Intra-specific and Inter-specific Use of Attention-seeking Behaviors by Dogs


Dogs are renowned for their strong social bonds, not just with humans but also with other dogs. Their ability to communicate and engage in complex social interactions is a product of their evolution as a domesticated species. Dogs use a variety of attention-seeking behaviors in both intra-specific (within their species) and inter-specific (between species) contexts to establish relationships, maintain social harmony, and achieve desired outcomes. This entry delves into the intricacies of these behaviors and their significance in the lives of dogs and their human companions.


As social animals, dogs rely on intricate communication systems to interact with their peers. Attention-seeking behaviors play a vital role in facilitating these interactions, which can range from playful engagements to establishing dominance and hierarchy within a group.

  1. Play bow: The play bow is a universal canine signal for initiating play. When a dog lowers its front legs and raises its rear end, it sends a clear message to another dog that it is inviting them to engage in play. This behavior helps dogs establish and maintain social bonds, as play is an essential aspect of their social life.
  2. Barking and growling: Vocalizations are crucial in dog communication, and barking or growling can serve multiple purposes. Dogs may bark to alert their peers to potential threats, assert dominance, or simply to initiate play. Growling, on the other hand, is often a warning signal, indicating that the growling dog is uncomfortable with the situation or asserting its position in the group hierarchy.
  3. Body language: Dogs have a sophisticated range of body language cues that they use to communicate with each other. These include tail wagging, raised hackles, and various facial expressions. By interpreting these cues, dogs can understand each other’s emotions and intentions, allowing them to engage in meaningful social interactions.
  4. Nudging and pawing: Physical touch is another way dogs use to seek attention from their peers. Nudging or pawing can be a gentle invitation to play or a request for affection. These behaviors help reinforce social bonds between dogs and ensure that their social needs are met.
  5. Chasing and play-fighting: Engaging in play is an essential aspect of a dog’s life, contributing to their overall well-being. Chasing and play-fighting are common attention-seeking behaviors dogs use to interact with their peers, helping them to develop social and motor skills.


Dogs have co-evolved with humans for thousands of years, leading to a deep understanding of human cues and communication. This co-evolution has also resulted in dogs developing a range of attention-seeking behaviors directed towards their human companions. These behaviors can vary from subtle to overt, depending on the dog’s personality and the specific situation.

  1. Barking and whining: Like with their canine peers, dogs use vocalizations to communicate with humans. Barking can be a way to alert humans to a potential threat, request food or attention, or simply express excitement. Whining, on the other hand, can indicate discomfort, stress, or a desire for attention and comfort.
  2. Staring: Dogs often use eye contact as a means of seeking attention from their human companions. A dog may stare at its owner when it wants something, like food, playtime, or a walk. This behavior is a clear indication that the dog is relying on its owner to fulfill its needs or desires.
  3. Pawing or nudging: Similar to their interactions with other dogs, dogs may use physical touch to seek attention from humans. Pawing or nudging can be a request for affection, play, or assistance with a problem. This behavior demonstrates the trust and reliance dogs have on their human companions.
  4. Bringing objects: Dogs may bring objects, like toys or sticks, to their human companions as a way of seeking attention and initiating play or interaction. This behavior is a clear sign that the dog values its bond with the human and wants to engage in shared activities.
  5. Leaning or sitting close: Dogs may lean against or sit close to their human companions as a way of seeking attention, comfort, or security. This behavior reinforces the bond between the dog and its owner and serves as a reminder of the dog’s loyalty and affection.


Attention-seeking behaviors in dogs play a crucial role in maintaining their well-being, both physically and emotionally. These behaviors facilitate communication, enabling dogs to express their needs, desires, and emotions to both their canine peers and human companions. Understanding and responding appropriately to these attention-seeking behaviors helps to build a strong bond between dogs and humans, ensuring a happy and healthy relationship.

For dog owners, recognizing and interpreting their dog’s attention-seeking behaviors is essential in providing appropriate care and support. By understanding the signals dogs use to communicate their needs, owners can ensure that they are meeting their pet’s physical and emotional requirements, leading to a more harmonious coexistence.

Furthermore, attention-seeking behaviors help dogs maintain social order and harmony within their group or pack. These behaviors contribute to the establishment of dominance hierarchies, reducing the likelihood of conflicts and promoting a sense of stability and security for all members of the group.

In conclusion, attention-seeking behaviors are an integral part of a dog’s social life, both in intra-specific and inter-specific contexts. These behaviors enable dogs to communicate effectively with their peers and human companions, ensuring that their needs are met and their social bonds are maintained. As dogs continue to be a beloved part of human society, it is essential for dog owners to understand and appreciate the importance of these attention-seeking behaviors in fostering a strong, healthy, and lasting relationship with their canine friends.

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Tony Bierman, "Intra-specific and Inter-specific Use of Attention-seeking Behaviors by Dogs," OBTESA, Accessed June 18, 2024,