Canine Chronicles
There are many possible reasons for a dog’s apparent obstinance

Chantal Mills kneeling with her hands on a dog laying down at each side.

By Chantal Mills

Dogs need patience and help in order to generalize desired behaviours in a variety of (sometimes challenging) environments. Photo: PicsbyFran from Pixabay

I’ve heard many variations of “my dog is stubborn” over the years. Some complain that their dog only listens when it’s convenient. Others tell me that their dog blows them off and ignores them. Some people have gone as far as telling me that their dog is a jerk.

If your dog doesn’t listen to you, it is not because they are stubborn or have an attitude.

For a behaviour to become strong and reliable, it must be practiced in a wide variety of situations and settings. If Rover can sit in the training centre, or your living room, it doesn’t mean he knows how to sit at the street corner or in the middle of the pet store. We have to help dogs generalize by practicing the behaviours in a variety of environments.

Is your dog uncomfortable?

Consider the possibility that your dog may be uncomfortable. Asking for a “down” on the sidewalk may simply be uncomfortable for Rover. I have met many dogs who will happily sit on cool grass but will not sit on hot pavement. 

Avoidance may be at play if there is something in the environment that is making your dog nervous. If your dog is concerned or anxious, he will have a much harder time responding to your cues.

Perhaps there are too many distractions in the environment? Asking a dog to sit, or come when called in the middle of a highly distracting environment is akin to asking a child to do homework in the middle of a birthday party.

Is your dog unmotivated?

I like to tell clients that dogs are always tuned into the radio station WIFM—What’s In It For Me? As much as we’d like to think our dog should just do things because we have asked, it is not the way it works. Consequence drives behaviour.

In other words, your dog has learned that certain behaviours are followed by a most delicious, fun or interesting consequence. If your dog has learned that a certain behaviour is not paired with the possibility of a fun or delicious consequence, then you may have an unmotivated dog.  Reward the behaviour you want well and reward consistently. A “stubborn” dog is oftentimes simply an under-motivated dog.

Is your dog under-trained?

Dogs are amazing companions, with the ability to exceed our expectations and surprise us with their cleverness. They do not, however, generalize like we do. Your dog can do it at home, but not at the park? That tells you that your dog needs more practice.

If after asking your dog to come, your dog is intent on sniffing the grass instead, this doesn’t mean she is stubborn. Could it be that you are expecting your dog to do something you haven’t really practiced and haven’t rewarded thoroughly enough.

Practise one ‘d’ at a time

When training a new behaviour, like sitting, you will practice duration first. The next thing you will work on is adding distance. Lastly, you will add distractions. If you are asking your dog to sit in the middle of a busy dog park, make sure that you have trained your dog in this environment and in these conditions. 

Could it be something else?

If you think your dog is not listening to you, despite your patient and consistent training, it may be time to check your dog’s hearing. Sometimes hearing loss is due to aging and sometimes it is a natural part of a dog’s adolescence. They do seem to temporarily lose their hearing during this short-lived period of their life. Patience is key, as is repetition.

Happy training!