Control of Attention

The control of attention protocol reduces hyperactivity, attention-seeking and anxiety, particularly about interacting with owners, by making your reactions totally predictable and consistent. This isn’t a criticism of you at all, as human beings this is something we all find incredibly hard! For example, I like to think I’m consistent because this is my job, but there are definitely times when I’m not! The dogs (and I) love nothing more than a cuddle on the bed, but if we just got home from a very wet and muddy walk there’s no way that would happen 😊, therefore I’m not being consistent with them. So don’t be too hard on yourself, it’s really difficult. This programme will really help your dog to settle and feel safe.
The rules are simple, and there are no time-consuming training exercises to do, but that’s not to say it’s easy.  It is hard because it changes the nature of all your interactions, so it’s difficult to remember to do all the time. Consistency is key and there are some important pitfalls to avoid which I will go through below.
Ignore all attempts by your dog to get your attention.  Remember that attention comes in different forms and different dogs find different things rewarding.   Attention can be physical, e.g. stroking and scratching, verbal e.g. talking and eye contact. So, if he is asking for attention, look away. If he touches you or jumps up, turn away or move away and do something else. This is really annoying at first, especially if you’re trying to watch TV, but if you’re prepared for a few days of this, he will learn quickly.
Please see the section on PREPARATION to ensure the best chances of sucess.

This  is not about your dog getting NO attention.  Your dog loves you and the goal is to give him as much if not more attention than before, but only when you initiate it. So, give your dog plenty of attention for doing the right thing, being calm and relaxed. As soon as he settles down and rests or is doing his own thing, call him to you for a fuss or go to him (if he’s relaxed, so judge his body language and avoid doing is straight after a walk) for a fuss or to play. If you fuss him, stick to the 3 second rule described below. Play whatever games he likes best. When you call him to you, fuss him for short bouts as above then let him know it’s over (see rule #3) – the more you do this, the quicker he will learn. Aim for 20 times a day.

When you have finished giving him attention, give him a really clear signal that it’s over – e.g. say “enough” and get up. Go back to ignoring him and he will learn really quickly that it is being calm that will get him what he wants.

Although those three rules are really simple, it is really important that you avoid the two main pitfalls:

Upping the ante: Your dog is very hyperactive and attention-seeking so it’s very likely he will get frustrated when the things that used to get him what he wanted (barking, stealing things, jumping up, whatever it may be) now don’t, so he could try harder, or he might try something else.   This is called an ‘extinction burst’.  This frustration will only last until he learns the new way to get attention (being calm and relaxed, so the more you practice the better), but be prepared for those few days while he learns because you might be surprised!   Your dog’s behaviour is likely to get worse before it gets better, but providing you are consistent, the behaviour should start to improve within three days.

Giving in will teach your dog to be persistent: The most important thing to remember is that if you give in, all you will have taught your dog is that being really persistent and annoying pays off, so it is really important not to attempt this programme until you can commit to sticking to it e.g. the household is as settled as possible, you have a few days without visitors and you are prepared and stress-free enough to give it your full attention.

If, for example, you normally tell your dog off for barking (i.e. you give him attention) within 3 barks, and during this time you successfully ignore his barking for 59 seconds and then lose your patience and then tell him off for barking (i.e. you give him attention), then you’ve taught your dog that he now has to bark for at least a minute to get your attention — you’ve made the problem worse, not better.

Preparation is the key to avoiding the pitfalls.

Make a list of things that you know your dog does to get your attention and plan what you’re going to do when this happens.

Here are some examples for you:

My dog steals shoes to instigate a game of chase.
Be prepared and remove valuable things you really don’t want your to dog to steal or chew. However, if you remove everything, he won’t actually learn anything, so I always recommend going to the charity shop and picking up some things like shoes that you know he likes to steal. That way he can steal them and learn that there is now no point, because he doesn’t get any attention for it at all. Whenever he stops, always count to 10 in your head before making a big fuss of him (that makes it clear stopping gets him a fuss and is better than not stopping, but it doesn’t make him steal things deliberately so that he can stop and get a fuss).

My dog barks when he wants attention.
This can be a really difficult problem.  If like me you’re noise sensitive, then you’ll feel the barking in your head and it can be very difficult to ignore!  Invest in some ear plugs.  Be prepared to put some distance between you and your dog whilst he’s barking.  Warn any neighbours close enough to be able to hear that this is likely to be a problem for the next few days and buy them a bottle of wine as a preemptive apology.  After all, if your dog is barker, it’s likely that he’s already annoying the neighbours and they’ll be glad that you’re making an effort to change his behaviour.

My dog hangs off the children’s’ clothes when he wants their attention.
Children must be kept safe.  They’re likely to find it much more difficult than you to follow the three rules and must therefore be strictly supervised.  At the first sign that your dog is using the children to get attention the children and dog must be separated with minimal fuss.  Baby gates are a good way of managing where the dog, and also young children, can go.

During the first few days, where your dog is learning the new rules, he’s likely to become very frustrated at the fact that his old tactics no longer work.  The frustration is likely to cause a temporary worsening in behaviour and your dog is likely to try new and annoying ways of getting your attention.  Try and imagine what these new behaviours could be and see whether you can prepare for them.

If your dog does something that you haven’t prepared for and you can’t ignore, go into the kitchen and open the fridge, talking in a high sing song voice. I can almost guarantee your dog will follow you and you can safely deal with whatever he was doing without actually having given him attention.

In addition to ignoring attempts at gaining your attention, you need to actively promote calmness.

When rewarding your dog for being calm, you could inadvertently increase his excitement, so try  calming touches such as the Zebra TTouch which is a simple, sliding touch which helps release tension, bring awareness and calm. It is particularly helpful on walks or in situations where a dog has become over-anxious or over-excited.

There’s evidence to suggest that music can sooth dogs, just like it can humans.  You’ll find playlists such as Through a Dog’s Ear on music services such as Amazon Music, Spotify and You Tube.

Sniffing and licking are great ways for a dog to relax and release the happy chemical, serotonin.

Lavender can have a relaxing effect too, but use a spray rather than the essential oil.

Food can have a great impact on behaviour.  You can check the ingredients of your dog’s food here to make sure that there’s nothing that could be exacerbating your dog’s behaviour.

For most people and dogs this is a straight-forward and easy process that gets results within a few days, I just want to make sure you’re armed with as much information as possible. If you do have any problems, you can always contact me and we can trouble-shoot! Don’t forget, you’re only human and being consistent is difficult so don’t be too hard on yourselves, it takes practice.