What to Do if Your Dog Won’t Listen

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What to do when your dog won't listen

We’ve all been there, right?

Maybe you’re ready to leave the dog park, so you call your dog to go home … only he doesn’t come when you call him. So frustrating!

Or maybe you ask him to sit during a walk when another dog is passing, and he absolutely refuses to sit.

Your dog probably knows commands like “come” and “sit” so why won’t he listen when it matters?

I’ll share some of my ideas, and then I’d love to hear from you too in the comments.

Reasons a dog won’t listen

1. The dog truly doesn’t understand what you’re asking him to do.

Sometimes dog owners expect too much from their dogs.

Just because a dog knows “sit” while you’re in the living room doesn’t mean he knows “sit” outside on a walk.

For me, a good comparison is how I might recognize my neighbor if I see him on our own street, but I might not recognize him at the mall or at a restaurant because that would be out of context.

Likewise, dogs need to learn different “commands” or concepts in different scenarios.

And “sit” is a pretty easy concept. Commands like “watch me” or “heel” are even more difficult because they require more concentration from the dog.

My own dog knows the command “get your leash” when we’re in the living room and his leash is right by the door. He happily goes over and grabs it. But if I were to ask him to “get your leash” while at the dog park, I can guarantee you he wouldn’t understand.

2. The dog is too distracted.

This is probably the big one for most of us. The dog simply can’t focus if there are too many distractions like noises, smells or other dogs.

Solution: Find a greater reward, something that stands a chance at holding your dog’s interest like pieces of ham or jerky treats. Find something “better” to your dog than those distractions. With time, you’ll be able to cut back on the rewards.

Also, practice asking your dog to do things in scenarios that aren’t as challenging and then very slowly over time increase the challenge as your dog is successful.

3. The dog is scared or in pain.

I noticed this recently with my own dog. He refused to shake even though this is a fun trick he’s loved all his life. I soon realized he wouldn’t do it because of arthritis. It hurts him to lift his paw at that angle, so I don’t ask him to shake anymore.

I notice my dog also hesitates to sit or lie down when I ask. Or he does it much slower than usual. It’s not because he’s not “listening.” It’s because he’s in pain.

Keep this in mind when you’re asking your own dog to do things, even if he’s not an old dog.

For example, maybe your dog isn’t sitting when asked because the pavement is hot on her paws and she wants to keep moving. Or maybe the linoleum is too slippery.

Maybe your dog is simply tired or sore from running around at the park. Or maybe he doesn’t come when called because you’ve made the mistake of calling him in the past and then punishing him for running off in the first place.

Sometimes we just need to take a step back and look at the situation from the dog’s point of view and what she might be experiencing. See my recent post on common fears dogs have.

4. You’re boring or stressful to work with.

How often are we stressed or upset when we’re training or walking our dogs or asking them to do something? Probably fairly often.

Or how about when we’re tired or busy and we just walk our dogs while acting like spaced-out, emotionless robots? That happens to me all the time.

If we want our dogs to listen, we need to be fun, positive and engaging! You’d think we would realize this, but sometimes we forget.

Tips: Carry highly valued treats in your pocket, play games with your dog, talk to him, goof off every now and then, carry a squeaky toy or simply run ahead of your dog yelling “woooo!” so he chases you.

My own dog absolutely loves certain people more than others, and it’s because he views them as playful and exciting and unpredictable in a fun way. He’d happily go home with some of my friends, leaving me standing, just because he views them as more exciting than me! Sigh …

OK, so those are my ideas. What ideas do the rest of you have?

What are some other reasons why our dogs might not listen to us?

About Lindsay Stordahl

Lindsay Stordahl is a blogger for dogIDs.com. She has a black Lab mix named Ace and two naughty cats named Beamer and Scout. Lindsay owns a pet sitting business called Run That Mutt and also maintains the blog ThatMutt.com. ... Add Lindsay to your Google+ circles at . You can follow Lindsay on Twitter @ThatMutt.

  1. So we have a dog and when we let her off the lead she will go to our neighbors and dig in their garbage and rip it up in our front yard. Or maybe we’ll let her off then it starts to get dark and we need her to come but she will come and stop and 3 feet away and once we move out hand or foot she would bolt off. She barks and won’t sit when told she knows sit when outside that where we taught it to her. She is very disobedient and my dad said if she doesn’t start listening she’ll have to be taken away…?

  2. Hi Ash. So sorry to hear you’re having some trouble with your dog. Would you be able to hire a professional trainer to come and give you some suggestions? Even a single one-on-one session can be a big help.

    What I would recommend for now is taking her out on a leash or on a long lead while you work on some training with her. I would use highly valued treats she can’t resist and work on the basics in the yard like sit, stay, come. Just working on these should help her learn to pay attention to you.

    Also, how much exercise is she currently getting? I would make sure she is getting a nice 40-minute walk every day, and it can help to give her a “job” like carrying a doggy backpack. That way she has something to do vs. getting into the trash.

    I’m just brainstorming. Hope this gives you some ideas to try. Good luck!

  3. I love your ideas. It certainly makes sense-once I stopped to actually think about it. Our dog knows sit in the house but is often ‘stubborn’ when asked to sit while on a walk or just outside in general. Now I know to make sure we continue with the practice.

    Also, more often than not, when he’s out for a walk, it’s not a fun event. It’s a ‘I’m sorry you haven’t been taken out for a few days. Let’s stretch your legs but I have to get home and get some work done.’ Well, how exciting would that be for a person? I think I’d rather just stay home than get my hopes up that I’ll have time to smell the smells, watch the birds, etc.

    Thank you for this. As I said, it certainly makes sense when you stop and think about it, but I guess I needed to be reminded to stop and think about it.

    Now, if only we could get him to stop the counter surfing!

  4. I love your ideas. It certainly makes sense-once I stopped to actually think about it. Our dog knows sit in the house but is often ‘stubborn’ when asked to sit while on a walk or just outside in general. Now I know to make sure we continue with the practice.

    Also, more often than not, when he’s out for a walk, it’s not a fun event. It’s a ‘I’m sorry you haven’t been taken out for a few days. Let’s stretch your legs but I have to get home and get some work done.’ Well, how exciting would that be for a person? I think I’d rather just stay home than get my hopes up that I’ll have time to smell the smells, watch the birds, etc.

  5. Hi, I have a rescue Jack Chi female, 9 years old. Love her to death, but she is challenging in a couple of areas. She is excellent in some behaviors and knows without a command to sit when we come to a corner, to sit and wait until I go out the door and release her. She knows sit, come, stay, down, wait, go and free. Problem is she is territorial and wants to take down every dog she sees on a walk. Really balistic. Same thing when a stranger comes to the door. Or someone or a dog walks by. She is so focused that anything that touches her will get bitten. I am down to using a spray bottle of water set on a light mist to distract her and command Stop. A little success at the front door, not on walks. I would love to hear any advice, please. She is such a good girl 95% of the time.

    • Hi Judi! How frustrating! I recommend the short book called “Feisty Fido” by Patricia McConnell. It goes over a step by step guide on how to change your dog’s emotional response to her triggers by using treats and working within her threshold. Basically you make a list of her exact, specific triggers. So, for example, does she freak out 10 feet from all other dogs on walks? Or withing 20 feet? Does she react to all people or just certain people? Etc. Once you know exactly when she will react, you can find a highly valued food reward and work with her just within that threshold. So, if she freaks out within 20 feet of another dog, you would work with her 25 feet from other dogs giving her the food for basics like sit, “watch me” etc. Eventually, very slowly over several training sessions you can work closer and closer to her triggers. The goal is to change her emotional response so instead of thinking “I’m going to scare that other dog away!” she thinks “Oh boy! Another dog! I get chicken treats!”

      • Thanks so much, Lindsay! That sounds workable. I’ve had two trainers in to help with this. One insists on using a pinch collar. Not acceptable! The other would have me find someone with a dog to cause this behavior and then keep walking Zoe back and forth in front of the person and dog. The trainer did this with me and it actually worked. After a half, Zoe sat down quietly and just waited. I can’t afford to pay someone to do that with me every day. Don’t know anyone that loves us enough to do that. I will put this to work and touch base again with progress. Again thank you.

      • Thanks so much, Lindsay! That sounds workable. I’ve had two trainers in to help with this. One insists on using a pinch collar. Not acceptable! The other would have me find someone with a dog to cause this behavior and then keep walking Zoe back and forth in front of the person and dog. The trainer did this with me and it actually worked. After a half hour, Zoe sat down quietly and just waited. I can’t afford to pay someone to do that with me every day. Don’t know anyone that loves us enough to do that. I will put this to work and touch base again with progress. Again thank you.

  6. Hi Lindsey, I have 2 rescued St. Bernards. In the car while traveling they bark at other dogs, people, cars, etc. have not been able to stop this barking as long as they can see the thing they are barking at. Any suggestions? JTR

    • How frustrating! Is it one dog that is the main problem or are both equally as bad? I was wondering if it might be easier to work with one at a time. What have you tried other than telling them “no” or “quiet”? Will they lie down on command (if there’s room for that) and remain lying down? It might work if you have a friend or family member ride with you or have them drive while one person can focus on the dogs. You could use highly valued food to get them to lie down and focus on you, teaching them “watch me” or “quiet” and rewarding calm behavior. You would need to practice it in less distracting environments first, like where there’s few people walking by and then busier areas as they are more successful. You might even just practice in the garage or driveway without even running the car. Just to get them to learn “down/stay/quiet” or “watch me.”

      Another thing to try would be to get them to focus on a special chew toy or bone in the car (peanut butter?). Is there anything that might keep their attention? Rawhides? That’s assuming they won’t fight.

  7. Hi Lindsay!
    I have a 1 year rescue pit/boxer mix. She has been doing really well adjusting to her surroundings knowing her horrifying past. Ive had her for about four and a half months now, and she knows her name, knows how to sit, shake, and lie down. One thing I am having trouble with is when I let her go outside, she doesnt listen to the command come. She listens in the house, but as soon as she is outside, she ignores me. For example: I will let her outside and a neighbor will walk out the door and she looks, looks and me, and then as soon as I say come, she runs right to the neighbor. PLEASE help me with suggestions! I have tried bringing her favorite treats outside and showing her them, and I have also tried with her favorite toys. Nothing seems to be working!

    • Hi Rachel. Sorry to hear she’s not coming when called outside. That is very normal behavior! It’s simply too challenging/distracting for her at the moment but it’s a great sign that she listens so well indoors. I would just practice with some slightly more challenging distractions outside or even inside and very slowly increase the challenge. It’s just too hard for her right now to resist running to the neighbor. You can also try using more highly valued rewards for when you practice. Tiny pieces of real chicken or steak work well for my dog! So, for example, maybe you practice outside with a long leash on her and no people or dogs around. Practice in different areas of the yard, front yard, side of the house, back yard and in every room of the house. (Don’t call her when you know she won’t listen as that just teaches her coming when called is optional.)

  8. Hi Lindsay.

    I have a 2 1/2 year old Bichon who has what I can only compare to a temper tantrum. If he wants something and I don’t give it to him right away he will pee, making sure that I am watching him. Also, he will only mark outside, going in about 9 different places in the yard. I can understand marking on walks, but just to go n the yard? Other dogs I’ve had never did this. Any suggestions for what I can do? Also, he is so afraid of everything.

    • Hi Mary, sorry to hear of your dog’s issues. That sounds frustrating! When he pees in the house, is it small amounts like he’s marking? How often is this happening? And do you mean when he wants attention or to go for a walk or when he wants food? A toy? Is it possible he’s asking to go outside for a potty break? Hard to know what’s happening without more info, but I would recommend hiring a trainer if it’s becoming a problem. Even a single one-on-one session can make a big difference, just to have a professional observe the behavior and offer suggestions.

      For the marking in the yard, that is normal dog behavior. I’m guessing the majority of dog owners don’t really mind if a dog marks in the yard but if you don’t want him to do it it’s possible to teach him to mark only on walks. Unfortunately, he won’t figure this out on his own so you would have to take him out on a leash to the correct area each time and reward him for relieving himself. Similar to puppy potty training. On walks, tell him good boy when he marks or even give it a cue/command like “go sniff.” How often do you walk him? Walking him more frequently should help speed up this training.

  9. Hi my 6yr old cross border collie /springer spaniel and she constantly barks at TV if there’s a dog on there or any animal or certain music sets her of and she won’t listen to us she goes crazy how can I stop this

    • Hi Michelle. How frustrating! I would try setting up some scenarios where you know she will be “triggered” and have the sound on a lower setting. Use highly valued treats (real chicken?), hold it right up to her nose and guide her into a sit or down. Reward calm behavior and eye contact. Try to train her to do something other than bark (the sit or down). Then slowly over a few training sessions try increasing the volume or intensity of the “trigger.” That’s what I would try anyway!

  10. Hi i love your tips i have a 10 month old shepard mix that i adopted i work with him with sit and to laydown but my problem is he doesnt listen when i say come and he is always begging for food or picking up food or things from the floor he will even jump to the counter to eat the foods please help.

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