Dogs are opportunists. Although most are willing to please their owners and want to engage with them, there are times when something else is just much more interesting. For example, many dogs would much rather take the juicy steak right off your plate than lie on their bed during human dinner time. There are no “bad” dogs, but there are dogs that lack training. If you think your dog is just uninterested in listening to you, you might want to consider why. More often than not, your dog isn’t just being stubborn or strong-willed. Usually, it’s a communication – or training – issue.
#1 – Lack of Consistency
Consistency is key. Any trainer, regardless of their methods and experiences, will tell you that consistency is probably the most important aspect of training. It can be very difficult for people to be consistent with their dogs, but the more consistent you are, the clearer your training will be. Consistency provides a clear set of rules for your dog to follow with every specific behavior they learn, which means it’s much easier for them to understand exactly what you want and follow through with it. Since we can’t sit our dogs down and explain to them in human language what we want them to do and why we want them to do it, we have to be extremely clear in our training – as this is the only communication we have with our dogs.
#2 – Weak Rewards
You’ve likely met the owner who touts their dog’s desire to perform obedience commands and tricks simply because their dog loves them. Although this can happen, it’s almost always not the case. Most dogs are not going to do something solely out of their love for you. As pointed out earlier, dogs are opportunists. They are going to do what makes them happy – or what provides them with the highest reward. If you tell your dog to sit and offer a really delicious treat, your dog is likely going to oblige – because they’re getting something out of it. However, if you tell your dog to sit and offer nothing, they very may well ignore you because sitting does nothing beneficial for them. This is why shaping behaviors with food, treats and toys is so important in the foundations of obedience training. We need to make obeying commands fun for our dogs, otherwise they will find no joy in working with us. If you’re using treats or toys and find your dog still doesn’t want to engage, consider trying something of higher value. For example, a piece of hot dog might be much more exciting than a generic dog biscuit. Find what your dog likes and utilize it!
#3 – Too Many Distractions
Just because your dog can sit for an hour in your living room while you watch television doesn’t mean he can sit at a park with a game of baseball going on. Oftentimes owners forget to take distractions into account when it comes to their dog’s performance. A park full of loud people and other dogs is very different than the inside of your home. Your dog sees your home every single day, but she doesn’t see a lot of other things every day. Remember that what you might think is no big deal may be a very big distraction for your dog. If your dog performs well at the park unless there is a soccer game going on, then you know that a soccer game is too large of a distraction for your dog and you’ll know to work up to that level of disturbance.
#4 – Too Much, Too Soon
Teaching your dog something new is very exciting, and sometimes you might get a little carried away. Especially when it comes to young puppies, it’s important to remember that patience is a virtue. It’s easy to overwhelm a dog with too many commands or behaviors that are too complex. Asking too much of our dogs too soon results in burn out for both dog and handler! If you think your dog isn’t listening, take a step back and make sure you aren’t asking too much. Sometimes our dogs don’t quite understand a command even if we think they do, so taking a moment to revisit older behaviors is never a bad thing.
#5 – No Consequences
Just like people, dogs need consequences. There are varying levels of consequences you can give your dog and only you and your trainer can decide what’s best, so we won’t discuss them here. But sometimes our dogs will choose to disobey regardless of the reward have available, no matter how well-trained they are. Whether withholding the treat or toy, giving a leash correction or something else is your dog’s consequence, it is needed to help teach your dog that good behavior comes with rewards, while bad behavior comes with negative reinforcement. Many trainers believe that this helps make training very clear to dogs and provides an easy way to communicate and teach our eager pups.