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How To Tame Your Bossy Dog

A simple and effective technique to tame a demanding, bossy, or needy dog (Updated)

Someone once told me that dogs are natures greatest manipulators. I wish I could remember who that was.

It doesn’t matter because the message is 100% on point with this article. And by the way, I agree with it.

Hear me out. We all know that certain dogs can be pushy and demanding. They bark, stare us down, throw a paw up, whine, and literally get in our faces. All in the pursuit for attention. And in many cases, they’re incredibly insistent and unrelenting in their attempts.

In their defense, this insistent behavior usually comes about because we’ve somehow trained it into them. Yes, you read that right. Often enough our unruly or bad mannered dog is a direct result of actions we’ve taken, or have neglected to take. In other words, behavior we’ve either created or enabled in some sense.

What does this mean?

Again and again, behavior that is considered annoying, even if just slightly, goes unchecked and over time becomes worse. In scientific speak, a behavior that is allowed to continue grows stronger. Many of these behaviors are self-reinforcing, meaning that the activity or the outcome is rewarding. So what may have been something easily avoidable at the beginning becomes deeply ingrained over time.  It now is a strong part of the dogs ongoing repertoire of activities.

Ever walk past the same house and each time have the family dog bark incessantly at you? Bet you he barks that way at everyone and everything that passes the house. That’s because, while that family is away at work or school, that dog has been practicing the same behavior repeatedly, often non-stop. Now you have a well rehearsed skill that is difficult to stop.

So how do you deal with a pushy, bossy, or demanding dog?

Try this approach…

Simply ignore it.

Right now you’re thinking this is the most ridiculous dog training advice you’ve read on the internet, but hang in there and hear me out.

Ignoring an unwanted behavior WILL make it stop over time.

This is called extinction in the dog training world. The caveat here is that it may take a very long time before your dog makes the connection and you’ll need to exercise a great deal of patience in the meantime.

How does it work?

Ever have someone turn their back on you during a conversation or argument?

Doesn’t feel good, does it?

It may actually make you angrier and defensive.

Thankfully dogs aren’t exactly like humans in this way. They won’t take personal offense and want to get into a fight over it but they’ll certainly get the message that you’re attempting to disengage from them. Since the behavior goes unrewarded the dog eventually arrives at the realization that doing the behavior isn’t worth it since it gets him nowhere.

The Secret is in the details (and in your effort)

Say Poochie is barking at you for attention (again, if he’s doing it regularly it’s because he’s most likely learned that it sometimes gets results), maybe he wants you to rub or pet him, or play with him, or you’re cooking and he wants a treat from the kitchen.

Turn away from him.

Don’t make eye contact and don’t talk to him. When he moves to face you once more, as he will most likely do, turn away from him again. Refuse to acknowledge him and give in to his tantrums.

What more can you do?

Replace the aggravating behavior with an activity which you deem acceptable. For example, once he has barked his fool head off trying to get your attention, and only after he has calmed down, guide him to a comfortable spot (think a warm blanket or bed) and reward him for that.

Initially, ignoring your dog will frustrate him – but that’s the point.  It will also teach him that bossy and demanding behavior will get him nothing from you.

Cats can be pushy, demanding bastards too.

A few tips about this approach…

– To be successful at this, and anything else for that matter, you must be consistent. Don’t apply this technique once in a while or only when you’re in the mood but every single time he exhibits demanding behavior.

– That means that you do not give in. Under any circumstances. Stand your ground. Be strong, but calm. Dog behavior doesn’t change overnight.

– Remember that simply looking down at him and asking him to be quiet is all the reinforcement he may need. He’s gotten your attention and that’s good enough for him. Don’t do it. Ignore him.

– Don’t stare at him thinking you’ll intimidate him into stopping his obnoxious behavior. In the best case scenario he’ll just feel he’s gotten your attention and he wins again (see how tricky and sly he is?). In the worse case, he’ll perceive your hard stare as a threat. Not good.

Now, go give it a try.

Before you go, watch how these dogs find their marks (pigeons) and make suckers out of them.

And share this post if you think it’s helpful. Thanks!

This Post Has 30 Comments
  1. I have been ignoring my dog for a week now and this method works wonders. No eye contact no talking no touching when we are in the house but a lot of reward and treats on walks when he is tired and relaxed. His behaviour gone worse maybe around day 3 but this is becuse he was giving me everything he had in him whining his heart out seeking my attention. But we are past that point. It will be hard it will be demanding but this method works. We have JRT rescued from a death row who had many many health and behavioural issues. Thank you for sharing

    1. That’s fantastic! His ongoing whining is just the leftovers of a demanding and entitled mindset. It’s natural for them to rebel when they’re so accustomed to getting away with things for so long. Good luck to you and keep up the great work!

  2. This does NOT work for my dog. She will bark constantly for at least 2-3 hours. That is the longest I can go with her barking. It doesn’t allow me to watch TV, talk on the phone or anything. Not even leaving the room works. I need to keep her in her crate during the day due to chewing just about anything in sight. As soon as I drive into the driveway the barking starts and won’t stop. I can ignore her for hours on on end and the barking does not stop. Same goes for when she wants the chew toy my other dog has. She barks to no end. Well until I take it away from both of them. But that isn’t fair to my other dog either.

    Any suggestions?

    1. Danielle, I apologize that it has taken me so long to respond to you. Let me tell you quickly that, based on your description, it appears that you have a larger and more pressing problem than a dog that simply exhibits demanding or bratty behavior. Your dog may be dealing with a high level of anxiety and this may be dictating all of the behaviors that you’re describing. I would strongly suggest that you seek the help or an experienced professional trainer in your area. The chewing and excessive barking may be symptoms of a larger underlying issue. Good luck.

  3. I would ignore if I could but her attention seeking behaviour is to stand on her hind legs and quite literally “punch” me in the head with her fore paws.
    It hurts a bit and is extremely distracting when I’m trying to watch TV or use the computer.

    If the head punch fails to get my attention she grabs my clothes and pulls – I have holes in quite a few items of clothing now – she’ll also chew on my chair.

    She KNOWS she isn’t allowed to do any of these things but she’s very defiant (will scream while she does it in her “tantrum” voice).

    Because the tantrum voice is really quite ridiculous (it’s like a high pitched trill), I actually find it hard not to laugh and that’s probably a major issue. I probably can’t use the ignore technique – I usually just send her to her bed or another room when she’s behaving like that (for some reason she always obeys – I suppose because she won and got my attention).

    1. Miss Cellany, I agree with your description of the behavior as a “tantrum” because that is exactly what is going on with your dog. I also applaud your willingness to recognize that you may in some manner be contributing to the problem. That’s wise and a step in the right direction. This is one possible outcome of dogs when they are “ignored”, and that is that they accelerate and intensify the behavior in an effort to extract a result from you. And typically they succeed, thus the reinforcement of the behavior continues. It sounds as if your dog is taking these steps to an extreme. Continue to remove her from your space as you’ve been doing. Two suggestions…first, simply asking her to leave may not work (it might, but I’m not there to determine that). You may need to physically remove her. By that I mean that you would place a leash on her and walk her to a location where she won’t have direct access to you, a crate or separate room for example. Second, timing is everything. Your impulse should be to remove her immediate at the sign of her first misbehavior. Good luck.

  4. As I am readying this, my mixed terrier is growl talking at me. I must learn to ignore him from now on. Both of my dogs are rescues and constantly demand my attention, and like an idiot I have allowed it.

    Not anymore! Ill let you know who backs down first lol…

    1. Well Wendy, it sounds as if you’re keenly aware of what’s going on and how you contributed to the problem. That’s good. Some owners are in denial and refuse to accept blame. That doesn’t help address the issues. Just one tip…a growl (no matter how cute) is a different behavior all together. Since I’m not there to witness it for myself it’s almost impossible to determine exactly what’s going on but be alert to any kind of growling. It may not be coming from a good place. Good luck.

  5. My puppy is very needy and hyper. If I don’t give her attention she chews on anything. The crate didn’t work she moves it all over the place. If I go out without her she barks. Neighbors complained…. I feel like a prisoner. This is my first dog and I have no idea how pups are supposed to act. I feel overwhelmed and defeated.

    1. Yessie, You’re going to need to make a decision to stand strong and work your way through this problem and the best way to do that is to have a plan and stick to it. First, I don’t understand how your pup is moving the crate “all over the place”. Get yourself a sturdy crate that is the right size for her and make a habit of placing her in while your out or during those moments when she gets to be too much. Don’t give up on this because you felt you weren’t getting the results you wanted at first. The crate is your friend during this time so don’t be afraid to use it. Second, think of the ways that you may be contributing to the problem or enabling it in a sense. Are you letting the dog out of the crate when she barks? Are you giving in to demanding behavior, such as barking, pawing, whining, etc.? You’re only creating a lifelong pattern if that’s the case. Have you begun obedience training? This helps with focus and impulse control. Is your dog anxious or fearful? There are many variables that I wouldn’t be able to address unless I saw the dog. If all else fails get a local trainer to come to your house and provide you with additional information. A good trainer can inform you of many management approaches that might work for you and begin the basics of training. Good luck.

  6. My did is No problem except in the mornings. He barks insistently until we get up and then barks until we take him for a walk. The problem is, it is first thing in the morning so even though I can ignore him he will get what he wants in the end. we are always going to get up and I am going to take him for a walk after breakfast. I just don’t want to have to go through 2 hrs of barking every morning first. How do I deal with this?

    1. Dan,
      First off understand that you continuing to walk him while he barks only reinforces and enables the problem. The solution is simple, but not easy. There are a variety of things you can try such as teaching him to quiet down while rewarding silence. Work this with treats for some time, throw in a cue for the quiet, and you should be able to get him to stop the barking on command. You’ll need to insist on quiet, calm behavior before going out with him. The other thing I question is whether or not your dog is dealing with a certain level of anxiousness which can often be attributed to this kind of nonstop activity.

  7. My dog goes crazy at least 4 times a day barking and arguing; throwing a tantrum like a little baby.

    I did this method and it worked in 5 mins.. she got angry lay down beside me and just stared at me. We she was starting to nod off I rewarded her with a treat.

    Did I handle this okay? or should I have not rewarded her.

    1. Rewarding is fine. Rewarding is what you want to do. The catch is the timing of the reward. In this instance you’re going to reward her the moment she quiets down thus you’ll be reinforcing relaxed and calm behavior and not the obnoxious behavior. Everything else you’re doing sounds on point. Be patient and wait her out. She gets nothing until you get what you want first – in this case, calmness. Keep it up.

  8. I’m going to try this. It’s already worked somewhat with our puppy. Especially while we are eating at the table he will bark constantly for attention and he is wanting what we eat. We do not feed him people food. We both ignored him and did not make eye contact.

      1. How do we get him to sleep in his bed again? He wants to sleep on us all the time now except at night.

  9. And how can I better train him to stop barking without yelling? Sorry for so many questions. Having a hard time with him. Thanks

    1. No problem Rebecca. I don’t know what or why he’s barking. Is it alert barking, demanding barking, etc. Determine what the source or trigger is an address that. Find a way to either remove the trigger or remove the dog from the trigger environment. If it’s demanding barking then realize that you may have contributed to this behavior. Ignore the barking and reward the silence. If you give in to the his demands he will learn never to stop.

  10. This method works somewhat with our dog, but only when it is myself or my husband. If anyone else is at our house, even if he knows them, he is relentless in his pursuit of attention and seeks it not just by barking but by nipping at their feet or shoes. We try to ignore him as much as possible but at some point, it actually hurts and he literally won’t stop unless we play with him. Often, as soon as it is just my husband and I in the house again with him, he is calm and happy to sleep the day away. He is a rescue and we have been working on socializing him by bringing him to other houses and inviting people over to ours. He has gotten better in that he no longer displays any aggressive behavior toward our guests, but he continues to be very obnoxious. Any advice on how to deal with this, especially the mouthy behavior?

    1. Joanna.
      A few things to point out…
      1. Nipping at feet or shoes is not a good thing.
      2. He is escalating his demanding efforts in order to get the attention he craves.

      Understand that this is a learned behavior. We humans invariably help create or enable these actions by allowing them to continue. Because no one is providing the dog with clear information and guidance consistently he continues along the same path. Any behavior that is practiced and rehearsed gets stronger with time, so will his demanding attitude. I don’t know what you mean by “he no longer displays any aggressive behavior” but nipping at feet or shoes may be defined as an aggressive display of behavior. This extends beyond general excitement and obnoxiousness. You’re dog may be highly aroused during these times and unable to control his emotional state or his actions. Arousal is something you want to watch out for as it can also become a learned way of reacting to certain stimuli and tip into aggression.

      Think in terms of both training and management. Start ramping up your obedience training efforts. Skills such as “sit” and “watch me” can help a dog refocus on the owner as opposed to going nuts at certain triggers. This, however, may not always work. Often it doesn’t work initially but only after a period of time working on the skills. If the distraction is too strong you’ll need to consider removing him from the scene entirely until he’s in a calmer state of mind. This is managing the situation. In other words, he’s already showing you that left to his own devices he’ll make the wrong choices by barking and nipping. The stimulation is too much for him to handle and this is no frame of mind for any dog to be meeting another dog or human. Try crating him in a separate space, or behind a baby gate. Insist and demand calmness. Also, think of your guest. I’m sure they don’t find a nippy, barking, charging dog pleasant.

  11. The ignore method really does work.

    My lab and jack russell used to pester me incessantly for food in the morning, so I would acknowledge and greet them AFTER I have my coffee & breakfast. Now I can eat in peace and they wait until after I am done. I managed to curb their bugging me for my pretzels and peanut butter this way too. But, being a jack russell is a smart dog, he figured out on his own if he brings me his peanut butter kong and sits quietly next to me, I will fill it will goodies for him.

    Yes, you have to project that you are the alpha dog just like it would be in a dog pack. My dogs respect me and my wishes because of that and have good manners (most of the time). Dogs are not stupid.

    My wife needs to work on this as they get their way with her often.

    1. Tom, part of becoming a leader is establishing a set of rules and living by those rules. It sounds as if you have a strong handle on the situation. Good luck.

  12. Hi

    My black Labrador is an absolute master at manipulating my family to get his own way. While entirely adorable, I am under no illusions that he, largely, rules the roost and we are entirely at fault for responding (rewarding) this behaviour.

    I want to reboot the situation, and am keen to try several of your methods mentioned in this article. However, my dog, with any training will, after a short while, start to anticipate your next command (with a 99.9% accuracy of what you were going to ask him!) which kind of puts him back in the driving seat! It’s really annoying after a while! Also, he will then seek ways to deliver a ‘bad’ behaviour in order to beautifully carry out the correction – in order to get the desired treat! Maddening! Although highly amusing to watch.

    Therefore, I try to move away from using treats as quickly as possible once he has learned something, and every time, soon after, he will just stop following the command!

    Any help you can offer would be very, very gratefully received.

    1. Hi Lisa,
      It’s difficult to give you a more accurate approach without a specific example of his behavior. However, if you’re issue is pertaining to actions along the lines of a bossy, pushy, and demanding attitude and you’re not able to achieve any resolution then one possibility may be consistency. That’s consistency on your part. If we address a problem at certain times while turning a blind eye to it during others then it’s reasonable to assume that the dog won’t clearly get the message. In his mind he may view it as, “sometimes I get away with it, and sometimes I don’t”. This ensure that he’ll continue to make attempts in the hopes of occasional successes. It’s random reinforcement at work. Could this be what you’re dealing with?

      1. Yes I think your on the right track. Random reinforcement is what we are doing, my dog is very tenacious.

        However, he is also unfortunately overweight & I would prefer not to treat him at all which also makes training difficult (I’ve also tried using his weighed out kibble from his daily allowance – he’s not interested in that).

        Can you suggest any training methods that are not treat based?

        In terms of examples of his behaviour, here’s one of many – I used special treats while out on our walks to try and improve his recall. After a few days, he would quite literally start running off ahead of me, while looking back over his shoulder now & then to check I was watching – simply to try and get me to recall him – so he could have a treat – it’s very obvious when he does it, by his body language etc, that it’s entirely fake (& both extremely funny and annoying at the same time, although I do make a point of not laughing) and goes back to him pre-empting me and quite literally turning the tables on me each time, so that any ‘training’ always ends up benefiting him more than me!

        Your thoughts would be gratefully received. Many Thanks Lisa

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