Dog Training Guide: Positive & Negative Attention

The Attention Factor:

Dogs are motivated by attention. They live for it, love it, and will do anything to keep the spotlight focused on them. Does this remind you of a three-year-old? Well, add to this similarity the fact that they don’t care whether the attention is negative or positive.


Power of Positive Attention:

When I ask my clients what they do when they catch their dog resting or chewing a bone quietly, most say, “Nothing. It’s a moment of peace.” I appreciate such honesty; however, that’s when they ought to be showering their dog with attention. Not wild, twist-and-shout, hoot-and-holler attention, just calm, soothing, loving attention that makes them smile inside. Soft whispering praise is best mixed with a massage-like pat. Remember my mantra?

Your dog will repeat whatever you pay attention to.

So you decide. What would you rather have? A dog that stays by your side with a chew bone or a frantic sock stealer that races around the house like a maniac? If you like the sock stealer, stop reading. But if the bone-chewer image appeals to you, stick with me—we’re going places!


The Irony of Negative:

I want to give you something to chew now to whet your appetite! Picture a very excited jumping dog. You’re trying to read the paper calmly, but he wants your attention. What if you tried to correct the dog by pushing him down and screaming “Off!”? In all likelihood, the dog will jump again. Do you know why? Because you just gave him attention. Attention in a dog’s mind includes anything from dramatic body contact to a simple glance. Yes, even looking at your dog will reinforce his behavior.

Jumping Excited Dog
Jumping Excited Dog

Does this blow your mind? Though it may sound far-fetched at first, it’s actually pretty elementary. Dogs think of us as other dogs. If they get excited and then we get excited, we’re following their lead. The fact that you might be upset with their behavior just doesn’t register. Being upset is a human emotion.

Excitement and body contact is a dog thing. Even if you push your dog so hard that he stops and slinks away, the only thing you’ve accomplished is scaring your dog. And who wants to train a dog through fear? Trust me, there’s a better way.

Let me give you another example. What happens if a dog grabs a sock and everyone in the household stops to chase him. Dog party? You bet. Because the puppy views everybody as a dog, he’s thinking, “What fun!” as he’s diving behind the couch and under the table. Chasing doesn’t come across as discipline; it comes across as prize envy—” Whatever I have must be really good because everyone wants it!”

Now you’re wondering how to resolve these problems. We’ll get there, I promise, but for now, keep in mind that out-of-control negative attention reinforces the very behavior you’re trying to change. I know it’s frustrating. But read on and be patient.

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