It can be frustrating when your dog doesn’t listen to you. Sometimes, it’s a command you know the dog knows because he does it perfectly at home, in the backyard, or at dog classes. Just not now, when you need him to do it.
Is it a dominance issue when your dog doesn’t listen? Not according to the world’s leading canine ethologists (scientists who study dog behavior). These experts agree that dogs are never out to dominate their owners. What’s more, attempting to dominate our dogs can be confusing and frightening to them. Such confusion can elicit aggressive-looking behaviors aimed at self-defence.
Why don’t dogs obey our commands?
When dogs don’t listen to us, it has more to do with weaknesses in our training strategies than anything else. So, let’s look at the real reasons dogs don’t listen to us.
1. Your dog has unmet physical needs
If your dog has unmet physical needs, he won’t be able to focus on the behavior you want him to perform. If he seems incapable of listening, he may be:
- hungry or thirsty
- needing to eliminate
- full of energy he needs to burn
- not feeling well
- anxious or nervous
2. He does not have your full attention
If you are busy fiddling with your phone or taping a TikTok video of your training session, your attention is not fully on your dog. When you’re training, you aren’t present for your dog if you’re thinking about something else. Your dog needs you to be fully there whenever you are training or issuing a command.
3. You don’t use reward markers
A reward marker tells the dog that he’ll get a food reward every time he does a particular behavior. Many dog trainers use a clicker or verbal marker to let the dog know a specific behavior will earn him a “prize.” The reward marker always happens at the beginning of a behavior and never after the behavior is complete. Dogs always do more exaggerated forms of the behavior that gets them something they want. When initially training the dog to perform a behavior, reward markers communicate what you want very clearly to the dog. Additionally, reward markers cement that behavior in the dog’s mind as a fun activity that he loves doing.
4. Your dog is not motivated
From a dog’s perspective, any reinforcer loses value when it is always the same or always available whenever he chooses to comply. Ways to build value in your reinforcer’s motivational value:
- Keep training sessions very short (between 2 and 5 minutes) and frequent (6-10 times per day)
- Food rewards should be tiny, fragrant, and generously given for successful behavior
- Food rewards should be varied
- Food rewards should be dispensed fairly, considering the difficulty of the behavior performed.
5. You are asking too much, too soon
It can be easy to forget that your dog is a member of a foreign species that has no intrinsic way of understanding our language or our ways. Here are some ways we ask too much of our dogs:
- Increasing the level of distractions too soon
- You didn’t proof the behavior sufficiently with graduated introduction of distractions.
- He isn’t entirely clear on the necessary behavior yet
- He has had many reinforced repetitions of a behavior you are trying to get him to stop doing
6. The dog is worried about discomfort
If your dog has been punished during training, any future training can cause anxiety and make it difficult for him to focus and listen. Also, if the behavior itself will bring discomfort, don’t expect your dog to respond. For example, cueing a short-coated dog to “down” on a cold, wet sidewalk.
7. You didn’t let him get used to a new environment before you cued the behavior
Let your dog adapt to an environment for a few minutes before cueing the behavior you want.
8. You are telling him NOT to do something
Dogs think proactively – they are doers. They don’t know the meaning of stopping any activity or behavior. They do things because those behaviors have been inadvertently reinforced in the past. When we say “No!” or “Stop that!” it can temporarily interrupt a behavior the dog is doing, but that doesn’t mean he has any idea what you are on about. Instead of telling the dog to stop doing something, consider preventing it from happening for the duration of training so that he can learn a preferable behavior.