Does your dog seem to ignore your commands? You give a command and they either look at you blankly, carry on with what they’re doing or walk away…
It’s frustrating. Especially when you’ve taken time to train your dog and they appear to have developed selective hearing. But are they really refusing to listen?
You might put your dog’s behaviour down to stubbornness, but there could easily be other reasons at play. When your pooch ignores you, it could be rebellion, but it may also be caused by their surroundings, ineffective training techniques or simply because they’re tired.
So don’t label your dog as pig-headed just yet! There are ways to ensure your dog responds reliably to your commands. Here are a few easy methods to curb those unwanted behaviours when your dog won’t listen.
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Train in all environments
Is your dog top of the class in training sessions but a nightmare in normal circumstances? Maybe they jump up on your dinner guests or won’t come when called in the dog park. They may be the perfect pup at home, but add those distractions into the mix and all training goes out the window.
This is a classic flaw when owners train their dog. Our dogs need to be taught to focus around distractions and in various environments.
In a home setting you’re in control of your surroundings, so it’s easier for you to stay the centre of pup’s attention. But outside is a world full of exciting objects, people and environments for your dog to explore. It only takes a moment for an untrained pooch to become distracted or overstimulated.
It’s not enough to master commands indoors. By taking your training sessions outside your dog will learn basic impulse control. They’ll come to understand the behaviour you expect from them in all circumstances.
Aim to carry out at least one of your weekly training sessions in a new place. Take a few treats with you on walks. Stop in the street, at a garden centre and in the dog park and practice your basic obedience commands.
Use better treats
If you’re using bog-standard dog biscuits to train your dog, it may be time to up the ante. Your dog could be refusing to listen because they’re no longer enticed by the treats you’re offering.
They’re essentially asking themselves: ‘what’s in it for me?’
If your dog is food motivated, try introducing chicken, fish or cheese for training. These are far more appetising options for any food obsessed pup.
Put into practice, let’s take your dog’s recall as an everyday situation you may struggle with. Before entering the park, give your dog a couple of basic commands such as ‘sit’ and ‘paw.’ This will make your dog aware of the pocketful of new and delicious treats on offer.
As your dog heads off to explore, call them over a few times and offer the new treat. They won’t be able to resist those high value treats and will likely come back for more. Then, when it’s time to put your dog back on the lead you should no longer be chasing pup around the park. They’ll likely lollop over on demand.
As you work on this training consistently over time, the response will become second nature. You’ll soon be able to remove the treats and replace them with praise.
If your dog is more toy motivated, use their favourite toy as the reward. They may value time spent tugging a toy with you far more than treats. Find your dog’s key motivator so they find it impossible to ignore your commands.
Give clear commands
In some cases, your command delivery could be the reason your dog doesn’t behave the way you want. Either pup doesn’t understand what you’re asking, or it’s not clear enough.
If your family gives a different command for the same required behaviour, you could be confusing your pooch. For example, if you say ‘sit’ and your other half says ‘sit down’ while both giving different hand signals, your dog will struggle to follow.
In a nutshell, always use consistent vocal cues and hand signals while training.
Do you also repeat the same command if your dog doesn’t perform the first time? I know I had this problem when Loki was a pup!
You should only say the command once. Saying ‘sit, sit, sit’ over and over slowly dissolves its power. It doesn’t reinforce the command, it only makes your dog think they’re able to stall.
But if pup consistently underperforms, they may not know the command properly. If that’s the case go back to basics and teach the command again until it’s reliable.
If your dog understands, there are no distractions and they’re simply being stubborn, keep your tone low, firm and confident, and repeat the command one more time. Maintain eye contact after you’ve said it for the last time while taking a step forward. This should be enough to regain control.
You should deliver all commands with confidence and authority. If you use a high pitched or meek voice your dog’s not going to listen to you. Elevated tones should only be used when you’re praising your dog after they’ve done as you asked.
Never punish your dog
If you get frustrated and shout at or punish your dog, training can become an unpleasant and threatening experience for your dog. It won’t be an enjoyable event they look forward to, it’ll be something they become anxious and fearful of.
If your dog becomes scared you might erupt at any moment, they’ll find it difficult to concentrate and you’ll hinder their ability to learn. Punishing your dog will also scupper your chances of forming a close bond with your dog. A solid relationship formed on mutual respect will give you the best training results.
Use positivity to train your dog. If they do something wrong don’t shout, simply redirect or ignore the unwanted behaviour. For example, if they’re chewing on furniture, clap loudly to distract them. Introduce appropriate chews as an alternative such as rope toys, antlers and buffalo horns. Or use reward-based training to show them what’s acceptable.
Often owners will teach their puppy a few basic commands but training dries up as they get older. These learned behaviours slowly degrade over time until eventually your dog rarely responds.
Training should be an ongoing practice to sharpen and reinforce everyday commands. You should also aim to introduce new tricks occasionally to keep their mind active and increase your importance in their life.
Carry out training sessions a few times a week (ideally daily) and use them in everyday situations. This keeps the commands fresh in your dog’s mind which should ensure a more reliable response. For example, use ‘wait’ when you open the front door, or ‘sit’ before they greet other dogs at the park.
Keep training fun
Training should be an enjoyable event where your dog feels engaged and happy to participate.
When you’re teaching a desired behaviour, offer rewards and praise for the small successes. So if you’re teaching pup to ‘wait’, take it slow and reward if they’re sitting still when you take one step back. For every additional step further away, praise and reward.
Rewards for incremental steps give your dog quicker wins and makes training a fulfilling and happy experience, making them more likely to stay focused. If you bark orders and miss opportunities to treat, your dog may become confused and frustrated because they don’t know what you’re asking.
And always end on a high. If you’re teaching a new trick and they’ve not quite mastered it, they may soon get agitated and disinterested. End the session with a few tricks they do know so they leave feeling uplifted and satisfied.
Don’t overdo it
If you find your dog starts losing interest during training sessions, you may be overdoing it. Dogs benefit far more from a few shorter training sessions throughout the day, so they could be losing concentration and feeling worn out.
A handful of 3-minute sessions every couple of hours beats one long 15-minute session hands down.
Assess your dog’s energy levels during training. If it’s been a while and your dog starts ignoring your commands and walks away, it could be time to pack up. Get your dog’s focus one last time. Finish with an easy command and pick up where you left off in a couple of hours.
There are certainly more headstrong dogs than others, but the reason your dog’s ignoring you is not always because they’re stubborn. Often it’s what we do as owners that’s causing our dog’s behaviour. But whether your dog is stubborn, confused or simply distracted, these tips will help you teach your dog to listen to you every time.
I’d love to hear your stubborn dog stories. My Loki can be a right madam sometimes! Let me know how you get on with the training in the comments below…
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