Prevent & Treat Attention Seeking Behavior

We as humans naturally want to reach out and pet all animals. If an animal is sleeping, playing, or walking we want to touch.  However we also pet them when they’re jumping, barking, whining, mouthing, etc. What many people don’t realize is that by doing this we are reinforcing the negative behaviors. For example, you come home from work and are greeted by your furry, 80 pound dog with a big jump and bear hug.  You pet Fido, rub his cheeks and give a nice scratching while telling him to get down or off.  What your dog has now learned is that it’s OK to greet a person like this.  He may hear you saying to get down or off but why listen when he’s already being rewarded through petting? This may not bother some people but when Grandma comes over she won’t appreciate the same greeting.

Attention-Seeking may not be an issue in some households but the manner in which some animals solicit petting can be very inappropriate. Attention-Seeking may be as subtle as nudging, rubbing, and pawing, or more obvious like jumping, barking, nipping, and pouncing. In some cases, animals may even steal objects or become destructive through chewing, clawing or going the bathroom. The goal is to get attention by any means possible, even if it’s negative attention.  So how do we promote good behavior and deter negative?

Become more aware of your physical and verbal actions. If your pet is jumping on you say, “Off”. You may need to turn away while doing so to have the dog return all four paws to the floor. Ask the dog to sit and reward once completed.  Through repetition, your pet will learn that if they want attention, then they must sit instead of jumping. The same can be said for a cat that constantly rubs up against your legs. Completely ignore the cat while they’re persistently rubbing.  When the cat remains calm and appropriate reward her through petting, attention, or tasty treats.


  1. Provide your pet with lots of petting, playing and direct attention at least twice per day for about 15-20 minutes. This may be a great time to refresh obedience exercises.
  2. Reward any and all positive and appropriate behavior. This especially includes remaining calm and quiet.
  3. If your pet displays negative behavior (such as mouthing), remember to give the appropriate command (“Leave it”) and redirect their attention to something more appropriate; like a toy.
  4. Resist the urge to interact with the pet if they are inappropriate. This includes pushing the pet off you.  They are looking to get a reaction from you, even if it is a negative response.
  5. If inappropriate behavior continues and other aids don’t work (like a squirt water bottle, air horn, etc), a time-out may be in order till the pet can become calm and quiet.
  6. Be constantly aware of yourself and the pet’s body language.

*Information adapted from Karen L. Overall’s, Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals.

Prevent & Treat Attention Seeking Behavior

Connecticut Humane Society

701 Russell Road, Newington, CT 06111
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Copyright 2013 Connecticut Humane Society

Copyright 2013 Connecticut Humane Society