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Approval seeking or attention seeking?

November 5, 2011

These are signs and symptoms, not to be ignored.


Jumping up is nearly always viewed, by both positive and
negative trainers as A Major Sin. It certainly rates near the top of the list
of most dog owners as an undesirable behaviour. The behaviour can vary from a flying,
direct midriff punch, scratching your legs, or eye level shoulder blasts. But
if we could empty our minds of the traditional view that This Is a Bad Thing,
we may begin to see the behaviour as a sign or symptom of an underlying need
that is being dismissed.

Often jumping up is viewed as “attention seeking”,
which expert advice tell us needs suppression as opposed to attention. Our dogs
are not there to be “seen but not heard”, why are we suppressing a
desire for interaction? A common protocol for reinforcement trainers: “cue
sit, good sit, feed sit”, or punishment trainers: “ignore the dog for
demanding attention as any attention may be viewed as reinforcing”. Can
you imagine turning up at a much anticipated event and everyone turns their
back on you? Being ignored will either deeply upset you, and at the very least
may drive a more demanding need to be noticed.

Pup greeting adult

Quiz accepting a paws-on greeting from her pup

Jumping up is purely a side effect of the physical
difference in our height. Pups greet the faces of their seniors, often with
paws, but they don’t greet their butt or tail – always the face. Because our
face is waaay up the in the sky, and often facing away from the dog, the pup is
driven to place feet on us to bring that delicious and important face

Let’s look at each individual situation where jumping up may
occur. Firstly, when we greet the dog after an absence, our reunion. The dog
will want to re-connect, to know our relationship is on a good basis. This is
super-important to them, their lives often revolve around that relationship,
otherwise why live with people? They will ask what sort of day we have had and
want to tell us about their day – why would you want to ignore that? Imagine
the child coming home from school bursting with news about their day and you
turn away and ignore them? Stuffing their mouth with cake because you are too
busy is not going to satisfy their need for You, no one else, to give them some
focus and listen to them. Cake is not a solution, it is a cheap, avoidance ploy,
it is you they want. They want to feel that you value them, which hardly
takes more than a minute, 60 seconds. Are dogs any different?

We then have The Visitors jump-on. If any half intelligent
puppy watches our behave it certainly appear that we jump on people in a big
way – lots of hugs, kisses, raised voices and excitement. Are they supposed to
ignore this or attempt to mimic our emotional responses? Greeting by sniffing
genitals is appropriate for loose dogs on their own agenda, but I would add the
rule “only when offered”. If I do not offer my genitals for sniffing
then good manners dictate you Do Not sniff!

If your dog is turning to Strangers for reinforcement then
this needs to be addressed with the earliest possible intervention. Strangers
should not be greeted – I cannot see a future where you would wish your dog to
go to strangers for reinforcement or interaction. The future is a dog that runs
up to everyone and anyone uninvited. Often the behaviour begins in the
attractively packaged “I have a puppy” invitation, and the stranger
obliges our need for attention and interaction by greeting the puppy. Where is
this going? Do you want your class time to be a struggle to secure your dog’s
focus to you? Because this time last year when they were cute and cuddly
everyone interacted with your puppy and proudly you opened up to this. Do you
want to lose your dog in the park when they see strangers? I would suggest that
many of the adult dogs I see for rehabilitation that have anxieties about
strangers touching them have a history of being fondled as puppies and had no
option to move away or say “no thanks”.

There is also a genetic component, we have selectively
drifted towards “friendly” dogs, and I speak from experience that
this is not a blessing. Having a dog that regards the whole world as their pack
can be a long term nuisance. Ideally we need to breed, develop and reinforce a
dog who is indifferent to strangers, friendly with friends that you
invite for interaction.

We can follow this with “you need to listen to me”
jump up. This you will remember as a child – the adults are talking and you
NEED the bathroom. Usually this does not suddenly occur so good manners can be
employed to request attention when there is a natural break in the
conversation. This reminds me of the waitress/server in a restaurant, it is
good manners to wait for the eaters to give you eye contact, not to interrupt
their conversation to ask “can I get you anything”. Now that IS negative
attention seeking.

Looking at each situation there are clearly different
appropriate protocols.

Greeting, or re-uniting after being apart, should be
indulgent, sincere and full of affection, but not crazy arousal and high pitch
celebration. This is setting the dog up for exuberant jumping and barking. Their
arousal is understandable if they have been alone for several hours, the
solitary situation has ended which is a reason to jump for joy. Make sure both
your hands are free of shopping or coats or keys, take hold of the dog by the
collar to prevent getting a black eye, and bend over to calmly offer proximity
to your face for some “air-licking”. For health reasons I don’t like
dog-gob all over my face (read: nasty red weals erupting), so the proximity
licking will satisfy the dog’s need for social approval without the need to
make you regurgitate. If your dog is used to parking, this collar restriction
will not bother them. Perhaps add some very slow hand stroking as well to
induce some calmness. The face proximity is only suitable for safe dogs, it is
not appropriate to ask strangers to perform this, or children. Face proximity
is what causes the jumping – the need for social approval from your face. If
bending down for this is not practical, set up a platform where the small dog
can jump onto for that precious moment of reunion.

For the strangers passing by, put your dog into park, and
have the wherewithal to ask them to pass on by, after verbally admiring your
canine friend at a reasonable distance. A friend of mine has red hair and can
remember her child hood in the 60’s when touching red hair was obviously
“good luck”. Yuck. This would not be allowed now and considered
extremely invasive. I think we need to progress in that direction with our
dogs. Strangers should not presume to touch your dog.

For the Visitors and Friends, again ask them to give you a
few seconds to park your dog, and explain to them the air licking
possibilities, or preferably a gentle offering of the palm of hand to the side
of the face. This can long term develop into hand greeting rather than face
greeting which is my preferred behaviour when several need to be valued and
reconnected at the same time. If your dog is physically very pushy with the
greeting the parking will help reduce the demanding nature and teach them that
their need for approval will be met, and does not need to be demanded. Good
manners will be rewarded.

The question is whether feeding a dog for sitting meets
their need to social approval or actually gets in the way causing a barrier?
Maybe you want a hug from a friend, not another slice of cake?

Completely separately you can teach your dog to allow
husbandry from strangers, there are plenty of training cues when you handle
them to position, or place on grooming tables. This is learning tolerance of
handling, not greeting.

Other attention seeking behaviour that needs our attention
is the interruptions when you are working on the computer/gardening/watching TV
etc. I regard the canine comfort level as: “be nearby and visit often.”
Speck will settle in the lounge behind the sofa, his preferred spot. Every
20-25 minutes he comes around for a “we OK?” moment. Reliably, not
cued by the adverts, but always within the half hour. It takes me 5 seconds to
convey: “sure, we’re OK”. He returns to his spot contend to settle
down again. But I have lived with enough collies to ban all toys from the room
where settling down is the desired behaviour. Demanding attention for the soul
is NOT the same as demanding play or food from your plate.

Mabel was the very devil as a youngster tapping the door to
go out. I would leave the computer, usually still focussed on the work, let her
out, return and sit down, 5 seconds later she would tap to come back in. It
took me a year to realise she didn’t want to go out, she just needed attention.
After recovering from that smack between the eyes, on the door-tap cue I would
invite her over to the side of my chair, we exchanged some breath, (Mabel never
licked faces) and after 10 seconds of deep discussion about the slow progress
of rainy Tuesday mornings she would go back and settle down, never needed to go
out. How much does 10 seconds cost?

I assure you the dog is not the only benefit of that golden
interaction. It is good to be reminded we are valued and we valued them as
well. How can you be too busy for that?

To review:

  • Ignoring or suppressing the need for approval can make the
    behaviour more frenetic, even with reinforcement for self control in the sit
    you may not be satisfying their need. Take an extra minute for each re-union
    opportunity to value your dog, without excitement and notice how the need to
    jump and be noticed reduces.
  • Look to the future of a behaviour, see where that delightful
    puppy behaviour is heading and question whether this is an appropriate
    behaviour for the adult dog. Stranger friendly puppies are attractive, stranger
    friendly adults may not be.
  • Maintain your contract with your dog before social pressure
    from visitors. You can explain the protocol to people, they can wait. Your
    priority is to employ the protocol, parked greeting, for the dog first.
29 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2011 3:28 pm

    Fabulous post. I need to print this and take it to the people that my dog loves (and jumps on) and let them understand why she does it.

    **Strangers should not presume to touch your dog.**
    and for this point as well ! I was in the local feed merchants this morning and they had a sale on for dog stuff. Dogs are allowed in so the place looked more like a kennel than an agricultural feed store. One man was greeting all the dogs and rapidly stopped that behaviour when one dog bit him. I was dismayed to see the the one who was punished was the dog. She simply defended her space from a uninvited stranger.

    The discussion I had with the staff about it (who I knew well) resulted in someone coming out after me (sadly not the person who unjustly punished their dog) when I left to ask when my dog training classes would be starting. We chatted for about 20 mins and she was eager to come to the new classes I will set up…..thank you Kay Laurence for my CAP 2 🙂

  2. November 5, 2011 3:50 pm

    Thanks Kay,
    here in Los Angeles, CA, I’ve been trying to make this point with my clients for a year and a half, now. My main focus has been from the perspective of attachment, or its absence, due to the high number of separation anxiety cases presented to me. So I started researching attachment in people and extrapolated my findings to dog behavior.
    It occurs to me that separation anxiety ( I like the term “separation distress” from Bradshaw’s DOG SENSE, better ) is a result of poor attachment when the dog was young. Also, it my view that keeping one dog ( a highly social animal) alone (in or out of a crate) is inhumane. Look forward to seeing you in Portland?

  3. Nikki Brown permalink
    November 5, 2011 4:24 pm

    Oh, I so wish I had known all of this from the start of life with my 2 aussies! This is all so “right on”, and once again, Kay, thank you for helping me “see” my wonderful dogs, and not have the expectations you note. I’m going to be sharing this bit of wisdom with so many others. You are so kind to share your wisdom with us. Gracias from Arizona, U.S.A

    • Birdy permalink
      April 14, 2013 4:26 pm

      I have to say, some of this I agree with, and some not. As a fellow Aussie owner, I raised my puppy with this type of mindset in a way. He was not around strangers much at all, and was certainly not loved on and cuddled by them. Now he’s quite fearful of them and protects me from them. Be careful, they need to know how to socialize with people outside of your family. I’d prefer to have a dog that loves everyone than a dog that growls and barks like mine does. It’s taken a lot of rehabilitation to get him to tolerate strangers.

      • Nikki Brown permalink
        April 15, 2013 1:57 pm

        I’ve been so fortunate that mine absolutely adore people. I also have made a point of having them around people since I got them when they were pups.I used to worry about them jumping up on people, but at home we always have a toy for the person to throw for them and then when they bring it back they are less likely to jump up and just do what I call the “aussie wiggle!

  4. Gaby permalink
    November 5, 2011 6:15 pm

    Love this post Kay – thank you so much for yet again showing us what is right in front of our eyes.
    Re strangers touching dogs – was at the Vet yesterday and a lady came out with her cat in the cage. The receptionist was busy on the phone, so the lady turns to look at my Lollie who was sitting politely next to me watching the cat. Woman comes over, asks if she is friendly (NOT: can I touch her), proceeds to tell me that small dogs always make her nervous and with that pats Lollie on her head! I was speechless. Thank doG Lollie endures most types of adoration stoically but have you ever seen anything that … strange … dumb?

  5. Tricia Robinson permalink
    November 5, 2011 10:40 pm

    Hi Kay, I went to your workshop in Sydney and have been practicing with my poodle the 1 minute greeting strategy you demonstrated…… It’s a miracle in just a few days he changed from being a desperate fuss pot for at least 20 mins when I came home, in which I would try to ignore him – the best we could get was a default go grab a toy to try and calm down……. To being totally satisfied after 60 secs of total focused attention and will walk away calm!!!!!! I wish I knew this 4 yrs ago….. Thanks for posting, cheers Tricia

  6. November 6, 2011 4:39 am

    Wonderful to see in print what we heard about at the Aussie APDT meeting. All four of my new classes this week have been told about this and then next four, later in the week will be also. Just makes so much sense. thanks Kay

  7. Nikki Brown permalink
    November 6, 2011 1:38 pm

    Question: What recommendtions do you have for dog/children greetings, ie when the grandkids come over, whom my 2 pups adore?

    • November 7, 2011 8:52 am

      Management of arousal levels is essential – for both children and dogs. Perhaps you can make the greeting procedure a training game once the intial excitement has reduced?

      • Nikki Brown permalink
        November 7, 2011 1:08 pm

        The kids have learned to stay calm, and I was told by others to have them turn away, ignore, but as you stated the dogs just want to connect and so still jump up. Would you suggest using the Parking technique, and having the kids get lower to satisfy that reconnection, while the dogs are on harness and leash? Once they are calmed down they play soccer, etc, with the boys, and they clicker train them with their ideas, etc. Thanks again for all that you do for us.

      • Nikki Brown permalink
        November 25, 2011 1:12 pm

        Just wanted to give you an update. The kids have been doing this reconnection, and it really does work. We are all so amazed and happy. This is all any of us wanted in the first place, but all the trainers/books said to ignore, etc. I can’t thank you enough, and will listen more to my own instincts now!

      • December 1, 2011 10:47 am

        Well done Nikki, I think if the dogs we are presented with are at the thin end of the wedge, then the blanket solutions tend to be geared to those sort of dogs. But the rest of the “wedge” can respond to quite different approaches. The majority of dogs and people do live in a great relationship, enjoy each other’s company – and I think it is this ground we need to find protocols.

  8. November 7, 2011 10:28 am

    That is so interesting. I have always greeted my collies by bending down to their level and “snuzzling” Collies don’t seem to need to lick, but are happy to just put a nose in your face. This done they happily potter about without being rude or bouncy. As far as they are concerned anyone they meet out and about are of no interest to them at all. I treated my turbo charged black lab the same way, he’s high energy but never jumps up to anyone. Now I know why! Thanks.

  9. Claire permalink
    November 10, 2011 9:51 pm

    Interesting. I have a very ‘in your face’ greeter (actually, I think she’s the one in Kay’s demo photo with Quiz) but I can tell you that there are days when I come home and she will spend 5 or 10 minutes lying prone in her basket as she was when I walked in, before she comes and says ‘hi’. I always call ‘hi, puppy’ when I come in, look at her, and get on with whatever I have to do… and yet, anyone else can walk in the door and it’s ‘yo, it’s sooo good to see you’… I think we have a pretty good relationship (both she and I would agree we’d prefer it if I spent a little less time on the computer and more doing dog stuff)….

  10. November 16, 2011 1:58 pm

    Thanks for posting this article. I am definitely tired of struggling to find relevant and intelligent commentary on this subject. Everyone nowadays goes to the very far extremes to either drive home their viewpoint of that everybody else in the globe is wrong. Thanks for your consise and relevant insight.

  11. November 25, 2011 10:36 am

    One of the best things about owning a dog is having someone come running to meet you every time you come home. I’ve always been deeply sceptical about all those trainers who tell you to ignore the dog if it jumps up when you walk in the door, I abandoned that practice long ago. Nothing beats having a big cuddle with my dog when I get home, and it turns out sometimes going with your gut instincts is the right option! Thanks for publishing such an insightful article Kay x

  12. Marcia Barkley permalink
    November 18, 2012 4:13 am

    THANK YOU. This just makes SO much sense. I never liked the idea of ignoring a dog that is greeting me — it seemed such a rude and un-connected way of interacting with a creature that clearly is happy I’m there. But I never knew what the option might be. I shall have to re-read this article to make sure I understand how that works, so I can share it with my “puppy class” students.

  13. July 29, 2013 5:10 am

    ” Ideally we need to breed, develop and reinforce a
    dog who is indifferent to strangers, friendly with friends that you
    invite for interaction.”

    That’s a German Shepherd Dog: “Temperament is confident, fearless but aloof; eager, alert, and willing to work.” I’ve had four, and that aloofness and awareness of my attitude towards people has been characteristic of all of them once they were grown.

  14. July 30, 2013 12:09 pm

    Great post as I have a flatcoat..says it all really.!

  15. November 16, 2013 8:33 pm

    Brilliant post!

  16. Margaret T permalink
    December 15, 2013 8:44 pm

    Thank you. I have a dog who, when she enters a new place, will often, from a position slightly behind me, jump up and gently rest one paw on me. I have had people tell me to correct her, but my interpretation of her behavior is that she is just a little nervous and would like reassurance that we are in a good place. I have had people tell me that I should discourage that behavior, but it always seemed unfair to her to do that. She doesn’t do it to anyone else, even if they are holding her leash and I walk away, say, to set up her crate. It seems to me that it’s like a child’s reaching for mom’s hand in a strange place, and I wouldn’t shake that away, so I won’t reject my dog’s gentle touch, either.

    • December 16, 2013 11:26 am

      I know exactly what you mean Margaret. One of my current favourite reminders: “The way a behaviour is carried out is more important than the behaviour”. Usually people consider this as a sit with “great attitude”, prompt and expectant. But the other side of the coin is the “jumping up” that is polite, respectful and all about connection. Very worthy of listening to – a human failing that we need to learn from the dogs!

  17. May 19, 2014 9:48 pm

    Reblogged this on Red Dog Training and commented:
    A different insight into possible reasons for the need to ‘jump up’ people… reassurance, contact, greeting, checking in or attention seeking. Great article as the owner of a ‘reassure me’ dog I can fully get behind this 🙂


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