What to Do When Your Dog Won’t Listen

Dog owners often tell me that they can't get their dog to behave appropriately because the dog just won't listen to them.  They claim that their dog is particularly unintelligent, but I consistently find that that is absolutely not the case.  So how do you get Fido to pay attention?

Punitive training techniques that center on gaining control of your dog by dominating her into obeying can damage the human/animal bond and cause your dog to mistrust you and essentially switch off.  You want to ‘matter’ to her by being the source of good things in her life, so that whenever you need her attention, she will give it to you.

For so long people have been putting the emphasis on their dog’s need to be ‘obedient’ rather than ‘cooperative.’  We issue ‘commands’ rather than focusing on teaching the dog ‘cues’ by attaching these cues to actions or behaviors that we want.

Motivating your dog to learn these cues by using rewards that make her feel good, will go a long way to getting the response you desire, even in the most distracting of environments.  Any reward that is used to motivate your dog to learn should be of high value until she is responding reliably.  When this has been achieved the high value reward can then be used intermittently.

Even though food treats are a really effective training tool, some dogs are motivated by other rewards such as toys, play, praise, or simply being touched.  I have trained many dogs using many different types of rewards:  a game of tug, a kind word, or a ‘life reward’ such as asking the dog to sit before opening the door and then rewarding her for complying by going for a walk.

I also like to vary rewards so that the dog never knows what is coming next or use what I call ‘multi- motivators’ such as a food/ toy/praise combination for the desired response.

Whatever you decide to do, a reward is going to make learning fun for your dog, improve her confidence and build up a strong bond between you.   Remember the key to cooperation and compliance is trust and motivation and the more exciting and valued you are to your dog, the more she will listen to you in every situation.



18 Comments

  1. Victoria Slocombe

    February 26th, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Hi, I am an enormous fan of yours!!!!!!!!!, I live in Cyprus. Have you thought about doing a show in Cyprus there are many dog owners that need help!!!

    Love from Victoria Slocombe age12

  2. Dave Borthwick

    February 28th, 2012 at 9:31 am

    Hi Victoria,
    My partner and I have tried and tried this system, but our dog still won't listen.
    She's a rescue dog (german shepherd/ Great Dane cross) that we've had since September last year. She was one year old in October and she's had a hard life. Now thought, we have established a great bond and in the house she is great, but it's when we go out when the trouble starts. We've tried socialising her with other dogs (and she plays really well) but when she sees another dog, she pulls uncontrollably. We have used the turn technique, but again she still does it. She is a big dog, so we let her run on a field near us, but once she sees another dog, she will not respond. She won't come back. We've used whistles, calling her by name or other cues, but now it really is becoming a problem. We now can't let her off her lead, and we do feel guilty because she does need to run. Is there anything we can do?

  3. Becky

    February 28th, 2012 at 10:14 am

    My dog just will not do when he is told, He wont sit down when asked always barks and always attackedes the door when you go near it. I really dont no what to do with him, he is a teacup jackrussell Can you give me any advice?

  4. Georgina Beecham

    March 1st, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Hi Victoria
    My husband and I have a one year old English bull terrier which we took on 4 months ago from rescue. He's unruly at home, barks for no reason in the garden he'll run around barking which is very disruptive. On his,walks he pulls and screams. We've seen a dog trainer who was great help but getting him to focus on us and not everything around him is almost impossible. It's coming to the point where we're rowing about keeping him, we both work all day is it time to find someone with more time who can give him the care he needs?

  5. Tanya Chandler

    March 3rd, 2012 at 7:35 am

    I have tried this and my dog still doesn't listen she goes out back and breaks the underneath of are house. And runs away we try to catch and she looks at us and then runs faster away when we call her. We are at the point of getting rid of her because she won't stop breaking things under the house. Please help tell me what I can do to fix this!

  6. joanne wilkinson

    March 10th, 2012 at 1:13 am

    Me and my partner have rescued a French mastiff in January. He is such a lovely natured dog however when we take him for his daily walks the fun then begins. We have a nose harness on him to make him stop his pulling, this seems to work. However when we let him off so he can have a good run he is great until he spots something he wants to play with ie dog, cat etc. He will run and not listen to any calls we are shouting. We have tried treats and toys. Nothing seems to work. We have started using a lead which stretches so he can have a run without being off the lead but the problems still there when he sees something he just pulls. He now weight 49lbs so trying to pull him back is not easy. Can you please give me any advice?

  7. Kayla

    March 10th, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Hi Victoria!

    I have a german shepherd/Lab mix. He's neutered, current on all shots, and a year old. When he was about 4 months old, we took him to the vet, and while we were walking in, he was jumped on by a Pit Bull. Ever since then he's shown signs of aggression. Especially towards humans. Not us, of course, but guests who may come into our home. We've trained him to sit, stay, come, etc, but as soon as he sees someone outside our home, who he deems as shouldn't be there, he begins snapping and growling at said person. I'm just at a loss as to what to do. I have a two year old, and my family loves to come by to see him, but they're all scared of my dog.

    Any help or advice you could give would be great! Thanks so much!

    Kayla

  8. Marian

    March 13th, 2012 at 4:45 am

    Hi Victoria,

    I have two wonderfully behaved dogs, a Wheaten Terrier 14+yrs and her daughter Wheaten/Colllie cross (mum had her wicked way with the boy next door!) 11yrs. I've had no problems with obedience at all.....I'm the leader of the pack!
    My concern is Belle my younger one.....My friend has a large pond( with many large Koi Carp) at the side of a decking area and bar. Suddenly Belle won't go anywhere near it. I can only assume that she was freaked by a fish leaping out of the water. I have tried taking her there on her lead but all she does is shake, I've tried tempting her with treats but she runs off straight away. I find this behaviour unusual as she has grown up with a pond in her garden, albeit on a smaller scale and would often lay beside it watching the fish. She is not a timid dog.

    I would welcome any suggestions

  9. Anne

    April 5th, 2012 at 1:42 am

    Hi my GSD is 17 months Iv also tried whistles calling his name and running the other way while waving my arms about like a complete idiot, iv tried high value treats like chicken and sausage at first he ll come but gets bored and run around me like hes trying to herd me or somthing any one got any other ideas, of course he comes back on a long line but the longer the line the less chance of him coming backwhat can I do, my other GSD is 18 months if iv got a ball she comes back but even if I use 2 balls if shes got 1 in her mouth thats it she wont come back treats wont work with her they never have another ball or toy wont work she just wants me to chase her, if shes on a long line she still wont come back, by the way shes got food allergies 1 of them is chicken

  10. lindsay

    April 29th, 2012 at 1:28 am

    my dog maisy is two and barks at the TV and pulls when we walk her what can we do?
    from Lindsay age 11

  11. miranda

    July 1st, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    I could use help. I've tried to teach my dog every way I can think of. I've tried treats, food, play time, toys, petting her head/belly and nothing is working for her. I've had her for 3 years and I've tried each one(over a 6-7 month time) she dosent respond and I've tired mixing. I don't know what to do. Owe I've also tried car rides also as a reward. Her getting to sleep on the bed with us. I mean you name it's been tried. I just want her to listen when I say sit and lay down. Sometimes she dose. Most times she dosent. I just want my lady to listen so I can bring her everwere with me. Anything I might not have thought of or something else?? Thank you!

  12. Austin

    September 28th, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    I have a 7 month old shepherd mix, a rescue, and he hardly listens to me when we are inside let alone in the outdoors. He isn't really that motivated by food, and gets bored with his toys very easily. He also doesn't really like to be touched very much. How the heck can I "praise" him? He loves to play outside (but i can't take the leash off because he will just run away) and he loves our neighbors dogs.

  13. terry english

    February 8th, 2013 at 3:02 am

    we have a year old puppy cross southafrican mastiff, with a german shephard, she is a wonderfull bitch , great temprement very good with children and other dogs playing ect ,shes very submisive to other dogs will lay downas she approaches ,she is pretty obediant in doors , problems start as soon as we go out , you let her off her lead and play with a ball or a stick, she will not come when called its a big game, the more you chase the more she runs away , and if she is off the lead and sees another dog in the distance she is gone and no matter how many times you call her offer treats ect , she is just oblivious to you and will not come , could you please offer advice please regards terry

  14. Liam

    May 16th, 2013 at 8:38 am

    You didn't explain what to do when your dog doesn't listen.
    My dog ran off to bark at someone earlier and I called him to come back to me but he wouldn't listen when normally he does.
    Should I ignore it or scold him for it?
    Any advice would be much appreciated.

  15. charmzie

    June 16th, 2013 at 10:41 am

    My dog does not listen!!!! All he wants is the treats:( I try teaching him but he doesn't listen he looks around for the treat:'( I donno what to do!! I have tried everything!! Plz help me!!need help!!!:'o O_O. My sister will train her dog and my dog just runs to her cuz she has treats!! I tried displining my dog to not always worry about treats but it does not work! Help??

  16. Nichole Miller

    January 18th, 2014 at 8:43 am

    Hi!

    Me and my mom have a Great Pyrenees Mix about a year and a few moths old. she's not fixed yet. When we let Holly outside its a terror to try and get her back inside. She never listens when we call her and she always barks at nothing for no reason. when we try to get her inside she always runs away from us, thinking its a game or she might lunge to lightly bite my hand or my arm. we have bells on the back door which she will ring when she wants to go outside, which is usually around six in the morning and she starts barking like crazy waking up the neighbors and its horrible. Other then that she's very sweet natured and kind dog. We also have a German Shepard that we have had for 5 years and he is currently 5 years old and we got Holly the Christmas of 2012. please help or any advice would be greatly appreciated!!!

  17. Sue

    February 22nd, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    Hi,
    My dog is really well behaved on land BUT as soon as she sees water she is a different dog. Its as if she goes to another planet. On land she sits, stays, comes, lays down, shakes, waits, everything! but as soon as she gets into the water that's it all training goes out the window. PLEASE HELP! she loves swimming and our dog park which we go to twice a day has a creek running in it with a swimming hole so I really want her to cooperate when we go there.

    Cheers
    Sue

  18. Crystal

    April 13th, 2014 at 2:54 am

    First off I just wanna say you are a miracle worker w/ pups & dogs! Every time I watch an episode I'm amazed at how it all pans out! I have a 7mth old Blackmouth Curr/dane mix that was a rescue. She was found in an AC duct as a small pup & lived w/ a foster until I adopted her at about 4mths old. She listens well in the house most of time but as soon as she's outside we're invisible to her! It normally will take an hr or longer to get her in the house. B/c of this my son has been late to school, I've missed important meetings, my husband has been late to work, etc... I've tried everything in your book but nothing seems to work w/ her. If my son is outside playing w/ her she jumps all over him, biting & pulling him down by his shirt. I'm at my wits end w/ her & really need some help. I've never given up on a dog but she's testing me bad. I'm not sure what her life was like before me but she cowers down at loud voices or fast movements from adults. I can't say she was abused or punished a lot but she definitely has some confidence issues. ANY advice is truely appreciated & will be used! Thank you for everything you do to help the dogs & their families.



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