The adolescent dog has been busy and bustling since 6:30am. By 3pm he has been relentlessly patrolling the backyard, dug a hole, destroyed some outdoor furniture and barked at scary things moving past the fence. When I saw him in consult he was frantically jumping up and licking his humans face, “ignoring” requests to get down and sit still. My client remarked that “he is constantly seeking attention”.
Clients frequently report that their dog is jumping, barking, nuzzling or licking excessively “for attention”.
Every day at Kalmpets we encounter stories like this in which dog’s behaviour is categorised as attention seeking, without investigating or understanding why dogs need the attention. He is where our current understanding of brain function and behaviour can help us come to a better understanding of “attention seeking” behaviours. An understanding that places responsibility firmly on the humans to understand the message dogs are sending through their behaviours. This leads to a kinder, warmer and loving approach that nurtures the human-animal bond.
Here is my top three tips for getting to the bottom of attention seeking:
- Dogs are unable to speak English, talk about or express thoughts and feelings related to the behaviours, we need to explore the meanings behind the actions. In the first story above the young dog was exhausted and needed help to settle. He isn’t able to express in words “I’m tired and worried and need help to feel safe and settle”
- Appreciate the difference between intentional limit testing and a dog having difficulty meeting a sensory need. The latter would make it an adaptation, something the dog needs on a physical level. It is vital to determine if dogs are reacting to internal needs, as these needs have numerous pathways (emotional, sensory, physiological) that show up in behaviours. Behaviour is only the very tip of the iceberg!
- See if we can change our mindset to give dogs the benefit of the doubt. Turn challenging behaviours into a problem to be solved, providing you with an opportunity to know your dog better from the inside out.
I believe that fur-parents do not choose to ignore the meanings of behaviours or want their dogs to suffer in any way. These situations are the result of a lack of information, inaccurate or out-dated information and not the lack of best intentions. It is also the case that this new way of thinking is not yet mainstream. Our dogs are depending on us to decipher the meaning of their behaviours and to have compassion and an open mind.
The time has come to shift from outdated understanding of “attention seeking” (as well as other canine behaviours like “Aggression”) behaviours and support our little, furry friends who are cognitively very young and counting on us to use up-to-date knowledge to guide them through life.