Are we giving our dogs adequate attention? Are we giving our dogs enough space? Surprisingly, in the case of many hyper dogs, the answer is “no” to both questions. Sounds contradictory? Let me explain.
Clients with hyper dogs that are excessively vocal often complain that their dogs bark non-stop. I asked a client I was working with recently to maintain a diary of all the times her dog barked. She was also asked to record her opinion of why the dog was barking. She insisted that the dog barked “all the time” and for “no reason at all”. I insisted that she maintain a diary nevertheless and spare a day to make entries, even if it meant she was writing every five minutes. She returned with a surprising revelation – the dog barked only a few times in a day and most of those times, the dog seemed to have something valid to communicate.
One instance baffled her. She had put a bed out for her dog and towards evening he barked incessantly. She had fed him, walked him, brushed him and spent time with him. It just was not evident what he was upset about. Then we figured out that his favourite bed was damp. We had to replace the bed and he stopped barking. I went on to teach her what the appropriate response was for the remaining times when his reasons seemed valid. The dog needed her attention each of those times – not just attention, but appropriate attention that carefully observes the dog and addresses his concerns.
A few hyper dogs bark for attention. I was once in the company of such a dog and his human. As I observed, I noticed that the lady was constantly giving the dog negative attention. For the dog, this was highly rewarding as he was getting exactly what he was barking for – attention. He did not seem to mind that the attention was negative.
This was inappropriate attention the person was giving to the dog.
On another occasion a client was talking non-stop to the dog, giving him commands at all times, petting him several times and constantly getting him excited. Little surprise – the dog was hyper. The woman’s unrelenting, high-energy attention was making the dog happy, but overly excited. This dog could have done with a lot more space.
A dog will come to you when he needs attention. Highly affectionate people sometimes forget this and keep going up to pet the dog, unknowingly violating the dog’s personal space very frequently. A good guide is to wait for a dog to come to you, pet the dog for a few seconds, take the hands off and wait to watch the dog’s reaction. If you look up ‘Calming Signals’ on Wikipedia, you will see the tiny signals dogs give at this point to indicate they are not interested in the petting. It can be as subtle as a quick lick of the lips. If he is asking for space, give him space.
At the same time, if your dog is trying to get your attention, either through barking or other means, try to give quality attention, which means don’t just ask the dog to keep quiet, but to carefully observe what he is drawing your attention to. Walk the fine line between being attentive to your dog and yet respecting his space.