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Bossy Demands & Attention Seeking


What to do when your dog wants your attention right NOW and he won't take "no" for an answer.

FIRST: Reduce frustration - for both of you!

Young dogs are like toddlers.  Most tantrums are fueled by frustration.  They are hungry or they need something and don't have the words to ask.  They know what they want but you just don't understand. 


Be pro-active, so he doesn't get frustrated in the first place.  Much like you would give a hungry toddler a snack before you go shopping, when it's getting close to dinnertime, your fussy pup may just need a chewy or food puzzle toy to tide them over.  Is he desperately hungry when he smells food cooking?  Feed your dog his dinner before you start cooking yours, so he won't have a melt down during food prep.  Is he crazy on a leash when you go out in the neighborhood?  Does he bounce around in the car?  Take the edge off his energy with a good game of fetch in the yard before you set out on an outing, so he won't be so fresh when you hit the sidewalk or put him in the car for a ride. 


Next, teach him an alternative behavior to ask for what he needs that is more polite and will work for both you!

A calm alert to tell your person that you need something.  And gradually, learn the ability to wait, if what you want can't happen immediately.

Teach him a better way to ask for what he wants.
Barking, jumping, grabbing your clothing, parading by with off-limits items ...

These are all behaviors used by frustrated dogs when they need or want something and haven't yet learned patience or how to ask. 
Yelling "NO - Stop it! Quit it!" just adds to his frustration.  Getting physical with your dog revs him up more.  Now, you're both mad.


You can spend your time trying to stamp out unwanted and annoying behavior by yelling and punishing and putting the dog in ineffective time-outs.  Or you can put the same amount of time (and much more positive and pro-active energy) into creating behavior you DO want.  The dog will no longer be frustrated or annoying, because he has a communication tool that WORKS!  Good habits can be just as resilient as bad ones!

The dog above wants something ...
Instead of barking or pawing or whining, he's placed his chin on my leg. 


We trained a polite, head rest behavior as a trick.  We taught him to rest his chin in our hand, then generalized the head rest to various locations, like on the arm of the chair, our leg, or our foot.  When it was well understood, we put in on cue.  We rewarded it heavily until it was strong, with good duration, and enthusiastically repeated. 


Next, we watched for times when the dog needed something.  If his ball rolled under the couch, we'd call him to come rest his chin on our lap.  This time, instead of a treat, we rewarded him with a solution to his dilemma. "What do you want? Show me!" and then we'd run with him to solve the problem he was having.  We generalized it to many things the dog might come to us for.  "Are you hungry?  Rest your head!  Yes!  Let's go have dinner!"  "Do you want outside?  Rest your head!  Yes!  Let's go outside!"  Before long, he began offering the trick whenever he needed something. 


Get better at reading your dog.  We don't have mental telepathy, so we'll need to pay close attention to his body language and clues.  Long before they become frustrated, they are communicating their needs.  What a relief to discover you are listening and trying to understand!  They will become more animated when they realize they can show you what they need.  "What do you want?  Show me!"  At first, we respond right away to let him know we appreciate his experimenting.  We let him be a little "bossy" with his head resting, to be sure he knows it will work and that we are listening and understand.  When he is clearly using the behavior as a communication tool, we add a slightly longer duration, delaying the release to "show me" for a few beats, and then a little longer.  We won't always be able to respond right away.  We need the dog to not give up in the event we are on the phone or feeding the baby.  We teach him to patiently hold the position and wait for the "show me" cue, no matter how long it takes.

The best thing about choosing a head rest behavior as your "I need something" alert, is it is QUIET!  A persistent bark alert is a real pain when you are on the phone or if you live in an apartment with thin walls!  A persistent "how heavy can I make my head and how long shall I stare at you" long-duration head rest, can be quietly reinforced with a stroke if you can't respond right away and will only be noticed by you!

You must "starve" unwanted behavior as you build desired habits.

Attention is the fuel for all that barking and pawing.  You must pay zero attention.  But remember, your dog won't need to get upset and act out if he feels heard and understood.  

Through the entire process of teaching an appropriate alert, we ignore any unwanted behavior and put our total focus on showing him what DOES work to get his needs met.  The old annoying attention-seeking behaviors gradually fade from lack of reinforcement.  It simply runs out of gas and is replaced by what DOES work.  There will be occasional recurrences, and even major extinction bursts (temper tantrums) when your dog is over-tired or over-stimulated.  But these, too, will fade with practice and maturity, as long as you don't also fall into YOUR old habits of paying attention to behaviors you don't want!

Do you need one-on-one help with a behavior problem?  We have trainers who do private lessons and behavior consults!  

Click here to get in touch with a trainer to help you with your specific needs.

This handout may be reprinted in its entirety for distribution free of charge and with full credit given:   © CAROL A. BYRNES "DIAMONDS IN THE RUFF" Training for Dogs & Their People -ditr_training @ -

See also: Video links on using the head rest for low-stress grooming and vet care in the right column of our Behavior FAQ page!

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