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Stop Over-Dependency and Demanding Behaviors

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books


A common problem in misbehaving pups is their view that being petted  is a right that they can demand at will.

signpost says Jake Story"Jake, stop pestering me!" Kathy was sitting on the sofa trying to read. She had been petting her dog, but after a while she just wanted to read. Jake shouldered himself between her knees and wedged his head into her lap. Kathy pushed him away, but he came charging right back.

Don't pet your puppy each and every time he solicits it.

Soliciting means nudging or mouthing your hand, pushing himself against you, or pawing at you.

puppy nudging for attention and petting

Most puppies will solicit for attention and petting. This is normal behavior, but should be monitored for excessiveness, especially if the pup has other behavioral issues.

Now, virtually every dog solicits petting sometimes. That's perfectly normal... and nice!

But when it happens again and again and the pup won't take No for an answer, it crosses the line to being demanding.  That's a red flag because pups who are allowed to be demanding usually go on to develop additional behavior issues such as resource guarding or dominance-based aggression.

Stay in control of soliciting behavior. Send a pushy pup to his Place,  wait 5 minutes, then tell him to Come  and then Sit  (all covered in my training book). Only then should you pet him.

Now your petting becomes his reward  for following your  commands rather than your following his  command of "Nudge nudge nudge, I insist that you pet me right now." It's another subtle leadership thing.

YOU should decide when to stop petting.

terrier pup on owner's lap

Suppose you're sitting on the couch watching TV. You invite your puppy up to be petted.

After 15 seconds (yes, seconds... not minutes) of petting, tell him, "That's enough" or "All done" or "No more" (choose a phrase and stick to it). Take your hand away.

If he settles down and chews contentedly on his toy or even goes to sleep, great. But if he nudges for more petting, repeat your phrase and put him on the floor. Go on watching TV.

If he persists in seeking attention, send him to his Place.  Or put him in his crate or ex-pen. Don't pet him or speak to him as you do so. Simply lead him into his crate or pen, and close the door.

Finally, don't hold or pet your pup too much.

In my experience, most pups with behavior issues  are being petted and fondled too much. Ten or fifteen seconds of sincere affection and soft happy talk is plenty at any given time.

If you hold your dog too much, or sit on the couch absently stroking him for an hour while you watch TV....

You're promoting an unhealthy dependency.

white dog on lap

Some dependent pups become so accustomed to fondling and cuddling that they don't know how to face the world without your hand resting on their back.

When you leave them home alone, they experience a form of separation anxiety  in which they become nervous, even frantic. They might vent their anxiety by barking, digging holes in cushions, or ripping off your baseboards. Entire rooms have been destroyed by pups with dependency-based separation anxiety. If you leave them in a crate instead, they may break their teeth or bloody their paw pads trying to escape.

Making your puppy dependent on being held and stroked is really awful for his mental and emotional health.

An overly-dependent pup might become a resource guarder  who growls when another person or pet approaches "his" (your) lap or "his" (your) petting hand.

And please don't post a "cute" video on YouTube of your dog sitting on your lap and lifting his lip or pitching a fit at your significant other who's pretending to approach you or snuggle with you.

No, this dog is not protecting you or showing how much he loves you. He's brazenly claiming and guarding a resource  (your lap and hand)... which you have (inadvertently) encouraged him to do.

So instead of posting that video, post the one where you tell him, "No. Off." and put him on the floor to stand on his own four feet.

Dependency and resource guarding aren't funny or cute. They're psychologically stressful for your dog and you need to stop them before he becomes truly nasty or neurotic.

How do dogs like to be petted?

petting a dog on its chest

Every dog is different, but most dogs enjoy it when:

  • You scratch their chest and between their front legs.
  • You rub the base of their ears. Some pups have a favorite ear, while others enjoy both ears in an alternating pattern.
  • You scratch atop their hindquarters at the base of their tail, which is a deliciously ticklish spot for many pups, who might respond by quivering their skin, or stretching their body, or even tapping a hind leg up and down.
  • You rub their belly. Some might even sprawl on their back with a rapturous expression on their face. Other pups find this position too vulnerable and are reluctant to allow belly rubs.

How do dogs NOT like to be petted?

  • Most dogs don't like being patted  on their head. Pat-pat-pat  feels impersonal, jarring, and annoying. People who don't know much about dogs, or who don't like dogs all that much, tend to pat  them.

    Toy dogs especially are apt to shy away from a giant hand that descends from the sky toward their vulnerable little head. Before you let strangers pet your toy dog, show them how to scratch their fingers on the pup's chest or under his chin rather than touching his head.

  • Most dogs don't enjoy being hugged. They usually tolerate it, but they don't like feeling wrapped up. Especially don't let a child  hug a dog. A common cause of dog bites is the child wrapping her arms around the dog's neck – 70% of dog bites to a child under the age of 10 are bites to the face.
  • Don't kiss a dog. Dogs view a kiss as a "face lick", which in the canine world is done BY  followers TO  leaders. So if you kiss a dog, he's more likely to see you as a follower instead of a leader.

    On the other hand, it's okay for him  to give you  kisses, if you don't mind it. Again though, you should be wary of letting small children put their faces near a dog's mouth "to be kissed." Remember that horrifying 70% bites-to-the-face statistic.

My book covertraining program is for puppies 2 to 18 months old. It explains, step by step:

  • How to establish good patterns and routines that govern everything your pup does.
  • How to teach your pup to be calm and to look to you for guidance, direction, and permission.
  • How to make yourself important – the most important thing – in your puppy’s life. How to show your pup the clear, black-and-white rules and routines he is to follow. And how to make sure he does.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.


To help you train and care for your dog

dog training videos Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.

The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy. For puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
If your dog is over 18 months, you'll want book coverRespect Training For Adult Dogs: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved dog. Again your dog will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life.
book coverDog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams will help you find a good-tempered, healthy family companion.