Thursday, July 14, 2011

Does Your Dog Bark to Get Attention?

By Linda Cole

One reason a dog might end up in a shelter is because their owner didn't understand why they did certain things, such as bark excessively. Dogs bark when they're playing, bored, alerting us to danger or because they want attention. Separation anxiety and barking for attention are two different things, but both need to be dealt with before the barking gets out of hand.

There are a variety of reasons why a dog might develop separation anxiety, which I explained in my article “Is it Separation Anxiety, or Something Else?” Barking to get attention is more like the child who keeps tugging on his mom's arm while she's talking to someone else. If Mom stops talking and pays attention to the child, an onlooker might say the child is spoiled. Dogs that bark to get attention are also classified as being spoiled. I agree that you can't allow your dog to try and manipulate your attention by constantly barking. However, referring to a dog or child as being spoiled links behavioral problems to a word that can be offensive to some and often is not true about either the child or the dog.

Dogs learn what we teach them, and we teach them a lot even when we don't know it. Small dogs can easily become attention-getting barkers because they are small and it's easy to pick up your small dog when he's standing with his paws on your leg or lap and barks to get your attention. He learns the way to get your attention is to jump up and bark and you will pick him up. Some dogs bark when they are outside and can't see their owner. The difference between barking for attention and separation anxiety can be seen in their body language and in the sound of their bark.

Puppies learn quickly that barking or whining gets us to pick them up and give them attention, and some adult dogs will continue the behavior. When Keikei was a pup, she never barked for attention. However, as she matured into a young adult, she did start barking to get our attention. Keikei is not a spoiled dog. She's loved and she knows it, but she also knows she won't get what she wants by barking.

If your dog barks constantly or whines and you’re certain it's not caused by separation anxiety or medical problems, barking for attention can be corrected by ignoring their barking and with consistent training. You need to ignore the barking because if you yell at them or show them any kind of attention, you're rewarding them for barking or whining. Even negative attention is attention as far as a dog is concerned. So begin your training by completely ignoring your barking dog. Then, get out the CANIDAE TidNips™ treats and do some dog training.

Start by teaching your dog to sit. When he's barking or whining nonstop and insisting that you pay attention to him, show him a treat and have him sit. Don't give him the treat or attention until he's sitting quietly. You need him to learn that if he wants your attention, he has to behave and work for it. Have him sit whenever you're giving him attention. It doesn't matter if you're sitting down or standing. If he starts to paw at your arm or leg, whining or barking, have him sit first and then give him the attention he's asking for. He will learn to sit politely to ask for attention instead of barking and demanding attention. Read “How to Train a Dog to Sit” if you need some pointers.

You want your dog to learn he will get the attention he wants when he is quiet and calm. Think of an attention seeking dog as a work in progress that just needs some refining to become a well mannered pet. Training your dog is fun for both of you, as long as you do it with lots of praise, patience and consistency. Most dogs learn how to sit quickly and when you teach him to sit before you feed him or give him attention, he learns he doesn't have to bark or whine to get your attention. Plus, he's learning an important basic command all dogs should know.

Photo by Marj Kibby

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. Thanks for this post, Linda. I'm going to share it with some friends whose dogs bark for attention!

  2. I have always been very lucky in that I worked at home all my life so to speak so my dogs and cats were with me always.The only time my dogs bark is when there is something different going on in their world such as someone coming to the door and that doesn't last very long. But I can see how this might be a problem with some people that are gone to work all day.

  3. There are dogs in our neighborhood that bark all day long. To me it is like a HUGE sounding notification that their owners are gone. It a beacon of, "The house is empty no-one is home." It is scary because to me it makes our neighborhood a target for thieves.

    We taught our dogs when I was growing up that it was ok to bark when there was a need. And sometimes they "needed" attention. :-)
    Our dogs, while they were our pets and loved and spoiled they still had a job and that was to guard and protect. So when they barked we paid attention. We would go see if there was something in the yard or going on. When there was not they were still told they were good, but it was now no longer a barking issue. They were not allowed to bark all day long or for no reason. I think people think it is ok to let their dogs bark all the time. I do not feel that is fair to the animal nor the neighbors. I also understand that it takes time to train a dog and some people don't make the time so they end up with a neglected dog that barks all the time. The dog gets labeled a nuisance and it is just that it was not trained.

    A bark is a form of communication. It is up to the owner to figure out what the dog is trying to communicate.


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