;

  • Excess energy - your pet may not be getting enough exercise, leaving him with way too much energy.  And don't forget, as well as physical exercise, dogs need mental stimulation too.

  • Your Cocker Spaniel wants something from you and has learned that all he has to do is use one of his attention seeking antics - it's as simple as that!

Keep Boredom At Bay!

Physical exercise and mental stimulation will have a calming, relaxing effect on your pet, so the best thing you can do to help stop your dog becoming bored is to burn off his excess energy and tire him out. 

Ensure your dog has a regular routine of exercise, play, and training (regardless of whether or not he's displaying attention seeking behaviours) along the lines of the following:

Liver and white spaniel standing in water, playing
  • take your dog for a brisk one-hour walk each day or walk him twice a day if you have the time;

  • play a few games with him for 15-20 minutes each day or throw him a ball or a Frisbee to help him to burn off all that excess energy;
  • reinforce his basic obedience training for a few minutes each day. It's easy enough to do and takes no time at all. For example, I ask my Cocker Spaniel to sit and wait before I feed him, before I put his collar on, and always before I open the door to let him in or out - in other words, I make Max work for the attention I give him!
  • I'm sure your Cocker's diet will be healthy, but did you know that hyperactivity can sometimes be caused by certain foods in his diet. If your pet is hyperactive and you're concerned about it, I recommend you have a chat with his vet.

  • give him a job to do - work him! Satisfy his basic hunting instincts by letting him sniff out some hidden treats around the home or in the garden. Encourage him to find them and watch that tail wag!

This in itself may be enough to curb any attention seeking behaviours and you could see an improvement within a week or so!

However, if your Cocker's manners don't improve as much as you'd on for more help and advice!

"The recommended response is to ignore him altogether:
don't speak to him, don't look at him and don't touch him
- in your dog's eyes, these actions are all forms of reward"

Ignore Your Dog's Attention Seeking Behaviour!

Inadvertently Rewarding Your Pet

As we've seen, our pets will try to attract our attention in many different (and sometimes imaginative) ways and our response will usually vary between:

  • giving them what they want, 
  • pushing them away,  
  • shouting at them to be quiet!

All of which are the wrong thing to do - and I bet we've all done the same at some point!

What we often don't realize is that by using our pet's name, or speaking to him (for example, asking him to get down, or to be quiet) or simply touching him (moving him out of the way) are all rewards in your dog's eyes, so in instances like these, we're rewarding him for this behaviour - we’re giving him attention!

Our dogs soon learn that they can get what they want by behaving in a certain way.

Once that happens, these (unwanted) behaviours become habitual...because your dog has learned that it works!...and before you know it, your pet has behavioural problems which you can no longer manage.

Unfortunately, there are many Cocker Spaniels currently sitting in rescue centers because of this lack of understanding.

The Key Is Not To React

When our dogs display attention seeking behaviours we know that giving them what they want, when they want, is inadvisable, however it's okay to respond to certain 'demands' such as wanting a cuddle or a treat....but only on the odd occasion.

But there are other attention seeking behaviours that we simply don't want and shouldn't tolerate at all, such as jumping up, constant barking or whining.

If we give a reaction to our dogs behaviour, we're not only confirming that their antics worked, but we may also be (inadvertently) helping to increase their dominance by following and not leading!

In these circumstances, our dog is controlling us; he's calling the shots, and that's not good. We need to maintain our status as pack leader - the human is the alpha dog - always.

My advice is to always ignore your dog's attention seeking behaviour and reward him only when he's well behaved, or when he's quiet.

It's Ironic that we tend to ignore our dogs when they're quiet, and (unwittingly) reward them (with touch and the sound of our voice) when they're not - the exact opposite of what we should be doing!

So, the next time you see your Cocker behaving well, or resting quietly, why not go over to him and stroke him gently and praise him?

Make a quiet fuss over him and if he rolls over onto his back, rub his belly and tell him he's a 'Good quiet boy'.

Rewarding your dog when he's quiet will help teach him that only good behaviour will get him what he wants.

The objective is to give your Cocker Spaniel lots of attention on your terms; in fact, the same as he gets now, but only when he's good.

How To Stop Your Dog's Attention Seeking Behaviour

The worst punishment you can give an attention seeking dog is to deprive him of your attention and affection, so the next time he's making demands the best thing you can do is ignore him, as follows:

  • Don't react to your dog's demands - remain calm, don't speak to him, don't touch him, and don't make eye contact (your dog will see them all as forms of reward);

  • Continue with what you were doing - for example, unpacking the shopping or reading. I know it doesn't make us feel good to ignore our dogs, but we must teach them to wait quietly until we are ready to give them our time;
Golden cocker spaniel sitting in a field, begging for attention
  • If your dog becomes quiet and sits down, praise him and give him a stroke or a pat, but then carry on with what you were doing;

  • If he continues his attention seeking behaviour, or if he jumps up at you, turn away and continue to ignore him;
  • If that doesn't work - and let's face it, some dogs can be very persistent! - move away from him and continue to ignore him;
  • When it's convenient to attend to him, make eye contact and put him in the submissive 'Down-Stay' position before you fuss over him;
  • If he persists, or becomes boisterous, take him into another room and leave him until he's calmed down. Don't show annoyance or anger, stay in control and remain calm and unemotional.

    If he's barking, don't allow him back into the room until he's quiet for at least 10-20 seconds (the trick is to wait for a lull in the barking and only let him into the room when he's stopped) otherwise he'll learn that barking for attention eventually works!

    Put your dog into the 'Down-Stay' position for a few seconds before letting him back into the room.

If moving him to another room fails, and he continues barking, you may want to consider using a stronger barking deterrent, such as a water pistol or an air spray (this is compressed air used to clean computer keyboards and cameras). Please don't use it anywhere near his eyes.

Either of these may be used each time he uses barking to get your attention. They will startle him into silence, interrupting his behaviour and you should be able to manage him.

If you'd like more information on how to stop your dog barking, you'll find lots of help and advice here.

When your Cocker Spaniel responds in the way that you want him to, you can then give him what he was asking for (food, affection, etc.) because you will be rewarding him for following your commands; you're rewarding his good behaviour NOT attention seeking behaviour!

Attention Seeking Behavior - Summary

There's no such thing as a free lunch so make your dog work for anything that you give him!

Cocker Spaniel running in field, buff coloured
  • Ignore his demands for your time and affection.
  • Make sure he has plenty of exercise.
  • Organize daily play sessions with your dog.
  • Practice basic puppy obedience commands regularly, and reward him each time he gets it right.
  • Reinforce your dog's good behaviour by rewarding him for it and never reward attention seeking behaviour.

The bottom line is, if your dog wants constant attention - give it to him - but do so on your terms - not his!

If, after following the advice given here, you still have a problem with your dog's behaviour, we recommend you consult your vet for advice.

He may be able to offer assistance, or he may refer you to a behavioural therapist.

If your dog continues to bark excessively, and you think it may be something other than attention seeking behaviour, you might find some useful information here.

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