Updated: May 10, 2019
If you're like most people, you may have a hard time keeping your dogs attention past the threshold of your front door, if you're lucky. While Mr. Scraps may (or may not) listen to you in the house, he definitely doesn't listen to you outside. Maybe your dog thinks he's the 2016 tug-of-war champion, always pulling you down the street. Or maybe he thinks he's the mayor, constantly running off to "say hi" to other dogs and humans alike. Either way, lunging, pulling, and a total disregard for you can be frustrating, stressful and gets old very quickly. Here are the top 5 reasons your dog doesn't listen to you.
1. You repeat yourself.
Think about it... How many times do you repeat your dog's name or tell them "no", "sit" or "come" in any given situation before you actually get a response? The problem with constantly repeating yourself is that whatever words or phrases you repeat to your dog become background noise that means nothing and gets ignored, rather than a meaningful command to be followed. Part of the dog training process focuses on giving words meaning by immediately following through with an action. The action can be a reward or guidance/pressure/correction and is applied in a low distraction environment, gradually building up to higher distraction environments. Think of it this way, one word equals one action.
2. You're not consistent.
Consistency is the foundation of learning for dogs. Period. One common mistake I see with dog owners is, as soon as their dog begins to commit to a behavior, they stop training the behavior and begin to expect it whenever and wherever they ask. This is a big mistake for two reasons. One, the dog has not fully learned what is expected and required of them, as this takes time and literally hundreds and hundreds of repetitions. Two, the owner will prematurely raise their expectations, which will create confusion and frustration for the dog and owner alike. Consistency can be applied in many ways, through rules, rewards and patterns. For example make sure your dog knows what is expected of them by consistently working on it in both low and high distraction environments. Be sure you apply rules and boundaries and consistently uphold them. Lastly, consistently reward wanted and desirable behaviors while properly discouraging and providing consequences that your dog wishes to avoid for unwanted behaviors.
3. Your dog has more fun without you
If you leave toys around the house for your dog to entertain themselves or frequently allow your dog to go play alone or with other dogs, whether in your own yard, at a dog park or an open field, you're actually teaching your dog that all the fun happens away from you and without you. To be clear, I'm not at all saying you shouldn't let your dog run around or play with other dogs. But if that's what happens all the time and without you involved, you will absolutely become less important and relevant to your dog. Engaging with your dog and being someone that they look to as a source of fun goes a long way and is extremely advantageous to you. Teach your dog to play tug, fetch, hide and seek, and other games that involve you. This will greatly improve your relationship as well as make you the center of attention to your dog. If you have multiple dogs, control play time. Don't just let your dogs play together whenever they want. Start and or stop random play sessions. This is a great way to express control and get your dog(s) to take you more seriously.
4. You get frustrated and yell
I can understand most people's frustration when it comes to dealing with an untrained dog. Unfortunately, becoming emotional and yelling does not help. Most, if not all dogs will not want anything to do with someone that is yelling at them or appears threatening in any way. Getting angry only pushes your dog away and creates instability in your relationship and could potentially create defensiveness, or even aggression. To avoid becoming frustrated and losing your patience, be sure you've set reasonable expectations and your dog completely understands what it is that you want from them in any given situation or context. For example, if you just started to practice "come" with your dog and they're doing well with no distractions, it would be unreasonable for you to expect your dog to come when called if they're running towards another dog at the park, sniffing something really interesting on the ground, or in the middle of play. You must show your dog, step by step that even in those situations, they must listen to you. Slowly introduce distractions through training and keep your expectations inline with what your dog understands.
5. You don't correct your dog
Corrections are literally one half of dog training. Without applying proper corrections in your training, you are missing a huge component in communicating with your dog. Have you ever heard someone say "my dog will only listen if I have food"? Maybe that someone is you. The reason why is because your dog has no undesirable consequence to face if he doesn't listen. Yes, there are plenty of rewards for doing the right thing but once your dog knows what to do, they must learn that sometimes they have to do it, even if they don't want to. It is important to understand that a correction is absolutely not one size fits all for dogs. Each dog must be given a correction that is appropriate for them, the situation and is within the owner's abilities. I can't tell you exactly what a proper correction should be for your dog because that depends on many things. What I can tell you is that a proper correction is a consequence that your dog would much rather avoid and can be avoided by following your directions. Corrections are always delivered without emotion and should never scare your dog or make them shut down. Simply put, a good correction makes an unwanted behavior less likely to occur without damaging your relationship with your dog.
You may have noticed that the common denominator here is you. It is not my intention to place blame but it is important to understand that it's your responsibility to teach your dog what to do and be consistent with the rules. A dog will always choose the path of least resistance and do what works for them. Keep in mind that there could be a medical issue preventing your dog from listening to you. For example, your dog may not sit when told because of an injured leg. They may not come when called due to the loss of hearing. Always check to be sure whether or not this is the case. While this article is meant to shed light on some of the reasons your dog may not be listening to you, it is not intended as a substitution for proper training. I recommend the help of a qualified professional to assist you in whatever your goals may be in regards to training your dog. If you need a trainer, click here.