Playing for attention: How dogs respond to the attention we give them


We know our dogs are smart. They know when we're watching them and when they can get up to some mischief. Anyone who has had their dog steal the turkey during Thanksgiving knows this first-hand. Or if you've ever given your dog "the look" when they're about to pick up some yummy trash off the street. But surely our attention can also mean good things? New research came out recently that showed that how much attention we give our dogs also influences how much they play with your other dogs!

Looking at 3 common conditions in multi-dog households:(1) Owner leaves the room, (2) Owner in the room but distracted, and (3) Owner interacts with one dog, the study found that dogs played more often when their owner was present and attentive (condition 3).

So they concluded  that dogs are aware of how much attention we are giving them even when they are playing with other dogs.

There are several explanations for this:

1.Our attention reinforces dog-dog play.

When our dogs play with another dog we give them attention so they play more with other dogs to get even more of our attention!

2.Our attention is exciting for our dogs.

When we give our dogs attention this is exciting for them and they get a burst of energy that they release through play with other dogs.

3.Our attention means it's safe to play.

Sometimes it's not safe to play, whether our dogs want to play in the streets or if play escalates to a fight. Our attention may provide an extra level of security to our dogs so they know they are safe or that someone is there to intervene if play gets too rough. This reinforces the social bond between you and all your dogs and ensures you are living your best dog-family life!

What are your experiences living with 2+ dogs whether as permanent members of the family, dog sitting, or fostering?


Mehrkam, L.R., Wynne, C.D.L. Owner attention facilitates social play in dog–dog dyads (Canis lupus familiaris): evidence for an interspecific audience effect. Anim Cogn (2021).

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