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Attention seeking

There are many methods dogs will try to attract their owners attention and with this next question that came in the other week it may well be that this is the possible problem.


I hate to bother you, I am sure that you are busy, but I am coming to my wit's end. I have a wonderful, sweet-hearted GSD whom I simply cannot get him housebroken. I have tried crate training, and he seems to have no problem in soiling his crate. I have read several books on the subject, but all that they seem to have to say on that is "if your dog soils his crate, then you have a big problem. They leave it at that. That hasn't really helped me. I know it is not a physical problem, I've had the vet check him, and he seems to have no problems "holding it" when I am not at home.
Any suggestions?

Dogs do seek out our attention for many reasons. They too like comfort and a feeling of being touched along with close contact with their owners. Most of the time we have a good idea when our dogs like to make contact and then other times they just wonder off and do their own things. Depending on the makeup of each dog, some may like human contact for differing reasons. They may be fearful and do need at certain times to feel comforted. Other times dogs maybe they are bored and need something to do so seek us out in differing ways asking us for attention at times not convenient for us.

Some dogs will bark at us whilst others my give us a paw. We find some dogs bringing us toys asking us to play with them. Some will even stretch out in front of us with front legs lowered in a real dog language expression of saying I want to play.

As with this last body signal, it means our dogs know we can read doggy language but not everyone recognises what they are asking for. When this happens, we often teach some other method to our dogs as the only way they can attract our attention because we do get up to play or to something else like chastising them. Because we show attention even to chastise them this it is still a reward and the dog will remember this and will repeatedly use this same method in the future.

We do get cases where dogs will go to the toilet in front of us simply to get our attention. It does seem odd but if we have refused to play with all previous requests because we are busy, our dogs will try out all sorts of different ploys to say, and Hi I am over here and want to play.

In this particular case, I do not know all the details about the dog like when it goes for a walk and how long this lasts. What sort of property the dog lives in like an apartment or a property with a garden with free access. How long and when is the dog in the crate as well as why is it in the crate or how old it is.

I do agree that many writers when confronted by a dog fouling its bed then there is indeed a problem but to write about ways of solving this is difficult as there can be so many reasons. In such situations, most behaviourists do need to see the interaction of owner and their dog to see the language they use and why the dog uses such a tactic.

Sometimes when dealing with dogs going to the toilet some behaviourists do recommend crates because the majority of dogs do not normally foul their bedding. Whilst I do like crates for such reasons there are other reasons this dog is going to the toilet because the owner says it is quite capable of holding on when left alone. Because of this indicator of being able at holding at going to the toilet until the owner comes home it is likely that attention seeking is the reason for its actions.

Often dogs do not see our level of chastisement in the same way as we do. Watch any number of dogs playing together and they are quiet rough. Humans chastising a dog for fouling in the house are effectively seen as playing with them so they now have the owners attention playing a good game. Such a reward as willing to play can make the dog believe that if it defecates in the house it will get its owner to play with it. For humans we think we are scolding the dog even if it cowers at our raised hands but again this is the same body sign shown by one dog with another when they are playing at fighting.

Some years ago, I wrote about a large dog that was bored. It was so bored it chased shadows to occupy its time. Some dogs chase their tails or insects. Others destroy the house as we will interpret it but to a dog, chewing produces endorphins as a reward. This particular dog would even go and remove credit cards from wallets in order to gain the owners interest. Now that is a real attention grabber.

Some time earlier, this dog had come into the house and urinated in the lounge right in front of the owner. She had fortunately read many doggy books some years previously so knew why the dog was doing this. Without looking at her dog, she walked outside knowing her dog would follow. She then went back indoors, closing the dog so her dog could not gain entry and she cleaned up the mess. The dog tried the same trick a few days later only to get the same result and because there was no reward of attention from the owner it never tried this method again. Never the less the dog was still bored but the owners could not or would not spend more time with their dog so leaving the problem unresolved.

For the dog in this recent case, the owner must look at what is happening when her dog defecates in the house when she is at home and try to understand what is gaining from such action. Certainly, for the crate does defecating gain its release?

Chastising the dog is out of the question so if it is possible she does the same as the other owner and resists any temptation at rewarding her dog with any form of attention it will give this method up in the future.


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