Why is my dog so stubborn and doesnt listen?
Simply a Stubborn Dog?
Let’s stop calling our dogs stubborn all the time. They very well might be stubborn and I know that is a word we trainers use probably too often as well, but the reasons behind the stubborn-ness are SO important.
A main reason we see that creates stubbornness in dogs is no history of accountability or learning to learn how to do things by following instructions from man.
That was a bit of a mouthful. Let me unpack that. If there is little to no guidance given to a dog from a person and no accountability to back up that guidance, then the dog is simply not used to following instructions from people. That’s it. It’s simple. If they aren’t used to it, it can be very hard for them at first and maybe always will be. There was no early imprint of teaching the dog to learn how to do new things and follow basic commands from humans, so imagine the dog struggling with changing that mindset. It’s as if you take a 15 year old kid and they have never been to school and you put them in school. It’s going to take them a minute to catch up and they will really struggle in some areas, reverting to past things that have worked for them, shutting down, lashing out, etc.
Here are a few scenarios that would fit the above explanation.
- A dog is solely a back yard dog. He was crazy as a puppy and deemed “too much”, so he stays outside. He gets fed every day and a few pats on the head some days. The occasional playing with a toy happens a couple times a week. He might have to sit for his food bowl and that’s about it. That is a dog that would really struggle taking instruction from a person on how to handle another dog out on a walk or even something simple, like not pulling your arm out of socket to smell bushes.
- Another example is the good dog trap. You have an easy puppy or rescue dog. As they settle in they seem to have an easy temperament so you don’t do much with them. They pull a little on leash, but not too bad. They get excited easily, but eventually calm down. Nothing to major to worry about so you mostly teach them to sit and they get lots of pets every day. Then something happens. Maybe they get barked at a lot by the neighbor dog. You can see their excitement growing and after 3-4 months of that, the neighbor dog gets out of their yard and rushes your dog. After that you dog is now barking at every dog he sees. When you try to get his attention, he’s not listening and is being “stubborn”. The real cause is that you don’t have that type of relationship with him, so why would he pay attention to you. He’s not used to taking instruction from you. His life has been full of freedom because he’s a good dog genetically and has a naturally balanced temperament.
- The final main example we see is this pup in the photo, Nacho. He is really a sweet dog. He was a street dog in another country, found with other dogs that were picked up and taken to a rescue. So imagine his life doing a lot of what he pleases, even if it was just for a short time. Then he gets taken to a new country with new smells and people. Rescue volunteers that are kind and well meaning are constantly petting him and rubbing his belly and they love it when he runs around. Now this dog is in a home and they love him, but he doesn’t really listen. He can come across as very stubborn, but let’s look at the why. He has had a period of his life of complete independence mixed with a complete upheaval in his life causing stress and confusion and then showered with softness and love. That is definitely not a recipe for listening to humans or learning healthy coping skills in a new situation. Naturally he is going to try some tactics he knows humans like in order to get what he wants or has just become accustomed to, what he is used to getting. For instance, showing his belly rather than listening, zooming around, giving the pouty face (yes this is a learned response to get affection sometimes). He will take some time, extra guidance and repetition to learn anything new that he isn’t choosing himself. He may still have stubborn moments, but you must look at how far he has come and what he has come from. He will need a patience and strong minded owner. That might be your rescue dog at home that you think is just stubborn.
Here are some other quick reasons your dog may seem stubborn.
- Learned stubbornness that is accidentally taught to a dog by letting him get away with things. For instance, you teach your dog to get off the couch on command while you are eating. During a short period of time you just let him be up there while having lunch, essentially giving in or just letting him for a change. After all, he’s laying on the end of the couch not bothering you. A few days of this and you really need him to get off for something else and he won’t. He might even grumble at you, mouth you, etc. He is pushing back because the rules were relaxed. That can cause confusion for a dog and then some dogs jump right back to what you originally taught, where as others will push back seeming stubborn, but really they learned to do that from you. An easier example is calling a dog from the back yard. Usually he does really good and then on a tough day you let him chase the squirrel around the fence line because he won’t listen and you don’t feel like going and getting him that day. You re-enforce that bad behavior just once or twice. After a few times over a month, he now doesn’t listen often on walks when seeing a squirrel. It all bleeds together and the dog seems stubborn and won’t listen.
- Willful dogs can really come across as stubborn. This is where I see a dogs true stubborn nature. Dogs often do what they can to get what they want, even if that means a pet on the head, not just chasing a squirrel. They require more leadership, consistency and structure than other softer dogs. Without that they come across as very stubborn because they are so willful all the time, even relenting at the idea of listening on the first ask. These can be fun, but tough dogs to own. You have to be disciplined in your own nature and consistent as a personality trait of your own to enjoy these dogs sometimes.
- Lastly there is the just plain old spoiled dogs category. Some dogs if you spoil them, they won’t listen or they’ll need to be told many times. Simple as that 🙂
So hopefully I’ve given everyone a lot to think about when it comes to your dog and how stubborn they are. Patterns are learned quickly with dogs and your patterns are the first thing a dog and puppy learn. So many personalities and genetic traits mixed with your relationship with your dog determines how easy or difficult and stubborn a dog might be. There is no easy quick fix. It’s just hard work and understanding.
Why Won’t My Dog Come When Called?
There are few things more frustrating for owners than calling your dog and being ignored. Some pups listen perfectly in the house, but getting them to leave the dog park? Forget it.
Why Dogs Don’t Come When Called
Much like toddlers, dogs can be easily distracted, and they need to learn things in a variety of environments, with varying levels of distraction, for it to really sink in. This is called “proofing.”
If your dog isn’t coming when you call, they may not have generalized the command to all environments. Your dog may truly think that, when you’re sitting on the couch and say “come,” it means to come over to you, but only in the living room.
When training your dog on a new command or cue, start in the least distracting environment possible and gradually work your way up to more exciting places, like the park. For example, if you’re teaching your dog to “come,” start in one room of your house. Now, move to another room. Then, the backyard. Next, the front yard. Then, the park down the street. See what we’re getting at? Your dog should be able to come when called at least eight or nine times out of ten in each environment before you move to another setting. Another way to practice at home is to make a game of training.
Your Dog Doesn’t Want To Get In Trouble
Another reason your dog might not listen is because they’ve gotten in trouble in the past when they’ve come to you. Maybe they ran off to chase a squirrel, or maybe they were just busy sniffing the corner of the yard, but if you use a frustrated or angry tone, your dog is going to associate coming to you with being in trouble.
No matter how upset you are at your dog, fake it. Use a high-pitched, happy voice and reward them when they come to you. This will make your pup more likely to come the next time you call.
Tip: If you have used “come” with an angry tone in the past, choose a different word and start over to give them a positive association with coming when called.
Your Dog Doesn’t Think It’s Worth It
Why in the world would your dog want to come back to you when there is a super exciting dog to play with at the park? Or a squirrel to bark at? You have to make yourself more interesting than whatever else is out there.
That means you’ll need to find out what your dog loves above all else. For many dogs, it might be a high-value treat. For others, it might mean getting to tug on a toy. Whatever your dog is into, give them lots of it when they come to you. For example, try using hot dogs or a special toy only as a reward for coming when called. When your pup obeys the command, have a party and shower them with the treats!
Your Dog Thinks the Fun Is About To End
Of course, there are times when you have to go home from the dog park or come inside, so your dog doesn’t get a choice. However, if telling your pup to “come” always means the fun ends, they’re less likely to want to do it.
An easy way to prevent this is to call your dog, reward them, then let them go again. The Premack Principle is a theory developed by psychologist David Premack that states that high-probability behaviors will reinforce low-probability behaviors. Your dog will learn that if they come to you, they get a high-value reward, then will get to go back to what they’d rather be doing anyway. It’s a win-win for them to listen and perform the low-probability behavior, which is to come when called. Over time, your dog may even start checking in with you on their own, just in case there is a treat waiting.
Tip: If you decide to do this, come up with a release command like “okay” or “go,” so your dog knows they’re free to go again.
When To Stop Using Rewards
Whenever you first start teaching your dog something new, you should be a “vending machine”. Each time they do what you ask, they get a reward. Over time, you can turn into a “slot machine”, meaning that your dog gets rewarded randomly for performing the behavior. It’s fine to start rewarding randomly once your dog has learned to listen every single time you give the command.
Other Tips To Teach Your Dog To Come When Called
- When teaching your dog to come, say their name once and the command once (“Fido, come!”). Don’t keep repeating their name or “come,” as your pup may tune you out, and the command may eventually lose any meaning.
- Start out using a six-foot leash and then graduate your dog to a long line to make it more challenging. This also allows you to safely give your dog more freedom. If your dog ignores you, don’t reel them in with the leash. Instead, use it to walk yourself closer until your dog comes to you. You want it to be their choice to come when called, not something you force them to do.
Last but not least, no dog is perfect. Never let your dog off-leash in an area where they could get hit by a car, lost in the woods, or end up in some other sort of trouble.
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There Are No Stubborn Dogs
We all have heard (and probably said, or at least thought) these statements often. Can dogs (and other animals) truly be stubborn?
Like many other times, this is us using an exclusively human trait to describe our canine friends.
Stubborn is defined as “having or showing determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so.”
Not being willing to change one’s attitude in spite of good arguments and reasons doesn’t sound exactly like something a dog would do, right?
When was the last time you were having a discussion based on arguments and reasoning with your dog? Never.
In describing our dogs as stubborn, we are implying that they have some sort of inherent view point, and are reluctant to change it despite evidence that it would be smart to.
This is not how their mind works: they operate nearly exclusively on an event – consequence level. Our dogs have no sense of pride that will prevent them to change their behavior because they gain some sort of innate satisfaction from being insistent on their original opinion (humans definitely have that sense of pride!) – if they are not changing their behavior to the one we’d like them to display, it is because the event – consequence relation is not yet set up in our favor.
Let’s look at some examples of situations where we’d like to think our dog is stubborn.
How about the dog that pulls on leash during walks?
And no matter how many times he is leash-popped or reprimanded or even slapped with the leash across his nose, he continues to pull?
We need to examine where he finds the consequences of his behavior. Walking is kind of a huge deal for your dog (which is why you should walk him every day – Walk Your Dog).
Going for a stroll with you, sniffing everything, peeing on some bushes, meeting people, meeting dogs, being physically active – he loves this. It is insanely rewarding for him to go for a walk.
And he has learned that the way he gets to walk is by pulling. Pulling hard. Perhaps so hard that it squeezes his trachea and makes him choke up some mucus, but whatever. He loves to walk, and he has accepted as a normal fact of life that he needs to pull you along for these adventures.
Instead of managing this extreme reward, we implement some kind of correction for pulling. Unfortunately, this correction will likely be way too minor to permanently discourage your dog from pulling. The promise of getting to go on a walk is much more attractive to your dog than the downer of being scolded. He is probably highly confused – why are you reprimanding him for walking the way he has learned to walk? If your timing is off, he is not even aware he got corrected for the pulling.
Eventually, it comes back to this: Pulling gets him the walk. That is not a stubborn dog, it is a dog whose rewards have not been managed well.
How about the dog who doesn’t down when told?
Ah, this is one of my favorites. “My dog is stubborn, he doesn’t want to down!”
I’ll ask “How did you teach him to down?”
-“By saying Down!”
“And then he didn’t down? So you did what?”
-“I said no, down!”
Okay. Let’s remember: Dogs do not know English. Dogs generally are really bad at learning language (Trying to Talk Your Dog Into Things? Don’t.). It is hard for us humans to realize this as we humans ace language. It is one of the things that we do really, fantastically well.
And still, even a human does not learn a new language by being told what to do in words he doesn’t understand.
One day I will just show up at class and start instructing everyone in German. If they don’t respond, I will only get louder and angrier: “He, macht die Stangen auf die Huerden. Stangen. Ich habe gesagt Stangen auf die Huerden! Stangen! Sagt mal. Hoert ihr schwer?”
(Of course I won’t. No one is allowed to get angry in my classes.)
Your dog has no idea what “down” means unless you explain it to him – and I don’t mean explaining in English words, but through actions. Lure him into a down. Shape him with a clicker to down. Capture a down when he is going to lie down in any case (for example at night).
The dog isn’t stubborn, he just doesn’t understand.
How about the dog who doesn’t come when called?
We have all seen the dog park dogs who do not come when called. The owner gets more and more frustrated, starts yelling and chasing his dog, the dog meanwhile is well aware that he is a lot faster – and will continue to have fun if he can keep away from his owner.
No, he is not “being a pill” or a “little shit”. He has learned very well that running away gets him a longer playtime – and that listening to the recall gets him a ride home. I am always amazed to see how few owners actually take the time to let their dogs know how much they appreciate them recalling off of friends, and instead clip in the leash and drag them away.
If you like something your dog does, let him know – or he may not do it again.
Next time you think your dog is stubborn – think about it for a minute. Is it truly inherent pride in adhering to some doggy philosophy he has, and refusing to change his mind?
Or have you just not yet discovered the structure of all consequences and environmental rewards that might have him misbehave, or might he even be totally unaware of what it is you’re asking him to do?
(hint: it’s not the first one)
Don’t give your dog too much credit for reasoning (they don’t deserve it). Give them more credit for being honest, straight-forward and obvious in the way they act.