While it might seem counterintuitive, ignoring your dog can sometimes work as a useful training tool.
The idea is that when you react to an unwanted behavior, you are actually rewarding the behavior. So ignoring behavior is particularly helpful when what the dog seeks is your attention. Here are some situations when ignoring your dog may work.
You come home from work and your dog excitedly greets you at the door. He gets more and more worked up and starts jumping. You firmly tell him no and push him off you, and he jumps on you again. By speaking to your dog and reacting to him, you are inadvertently rewarding him with attention—even if it’s negative. In fact, he may even perceive you pushing him off as playing. Instead, as soon as he jumps, without saying a word, turn your back to him and cross your arms. When he stops jumping, you can tell him good boy and pet him. If he jumps again, turn your back again. This may take some repetition.
There are a variety of reasons why a dog barks and whines, but when you think he’s doing it for attention, try ignoring it to stop the unwanted behavior. For example, you are sitting watching TV and he’s staring at you. He wants some playtime, but you are transfixed by Downton Abbey. Soon, your dog starts whining. You stop the program and tell him to stop. You resume the program, and the whine turns into a bark. You stand up, look at him and tell him to stop again. He stops and you sit back down again. Then, he starts barking. Your dog is learning that the whining and barking are the only things keeping your attention away from Downton Abbey and trained on him. Instead of telling him to stop, try ignoring the behavior until it stops. As soon as it stops, reward him with attention.
Puppies are often known for mouthing behaviors, but left unchecked, some dogs may continue to use mouthing for attention into adulthood. It can be handled in the same way as jumping. When it happens, immediately turn your back and cross your arms, and only give attention when the dog is calm and stops the behavior.
Your dog will find all sorts of ways to get your attention, including stealing important things from you—like your purse or shoes. The last thing you want to do in this situation is run around chasing your dog and yelling at him. All you are doing is creating a fun, attention-filled game for him that will encourage him to continue this behavior. Of course, if your dog is in danger of choking or if the item is otherwise dangerous, getting the item away from your dog is the priority. But if it’s a benign item, don’t run after him. Try ignoring him and there’s a good chance he’ll drop the item when he gets no attention. Make sure to keep the item hidden from him in the future to avoid temptation.
Some dogs will simply beg for attention. They might shove their face on your lap or be pushy. If you reward the behavior by giving attention, your dog will keep doing this. Ignore him, and when he stops the behavior, give him attention.
When dogs are really looking for attention, they may engage in a series of behaviors they know will get a rise out of you. It will be things they know they are not supposed to do. If they are not in any kind of danger from the behavior or behaviors (for instance, eating something bad from the garbage), ignore the behavior and reward when the behavior stops.
The key to helping prevent negative, attention-seeking behaviors from your dog is by giving him plenty of love, attention and playtime. If he uses bad behavior to get your attention, do the best you can not to enable the behavior. Ignoring a behavior may not always work (especially when he finds another reward other than your attention), but it can serve as a trick to keep in your back pocket for when you're dealing with a challenging dog.
Jessica Peralta has been a journalist for more than 15 years and an animal lover all her life. She has had dogs, cats, birds, turtles, fish, frogs, and rabbits. Her current children are a German shepherd named Guinness and a black kitten named Riot (and he lives up to that name). It’s because of her love for animals that she focused her journalistic career to the world of holistic animal care and pet nutrition. In between keeping Riot and Guinness out of mischief, she’s constantly learning about all the ways she can make them healthier and happier.