Does it seem like your dog is doing things to try to get you to notice her? If so, you may wonder why your dog wants your attention, and what she is trying to tell you.
Since dogs are social animals, it is not unusual for them to try to communicate their needs to us in a variety of ways. They may jump, bark, whine, or just hang close to us to try to tell us what they want. But what is it that your new furry friend is trying to say? There are a number of clues that will probably help you decipher what she wants. But first, you may need to learn a little more about dog behavior.
First, Pay Attention to How Your Dog Tries to Communicate with You
There are many ways a dog will try to get your attention to let you know they need or want something. Young puppies have a multitude of needs and will persistently communicate with their canine moms to get their needs met. As dogs mature, it is natural for them to continue to try to communicate with their human parents even as their needs lessen as they grow up. Here are the most common ways that dogs try to communicate with us:
- Stealing things
- Licking and chewing
- Pacing or Restless Behavior
- Wagging or pointed tail
We can all relate to a happy dog who jumps and runs around when we get home. It is pretty clear they are happy to see us. Now they can get that walk or treat or just some cuddling and petting. But there are many other times when dogs will do things to try to get our attention. In some cases, we may not even realize that they are trying to tell us something.
As an example, my two rescue dogs got into the habit of just staring at me during different times of the day. For a while I could not figure out why they just seemed to be watching me with such earnest eyes. What were they trying to tell me? Then it dawned on me that the staring usually began about 30 minutes before their meal time and continued until I fed them. They were trying to tell me it was time to eat! They also watched me carefully if I changed clothes and slipped into my jeans. Putting my jeans on usually signaled that we would soon be going for a walk.
Next, Figure Out What it is that Your Dog is Trying to Tell You
Normal, Happy Behaviors
A lot of behaviors are very normal and positive ways your dog is trying express a need. As an example, a fast, wagging tail is usually a sign of excitement and happiness. A tail that is pointed or moving in a slow, rigid way, could be a sign of aggression or concern. A drooping tail may be a sign of submission or fear. Approach your dog accordingly, with a happy or gentle voice pending what she is trying to tell you.
Jumping and yipping when you come home is usually a happy communication, even though you may want to tell your dog “off”, so she doesn’t knock you over. But you can certainly greet her with a lot of affection and that long-awaited for treat or walk. She may also greet you with a lick if she can get close enough!
Annoying, but Harmless Habits
Some behaviors are annoying but harmless. Georgia, my more Pug-like dog, always steals my socks that I tend to leave on the floor at night, as soon as we get up in the morning. I think this is a signal that she is awake, wants to play, and is ready for her day. Sometimes, she and her sister, Charlotte will run downstairs ahead of me and start tossing their stuffed squirrels into the air and dragging them around, as I make coffee and get their kibbles ready. Oh, Happy Day! Breakfast! Hurry Mom!
Both of my dogs will do negative things to get my attention, if they think I have been at my computer too long, ignoring them. Georgia will usually run into the bathroom and bring back some discarded tissues to chew up in my office. Charlotte, who is more aggressive, will jump up and knock my keyboard onto the floor. She also will knock my iPad, out of my hands in the morning if she thinks it is time for our walk. (See A Dog’s Newspaper, for some cute stories about this.)
But some behaviors are signs of trouble. If your dog paces a lot or seems to fidget and move around frequently, she may be feeling stressed or anxious. If a dog is left alone too much, and is not getting much attention or interaction, she may whine or bark excessively. A dog who has been neglected or abused in the past may be overly clingy and will refuse to leave your side. Or, she may have destructive behaviors every time you leave the house.
I crated my two rescue dogs the first few nights after I adopted them. They seemed fine, but then I noticed that Charlotte had begun chewing on the edge of her blanket each night. When I stopped crating them and let them sleep in their dog beds, the chewing stopped. Likewise, the first few times I left them alone in the house out of their crate, I came home to a slightly nibbled hallway carpet runner. Both of these behaviors seemed to be related to anxiety. Eventually, they got used to the idea that I was not going to crate them forever and that I would always return home, and then the chewing stopped.
How to Respond to What Your Dog is Trying to Tell You
Dogs give us a lot of important cues about their needs. As an example, I absolutely do tend to lose track of time when I am working. So, I appreciate their reminder that it is dinnertime. I also love to see signs that they are happy or excited about mealtime, outings, or just happy to play. There is nothing like wagging tails and dogs bouncing around the house to brighten my day.
When my dogs are cold or sleepy at night, they will gently paw at me to let me know they want be on my lap or next to me. These are the sweet things I love about my two dogs! However, my dogs are a little spoiled, so you may want to train your dogs to wait and be invited to join you. Otherwise, they may rule the roost!
There are other ways to get your dog to settle at night or when you need him to just be quietly in the room. You can train him to lie on his mat or special bed in the living room or bedroom. You can even put him on a leash in a room with you to get him used to the idea of just lying still for a while. This will keep him calm and keep him from being agitated or wandering off if he is not fully trained. The Labrador Site addresses this and many other issues in an article written by Pippa Mattinson on May 23, 2017.
However, the behaviors that are clearly not happy signs and beyond annoying, really need to be dealt with. A dog who whines or barks excessively may have some underlying fear or anxiety. A dog who spins around a lot, chews excessively, or paces may have a more severe underlying emotional issue that will need evaluation by a vet or certified trainer. This is especially true for dogs who have a past of neglect or abuse.
Many negative behaviors, however, can be more easily dealt with. A dog who is chewing on things, may simple be bored and in need of some good, safe, chew toys. A dog who seems to bark a lot or seems a bit hyper, may need more exercise. If you work all day, consider hiring a dog walker or paying the kid next door to come over and play with your dog.
Training and setting boundaries also go a long way to give your dog a sense of security. He knows what is expected of him, and what he can expect of you. Rather than scolding your dog for getting into the garbage, make sure it is not easily accessible to him and that he gets fed on a regular schedule. If he tends to get into trouble in certain rooms while you are away, keep those rooms closed off. That way he won’t chew up your favorite jeans you left in the laundry room.
Having a daily routine of meals, exercise, and playtime will provide your dog with a greater sense of security. He will have something to look forward to each day and be less worried. Remember, we totally control our dogs lives. They need to know that their needs will be taken care of in a loving, positive environment.
Finding the Right Balance
Knowing what your dog is trying to tell you is a balancing act. You will need to pay attention to all of her different behaviors to try to meet her needs, but also establish some rules and boundaries for good behavior. Dogs are very bright and wonderfully creative. They have learned through centuries of co-habitation with humans how to communicate with us. So be careful to pay attention and not write off any of their antics as mere quirky actions.
Unlike humans, dogs communicate much more through their actions than through their vocalizations. So, when you notice your dog each time she tries to get your attention, you will most likely discover she is telling you something important. And, you may be surprised by what you learn!