The Real Reason Your Stubborn Dog Isn't Listening to You

How often does your dog listen to you when you ask something? If the answer is “only when I have a treat” or “when there are no other distractions”, you’re not alone. Many of us will say a command over and over again only to have our dog turn tail and run in the opposite direction. Believe it or not, this is not because your dog is being stubborn, or because it doesn’t have the mental capacity to perform behaviors. There’s much more going on in that adorable little head, and we’re going to get to the root of it in this article.

The Real Reason Your Dog Isn’t Listening to You

Though it can sometimes seem as though our dogs are purposefully ignoring us, the truth is that there are 2 main reasons that your dog is not  listening to you:

  1. They don’t understand what you’re asking

  2. The reward for the behavior isn’t high enough

#1. Your Dog Doesn’t Understand You

In a dog’s world, body language is everything, it’s how they communicate with each other and to us. A dog will pick up much quicker on our body language than they will our voice because domestication has led them to read all of our social cues in order to survive in our world.

Of course, a dog will learn to listen to a verbal cue as well, but that’s after many repetitions, whereas they can learn hand signals like that *snap*

So, if your dog isn’t listening to you it could just be that it doesn’t understand what you’re asking, so get your body into it. If you’re confused about what that means, follow these 2 examples, and apply the same techniques to any behavior that you want to teach your dog.

How to Train a "Sit" Using Body Language

Most dogs are aware of how to sit when asked, so this is a good place to start incorporating body language. When you ask your dog for a sit, instead of standing in one place as you normally do, begin with your knees bent.

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As you ask for the sit, straighten your body. Your dog will instinctually place it’s bum to the ground in order to keep its eyes locked on you.

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Train Your Dog to Walk on Leash Properly Using Body Language

Training a dog to walk politely on leash can be a very difficult task because there are so many fun and exciting distractions outside. So, in order to get your dog to walk nicely on leash, you’ll need to be more exciting than those distractions, and you do that by using your body.

When your dog finds something interesting to sniff, instead of yelling “leave it” at your dog a dozen times, say it once and then use your body to gently move your body away from the object. I’m not talking about pulling or yanking your dog away but gently guiding. Make kissy noises, get excited, show your dog that it’s fun to follow you. You can use treats to lure your dog away as well, to up the motivation. The key is to use your body to give your dog something interesting to follow. If we simply rely on our voices to get our dog away from food on the street, the food will always win.

#2. The Reward Isn’t High Enough

The second reason that your dog may not be listening to you is that the reward isn’t high enough for them. Meaning that they’ve decided that it’s not worth the time and energy to do a behavior when they get nothing in return. If you’re constantly asking your dog to do something like a sit, and they never get a treat, or a pet, or even a “good job” then they’re not going to be motivated to do it. You wouldn’t work for free, would you? Well, your dog doesn’t want to either.

In order to overcome this, you’ll need to get your dog excited about working again, and you do this by rewarding often, and rewarding well. When you’re training your dog, reward EVERY TIME your dog does the behavior until that behavior is instilled in them. After a lot of repetition, you can begin to reward intermittently, but you need to get that behavior engrained first, otherwise your dog is just going to decide it’s not worth it and give up.

TIP: Make sure that the reward is something irresistible so that your dog is really willing to work hard in order to get it. I suggest using pieces of hot dog or cheese in the beginning to make your dog eager to work. Avoid using very hard treats that will take the dog a long time to chew. We’re looking for soft and smelly treats here.

Dogs are smart, and they love us. Dogs WANT to work with us, but if they don’t know what we’re saying and they get nothing out of it than it can sometimes seem like they’re just plain stubborn, which more often than not isn’t the case. If you work on these 2 points than I can guarantee you that your dog will be listening to your every word in no time.