You’re calling and calling your dog but he won’t come. He’s digging a hole in the backyard and won’t stop. Why won’t your dog listen to you? Think about the reasons why your dog might not be listening. Once you figure that out, this is how to get your dog to listen to you.
Reasons Your Dog Isn’t Listening
Are all of their physical needs met? Are they in good health? If they’re not feeling well and in pain, they may not feel up to working. There was a time when I was taking photos of Mr. N in the kitchen and he was having trouble focusing on the camera. He held his stay but something was not quite right. As soon as I released him, he raced to a corner and threw up. If I had admonished him for not listening, I would have felt terrible. I’m surprised he held his stay as long as he did.
Other times if they’re distracted it could be that they urgently need to go to the bathroom or in need of a walk before they can concentrate.
Or maybe they’re getting old and losing their sight and hearing. Perhaps they have dementia. If you notice a repeated pattern where they seem confused or are ignoring you, head to the vet for a checkup and advice.
Is something in the environment distracting your dog or making them uncomfortable?
Mr. N has a horse obsession. He’s like one of those tween girl pony fanatics. When he used to see horses, he would lose his mind. With training, he’s gotten to the point where he gets distracted by horses but doesn’t have a melt down when he sees them from a distance. I can ask him for something easy like a sit in the presence of horses but if I asked him to fetch a toy, he’d be like fetch? What is that word?
The easiest thing to do would to be to move away from the distraction if possible. And work up to that level of distraction in the future.
Mr. N does not like doing a down or sit when it’s wet and he doesn’t like rolling over on hard surfaces. For the former, we compromise on a “squat” sit when it’s wet if I really need him to sit for some reason. And for the latter, I don’t ask that of him. It’s not comfortable. I’ll put a mat or towel down and he’ll do it then. With some adjustments, you can make a better listening environment for your dog.
Is your dog stressed or anxious or scared or over-the-top excited or a combination of the above? If we’re at the vet’s office, Mr. N will get stressed and not want to do anything beyond the most basic cues (sit, stay etc). In the presence of other dogs, he gets over-excited and it typically takes him a few minutes to calm down. There’s no point in training when they’re not in a good head space for it.
Also much like people, I think dogs have good and bad times of the day. Mr. N is not a morning dog and we don’t typically do a lot of strenuous thinking activities early in the day. He’d just roll over and be like you woke me up for this? He prefers training in the afternoon and in the early evening.
Are you making what you’re asking clear to the dog? If you repeatedly say the same cue or typically give the cue sitting/standing/in a down position and then do it differently, the dog may be confused. Clarity is key to dog training. That’s why we advocate for clickers. Clickers make training more precise and carry no emotion or inflections.
I typically train Mr. N sitting down most of the time because otherwise it’s hard for him to see me and vice versa. If I want him to do something where I’m standing, I usually have to do some re-training to make the cue clear. Your dog may simply not understand what you want versus being “stubborn.”
How to Get Your Dog to Listen to You
So now that you’ve figured out why your dog isn’t listening, what do you do? Most issues can be solved with the following steps.
Does your dog need a break? Sometimes if they’re over-aroused, the best thing to do is pull them out of the activity and let them go back to it after a break. If they’re still not listening, activity is done for the day.
There will be things you can’t fully train or don’t deem the battle worth it. Your dog may always be a counter surfer or not be good with other dogs. So you make sure food isn’t left on the counter. You baby gate your kitchen. You muzzle train your dog and don’t take them to dog parks.
Break it down
Remember KISS (keep it simple stupid). You may be asking for too much at once (lumping) and need to break it down into smaller steps (splitting). We’re currently working on the “roll yourself in a blanket” trick. Instead of doing it all at once, we’re starting off with a smaller object (a sock). I initially rewarded for playing dead with the sock still in his mouth and now he’s rolling over while still holding it. Next, we’re going to use a blanket/small towel and polish the final trick.
Up the Reward
It’s not worth it. If you’re on the beach with a cocktail and good read, is it worth leaving if someone offers you a dollar? A hundred dollars? A thousand dollars? Same goes for not chasing a squirrel. Mr. N gets rewarded with extra meaty treats and cheese and occasionally the opportunity to chase a squirrel under safe circumstances.
Your dog simply may not be ready to face whatever challenge you want them to do. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a good recall. Training takes time. It took me weeks of snail pace walks and stopping whenever he pulled to achieve loose leash walking and he still needs the occasional reminder.
What do you do when your dog won’t listen to you?
Welcome to First Monday’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Tenacious Little Terrier, Travels with Barley and Wag ‘n Woof Pets. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below. Our theme for this month is what do you do when your dog won’t listen but any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are also always welcome. The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop goes all week long. And our next hop will begin Nov 6th on the theme “training company manners.”