My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

Barking for Attention


If your dog barks at you when you are on the phone, watching television, visiting with guests, sitting at the computer, or when hugging someone, he’s probably barking to get your attention.

And if you have ever tossed him a toy or a treat, spoken to him or touched him when he did that then…well… you rewarded him. You didn’t mean to, but what caused the good thing to happen? Barking! So what will he do more of in the future? Bark!

If you’d like to stop this annoying habit, try these suggestions:


Ignore the barking. And we do mean totally. Do not glance at, smile, gasp, scowl, comment or otherwise react, as all of these reactions can be rewarding to the dog.

Redirect your dog. Try puppy push ups – sit/down/sit/down – be neutral about it, after a few reps ignore him and move on with your day. Your message? If you want my attention, here it is.

Use a Guided Down. Many dogs quiet when downed, so pretraining your dog to lie down to light pressure on the leash can make him manageable even when he is distracted.

Reward quiet. If he is quiet for a few moments, give him a toy to work on, maybe something with some food inside. He needs a new hobby, and only you can supply a good one.

Body block him away from you. Being made to move away from you is a powerful message to any dog. Being made to move out of the room entirely cannot be mistaken. So one option, when your dog barks at you for attention, is to walk into his space and cause him to back up and away from you. Look past him, not at him, and continue backing him until you have backed him out of the room. Then stop and go about your business.


Don’t give in. If you respond to him in any way that he finds remotely pleasant, he’ll bark more. Do NOT feed him, pet him, speak to him, toss a toy or put him outside (unless he really needs to go).

Don’t make a move. If you reach toward a treat or toy when he is barking, intending to use it when he becomes quiet, then you just unintentionally rewarded the barking. Do not make one move toward anything your dog likes or wants until he is quiet. Make sense?

Don’t make him sit or down by luring him with a treat. No way to do that without inadvertently rewarding barking.

Don’t forget the basics. Demanding dogs are often smart dogs who need more than they are getting from life. Is he getting all the exercise he needs? The interaction and training? If not, make sure he does. Only you can change his life.


Add a negative. Many dogs don’t like being sprayed with a stream of water. Using a plant mister set on stream, squirt him when he barks. Be casual about it – don’t make a big deal of looking at him and aiming. Simply continue what you are doing as you deliver a quick spritz. If he stops, you stop – instantly! If he calms down, reward him.

Try a hand-held ultrasonic device. These can work with some sensitive dogs. The key to this tool is to make it comprehensible to the dog. So be sure you calmly say, “Quiet” just before you use it. Be sure your dog is barking when you use it. Stop the moment your dog is quiet. Do that consistently, and a sensitive dog may soon understand what you mean and stop barking when he hears you say, “Quiet.”

by Sarah Wilson,


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