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Do Dogs Know When You Ignore Them?

An owner’s physical and emotional reactions have an impact on their dogs. Owners must carefully respond to negative attention-seeking behaviors to maintain a trusting relationship while discouraging bad habits. Even something as simple as ignoring a dog can have unforeseen effects. 

Dogs are aware of when you ignore them. They are impacted both physically and emotionally when they do not receive the desired attention from their owner or trainer. Ignoring a dog’s negative attention-seeking behaviors might work for some owners, trainers, and dogs, but it is not a solution for everyone. 

This article will explore how ignoring a dog can be a training technique for both owners and trainers and the pros and cons of using this technique to discourage certain attention-seeking behaviors. We will then dive into how dogs are affected by being ignored.

Breaking Bad Behaviors

Breaking Bad Behaviors

Ignoring a dog’s negative behavior can be one way to meet the goal of teaching good dog manners. Some dogs exhibit attention-seeking behaviors such as barking or jumping up on people and ignoring these actions might work to cause them to cease.

Dogs will continue to do something if they receive a reward. By ignoring negative behavior and praising positive behavior heavily, owners will teach their dogs that rewards, including attention, are given for good actions. 

Owner-Led Training

Most dogs see their owner’s attention as a reward, so they will try many different tactics to gain even a look or affectionate pat. However, these attention-seeking behaviors are not always positive. 

Dogs that jump on people might see a verbal or visual response as a reward. Suppose this negative behavior is instead met with no response at all. In that case, the dog will begin to understand that jumping, barking, etc., is not an effective way to gain attention (source). 

Proper Tactics

Owners should completely ignore the negative behavior until it stops. For example, if a dog is barking to get attention, ignore the dog until he or she stops. As soon as the barking stops, immediately reward the dog with something of value to them. 

This tactic will work much better for puppies than adult dogs. Dogs learn through repetition, but puppies’ brains are much more malleable than adults. 

Ignoring works well for irritating behaviors but will be ineffective for fixing destructive actions. For more information on puppy behavior and training, read “How Long Does It Take a Puppy to Learn No?

As an alternative to rewarding the dog with something they value, owners can also use the opportunity to work on obedience training commands. Once the dog has stopped jumping or whining, they are given a command such as “Sit” and then rewarded after following the direction.

Trainer Techniques

Dog owners looking for a trainer’s assistance in curbing bad behaviors will usually follow the same process as above and work one-on-one with the dog. 

Trainers who believe that ignoring the negative and rewarding the positive actions will stop the behavior have solid reasoning behind their training ideas. Dogs like to be rewarded with attention, so if attention is solely given for positive actions, dogs will eventually stop the undesirable behavior.

Owners might initially think it is unnatural to ignore their dog after coming home, no matter what behavior is being exhibited. After working with a trainer, an owner will begin to see that paying no mind to the jumping and barking and, instead, praising the positive can work to eradicate the negative.

Trainer Jan Ferrell, the author of The Dog Listener (2000), has worked with numerous dog owners who have learned how to ignore their dog’s excessive behavior while, instead, learning to praise the positive. With her help, the dogs learn better manners within a week.

On top of giving the dog praise for desired actions, owners will also learn to teach an alternative behavior in place of the negative one. By giving the dog the command for what behavior is required, the dog will learn to respect and defer to the owners’ leadership. 

Pros and Cons of Ignoring Dogs

Pros and Cons of Ignoring Dogs

Dog owners and trainers usually have unambiguous opinions on whether it is best to ignore a dog when they do something wrong. However, both camps have the same goal of replacing negative behavior with positive.

Arguments For

Ignoring a dog when they exhibit negative behavior does not mean the dog goes without a reward. By only rewarding positive behavior, the negative behavior will soon diminish because the dog receives no attention. 

This tactic works well for behaviors that have the primary goal of gaining attention. Dogs who jump, bark, put their mouth on you, and beg can quickly learn that these actions will receive no attention if an owner starts ignoring them (source). 

Arguments Against

There are other options for training dogs for those who do not believe ignoring is an effective tool to stop unwanted behavior. Additionally, behaviors with a different focus rather than gaining attention are not usually stopped through the owner ignoring the dog, and alternative methods should be sought out.

Ignoring a dog’s bad behavior can be next to impossible for some owners. While it might work in obedience classes or other controlled settings, there are too many variables in the real world. 

When a dog’s behavior is destructive, or an owner doesn’t have the time to maintain consistency, completely ignoring negative behavior won’t work.

Instead, dogs can be trained by setting them up for positive behaviors before they have a chance to misbehave. The negative behaviors can be stopped, and the dogs redirected.

For example, if a dog begs at the table, he can be given his favorite food in his own space to keep him from begging. If a dog likes to jump on people who come to visit, giving them treats to find before the guests arrive will keep the dog occupied. 

Owners can then praise the positive behavior they see so that the dogs will tie positive behavior to rewards.

An owner also might be crate-training a dog, and the dog starts whining for attention from the crate. The owner can take the dog out and meet their bathroom and food needs before returning the dog to the crate.

Another downside to ignoring as a tool is that the dog might instead increase the negative actions to gain attention. Instead of stopping the barking, the dog might instead start whining or scratching to be noticed. If a dog is instead taught the positive behavior first, they will learn that behavior will result in a reward (source). 

How Dogs Feel When They Are Ignored

Since there is no way to really know how dogs feel when their owners ignore them, many people use physical clues to determine the effect on animals.

One reason dogs may jump on their owners when they come home is to make sure they are okay. If the owner ignores the dog completely, they might not understand why the greeting is not mutual, which is confusing. On the other hand, if they get attention from jumping, they may think they are now in charge. 

There should be a positive goal in sight if an owner is going to ignore them as a training component. Dogs benefit most from this tactic if it is used to establish human leadership or correcting bad behavior. 

Dogs also might become sad or anxious if ignored. They might think they have done something really wrong and might not understand the focus of the technique. According to Tracie Hotchner, author of The Dog Bible (2005), if a dog does have high emotional intelligence, ignoring might not be the best way to train.

Final Thoughts

There are quite a few dogs who exhibit negative behaviors to seek attention. These negative behaviors can be redirected, ended, and replaced using a variety of tactics. 

Ignoring bad behavior is one way to help get rid of it. Still, it needs to be combined with teaching positive behaviors as well. Tailoring the training method to the needs of the dog will result in the best outcomes. 


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