The Attention Diet: Let Good Things Happen Without the Expectation of Results

Trigger Warning: Holistic does not mean easy. If the thought of ignoring your dog sounds cruel, mean, or inhumane, look away and don’t turn back (or keep reading, this may be written specifically for you).

The attention diet is a simple concept: When indoors, ignore the dog. That’s it. The home is a place of safety, digestion, and reflection. High energy play, hugs, kisses, and excessive baby talk (not to mention yelling), removes the safe qualities of the home. Predators now lurk around every corner and behind every creaky noise. These predators come in the form of commands, demands, and admonishments — and the source of the predatory energy is us. 

The expectations we put on our poor animals are inconsistent at best:

“Play rough with me!” but “Be quiet in your crate!”

“Hug me!” but “Don't jump up on grandma!” 

“Kiss me!” but “Stop licking the baby!” 

“Come here!” but “Get out from underfoot!” 

and of course,  “Ok, you can sleep with me…” but “HEY! OFF! STOP! NO!” when they resource guard the bed.

If you need more reasons other than, “I want a calm and consistent home that benefits me and my companions practically and emotionally,” then I invite you to read this article, written by Leah Twitchell of Canine Movement Lab.

Look, I know it’s hard. We love our companions and want the best for them. But what is best for them isn’t spoiling them with complete freedom, no boundaries, and excessive stimulation (followed by the sudden end to that stimulation with the assumption that the dog is tired). To make matters more difficult, the best way to go through an attention diet is to do it all without expecting results. You can't expect them to suddenly "get it", or be silent in their crate, or stay still in their new seating arrangement. They won't. 

Don't yell or shush at them to be quiet, that’s attention. Don't cave to guilt and snuggle with them in their place, that’s attention. Let the changes happen as organically as possible.

Get creative if the demanding, anxiety driven, behavior persists. This is good, it means you REALLY needed it. Things will often get worse before they get better. Cover their crate with a sheet. Feed only while training outdoors. Back-tie them to a wall while they’re on a box (only when you’re home).  Rearrange the furniture to meet your needs. Do what you need to do to reclaim or transform your home into a safe, calm, consistent wolf den. But do all this without giving the dog attention.

If it seems fruitless, you have expectations. Stop. Take a breath. Remind yourself to stick to the plan. It's okay. This is where the healing begins. Train the dog outside. Make them move, stay, speak, and surge! Go for long walks while they carry something in their mouth. Walk faster! Pause to give them a nice, long, smooth belly rub. Play rough games of tug (let the dog win). Jump on boxes! Play hide and seek! Let the dog sniff, explore, hunt, and pee on stuff. Call them back to you. Let the dog be a dog. Help the dog be a dog. Put the work in and have fun, but do it all OUTSIDE!

At some point, you’ll be home with the dog in their place or in their crate. Something will seem out of place. Your blood pressure is several points lower and that headache is pounding at half tempo. The dog is quietly laying down, curled up, and breathing. You try not to lock eyes with them but the attraction to your dog has never been so strong. You feel exhausted from the hard work but proud of the progress. Without a word, you leash up your best friend up and head outside for some games and training — activities that make you both feel good. What does the dog give credit for all the fun? What preceded the pleasure? Rest. Calmness. Tranquility. The crate. The place. The seating order.

The attention diet is not a punishment (although it can feel like one sometimes). It is a detox and a restructuring of the standards for indoor behavior. Make inside the home, the den, for stillness and decompression. Simultaneously make outside’s purpose performance, training, and moving. Eventually, the good feelings from outside follow the dog inside, and our canine companions know that access to those good feelings, comes from the standards we set indoors. And you — you are the access to good feelings.

Sam Corbo