[Guide] Dealing with Attention and Demand Barking in Dogs

Author: K. Marie Altoby K Marie Alto Updated 12 min read

Attention and Demand Barking in Dogs

Some dogs 🐕 are quiet and attentive. They sit passively – but watchfully – by their master's side, always ready to guard or play or perk up when necessary, but controlled.

Some are highly trained service animals, attentive and clever, anticipating needs and carefully, cautiously guiding the person 🧔 who relies on them.

Others seem like hellions, attention-seeking creatures who demand every bit of time from their poor, frazzled parents.

It doesn't matter if you want to spend a few minutes reading, watching the latest episode of your favorite TV show, answering some emails, or chatting with a friend.

Princess 👸 there notices that the attention isn't on them, and so they react the only way they know how to get it back: bark, bark, bark.

If the latter example sounds like your pup🐶, you’re in the right place. Today we’re going to talk about how to address the problem of attention-seeking barking.

As usual I’ve thrown in a great educational video📽️. This time on anti-bark dog shock collars and why you should never use one. Believe me, if you are considering one, you won't anymore, and if you are using one already, you will most likely stop using it.

Happy learning and sharing!

What is Demand Barking?

Demand Barking is the official name for the behavior of a dog that barks in order to get something they want, no matter what it is they want, what time of day it is, or how feasible it is to get.

A Dog Demand Barking Image by Toe Beans

If they want food, they bark. If they want to go on a walk, they bark. If they have an itch they want you to scratch, they bark. If they see a toy they want to play with, they bark.

If they experience an epiphany about the nature of the universe and, with their new cosmic viewpoint, need to express what they see to their parents, guess what? They bark!

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Dogs are Smart Learners: The Two-Way Street of Training

Demand Barking is just one of a spectrum of attention-seeking behaviors. Dogs are smart!

We train them, but at the same time, training is a two-way street, they train us too.

Yep, that’s right, you may have been trained by your pup and you don’t even realize it, but think about it:

  • When your fur baby needs to go potty, how do they let you know? They've developed a specific behavior that trains you to take them out. A bark? Perhaps a scratch at the door?
  • When they're hungry, what do they do? They probably have a behavior that lets you know it's mealtime.
  • When they want to play, what do they do? Maybe bring a toy to you, maybe go sit by the toy box; a behavior they know will eventually catch your attention and get you to play.

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The Connection between Attention-Seeking and Mental Fulfillment

Attention-seeking behavior comes from dogs that are generally not mentally fulfilled as much as they want to be.

While the above behaviors are all legitimate needs for a dog, if your pup doesn't actually want to go out or eat but they know they get your attention by acting like they do, they might start doing so just to seek your attention.

Your dog may be simply bored and trying to get your attention for some stimulation.

“Make sure she’s (your dog) getting enough daily exercise and has opportunities to spend time with you. A bored or lonely dog will bark out of a desperate need for more connection.” - Oregon Humane Society

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Your Response Shapes Your Pup’s Behavior

Consider how you respond when your pup barks for seemingly no reason.

For example, if you just went on a walk and it’s not mealtime, do you give him/her some scratches? Perhaps you toss a toy across the room? Do you call your pup over and talk to them?

All of these actions are teaching your dog that by barking they can get some sort of attention from their favorite person, you.

Demand barking is simply the most common attention seeking behavior likely because it's the most disruptive thing a dog can do to get your attention quickly.

I'll refer to it as demand barking or attention seeking throughout this post but remember that it's more than just barking all the time.

Decide on an Acceptable Level of Barking

It’s important to determine a healthy level of barking, which is fairly subjective and might be directly related to the type of dog you have.

This is not to say that the dogs in question never bark, just that they've learned that there's a time and a place for barking.

Generally, they've been taught that barking is an emergencies-only behavior or even part of a trick like "speak!" and not something they can just do all the time. That kind of training takes time, but it's a good end goal for your training program.

A Barking Dog Image by Toe Beans

So, do you want your pup to be seen and not heard? Do you want them to warn you when someone is coming up the driveway or near the house, but not when you're away from home? Do you want them to vocalize occasionally, on command or otherwise? Do you not mind a little barking, but only in the right contexts?

Decide what you want as your ideal end goal, but keep in mind breaking the cycle is going to be a learning process and won’t happen overnight.

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Breaking the Cycle of Demand Barking

The first thing to do with an attention-seeking pup is determining what behaviors they're exhibiting to get attention and then steadfastly ignoring them.

I’m not going to lie to you, it's going to be difficult, it might tug at your heartstrings, and it’s definitely going to be annoying, but it needs to be done.

A Quiet Dog Image by Toe Beans

There's no way to gradually ease into this particular part of the process. Remember it took your pup some time to learn that barking resulted in something they enjoy, so you have to unteach that behavior.

It’s probably worth discussing what to do if you work from home and you’re on a conference call and your pup goes to town barking for your attention to refocus on him/her.

This is the ultimate challenge where you’ll either need to stay muted to let your pup bark it out without reward or you’ll need to relocate to find a quiet place to continue your call.

Giving in and distracting your pup with scratches or a toy, while extremely tempting, is only going to distract from the training you do when you’re not on a work call.

The key in starting is differentiating what your fur baby does when they just want attention versus what they do when they have a legitimate need. Often, if you look, you can tell the difference between a dog that really needs to go out to potty and a dog that just wants your attention when you take them out.

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Similarly, a dog that's barking for a legitimate reason is going to be different than one that is just barking because the attention you give them (in exchange for their silence) is what they're really after.

Make no mistake: this is going to take resilience. Your pup will bark for attention and redouble their efforts when it doesn't work. You have to ignore it. Stay strong!

Be forewarned, your dog may also try to escalate when simple barking doesn't work. They might also start misbehaving in other ways, such as threatening to piddle on the carpet, jumping up on furniture they aren't allowed on, or doing other things they know are wrong because the desire for attention is too strong.

Whatever you do, don't reinforce this by giving them attention, because all you'll do is make things worse.

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Depending on the age of your dog and how long this behavior has been going on, breaking the cycle and starting to build more wholesome training can take anywhere from a week or two all the way up to a couple of months.

Thankfully, dogs of almost any age can learn new tricks, despite the old saying.

Training Method: The Quiet Command

Now you can start working on training your fur baby to be quiet. There are a few different methods you can try, but the quiet commend method is one of the most common and most favored. Here's how it works.

A Dog Seeking Attention Image by Toe Beans

First, you need to learn how to trigger the attention-seeking behavior. Generally, this is pretty simple: just start focusing on something other than your dog. Watch TV, read a book, play on your phone; whatever it is, just do it while slyly listening to your fur baby.

When they start to demand attention, acknowledge them, but don't give them any attention. No treat, no praise, no talking; just glance at them, then go back to ignoring them.

This is, ironically, where you're paying the most attention to them.

Watch and wait and listen, and when they stop barking, issue a command word (like "Quiet" or "Hush") and give them a treat. This begins the reinforcement process; they got a treat and heard a word when they stopped barking. You can follow this up with a bit of attention and praise, but don't go too overboard.

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A key takeaway here is that the praise and command word should be done during a quiet moment. Be careful not to reward a bark.

Now, over the next days and weeks, repeat this process. Whenever you're doing something else – or when you induce the behavior – listen for when they stop barking, issue the command, and reward them.

Critically, though, only issue your command once. If you need to shout "hush" at them five or six times before they listen, you're not effectively training them. Issue the command, and if they keep barking, go back to ignoring them. ONLY reward them when they stay quiet.

Once you've established this pattern, and they’ve learned the command, then you can start issuing it while they're still barking.

Since they associate three things – the lack of barking, the command, and the treat – all together, they'll start to respond to the command with the lack of barking in expectation of the treat.

Initiating Attention

Another related aspect of training a dog with a demand barking issue is establishing yourself as the one who initiates the attention.

You don't want your dog to know that they can demand attention; you want them to know that it only comes when you want to give it.

Dog Owner Initiating Attention Image by Toe Beans

Any time you want to start a training and play session, use a verbal command to begin. It might be "Let's play!" or whatever, and you can develop different commands for different situations.

Tug of war with their rope, fetch, walks; these can all have different initiating commands.

Start the session with the command, then do the playtime, walk, trick training session, or whatever else you want it to be associated with. After a few repetitions (five or ten minutes of playing, a few tricks), you reward them along with a "no more" command.

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What you're basically doing is training an on-and-off switch into your fur baby. One command initiates a fun activity and ends with a treat; the other ends playtime and tells your dog it's time to rest or play on their own.

To make it even more effective, when playtime is over, don't leave them alone; stay in the room, doing your own thing and ignoring them. Make it abundantly clear that when you say it's time to stop, it stops.

Tips for Training

Before we close out, it's important to give a few tips about training and how to train a dog most effectively.

First off, the rewards. Training relies on high-value rewards to associate with behaviors. This will generally be your fur baby's favorite treat.

Training a Dog Image by Toe Beans

Try to save these treats for when they're most impactful, and don't just give them out when you feel like giving your pup a snack.

Dogs are very hard-wired to respond to behavioral reinforcement! If you give them a reward, they'll think about what they were just doing and assume that will get them another reward. Reinforcing that behavior creates a pattern.

Another important part of training is consistency. Especially in the early days of training a behavior – or lack thereof – you need to be consistent in watching for the behavior and rewarding it when you see it.

In the case of something like demand barking, that means watching for something that would trigger their barking and rewarding them when they don't bark.

One of the most common mistakes pet parents make with training is being very empathetic and emotional.

They feel like they're restricting or punishing their dogs when they train them like this, so they try to give comfort treats or end-of-day rewards, or some other kind of emotional support for their fur baby.

Unfortunately, dogs don't really have that kind of long-term conception of behavior and overall emotional state the same way people do, so this kind of inconsistency can cause problems.

Speaking of consistency, another important aspect of training is getting other people involved.

If you're rigid with training, but your partner, roommate, spouse, or children encourages bad behavior, is inconsistent with rewards, or otherwise just violates the "rules" of the behavioral association, it will get muddied.

You'll end up with a dog that is well-behaved around you but a wild creature around other people, which is the opposite of what you want.

Keep in mind that all of this will only work if your fur baby is already living a fulfilling and happy life.

If you're trying to train your dog to stop barking, but they're barking because they're injured or because they're ignored for a full day at a time, you're going to have a much, much harder time breaking them of that behavior.

Bored, anxious, sick, or otherwise unhealthy dogs will have a harder time internalizing training. So, make sure your fur baby gets enough attention and that their health is good before you dig into the training.

Exercise is extremely important, and the amount needed can vary greatly depending on breed. A pup with excess energy will find unproductive ways to expend it.

“The solution to your dog barking could sometimes be more simple [sic] than you think. It begins with providing your dog plenty of exercise via the walk, along with discipline by giving him jobs to do and commands to learn.” - Cesar Millan

So, make sure your pup has ways to occupy themselves when they aren't getting attention from you. Self-serve toys or puzzles can be a huge benefit for mental stimulation.

Should I use an anti-barking collar on my dog?

No, you should not. The use of anti-barking dog collars is inhumane. We highly recommend dog parents to avoid the deployment of such tools.

The main problem with corrective dog collars is that they “train” or should we say force your dog not to bark at all. Of course, not to mention the fact that some of them inflict pain and others cause physical discomfort as well as psychological trauma.

“The RSPCA is opposed to the use of anti-barking collars that deliver aversive stimuli such as high-pitched sounds, electric shocks, or citronella. These devices are inhumane as they are designed to deliberately cause suffering​ [1, 2]​.” - The Royal Society For The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals - RSPCA

As discussed above, preventing your dog from barking at all is not something you want.

Check out this great educational video about shock collars by CNET

Further, no dog parent should ever punish their dog for expressing themselves in one of the ways nature intended for them. Barking is a totally natural behavior for dogs.

Can you imagine if you were forced to not utter words?

Be aware that you will likely find some of those collars marketed as “humane anti-bark collars” on the largest ecommerce sites and big box retailers, don’t be fooled, it’s another marketing gimmick.

Other than training, any device that forces your dog to not act naturally should be deemed inhumane.

The end goal here is to train your dog on when it is appropriate and acceptable to express themselves by barking and not to mute them forever.

Tell Me Your Story!

Have you had an attention-seeking fur baby before? If so, how did you train it out of them, if you did? Did you use the method above, or some variation of it, or something else entirely?

A Dog With Their Owner Image by Toe Beans

I love hearing stories about your fur babies, so please, leave them in the comments. Tell me all about your training adventures and how well they've worked!

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more

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