What to Do When Your Dog Won’t Listen

Photo by Amber Allen | www.goblinchild.com

Photo by Amber Allen | www.goblinchild.com

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.

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38 thoughts on “What to Do When Your Dog Won’t Listen

  1. Victoria Slocombe

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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!


  8. Marian

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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. Betsy Warren

    It's a nice idea, but I can't seem to get my dog to listen no matter what I try. I walk on a cane. I NEED my dogs to not pull. I have been at the standard sit stay heel try again for months, but they won't listen. I am the only family member with a cane, and the only one that gets pulled. Now what?

  17. marsha craig

    Agree! My dog (Sassy), cat (KooPurr), kitten (Emmitt) and 2 miniature horses (Lily & Precious) were/are all clicker trained and they amaze people.....................but.............Sassy seems to go deaf .1% of the time when asked to COME. If out in the yard playing Chuckit and after several throws, she decides she far enough away to play deaf dog. She knows voice and hand commands but her West Highland Terrier/Poodle cuteness always decides to stop listening. I've shortened the timeframe and number of throws to see if she'll come consistently but her internal crystal ball knows what I'm up to! Love her to death but very frustrating that I've accomplished so much with all the others and her (she's a Registered Pet Therapy Dog) I don't know what to try next!

  18. marsha craig

    I've had great success with clicker training. Even being with a cane you can use the same technique this video illustrates. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLo8YP4-D8Y Sit/stay/heel would all be done with same technique. I'm going on the assumption that the dog knows what the verbal commands mean just chooses not to respond. SIT:As soon as the dog begins to put it's bum down, click n treat. This can be done sitting in a chair. As soon as the dog realizes when you say sit (I assume he already knows the command), hears the click followed by the treat - the rest is a snap. Timing is everything - the click has to be immediate else dog won't make the connection between action and what its being rewarded for. Once dog is making effort/move to sit consistently, then start holding off the click until he's either responding quicker and/or he's placing his bum on the floor. Once sit is solid work on stay the same way. Sit him/her and ask to stay. Take one step in front of dog, if remains still, immediate click n treat. Once that's consistent, take two steps and keep going further until the dog has it solid. Don't get upset if you don't get cooperation right away, they sense it and may go into shutdown mode. DO NOT get 4 steps away and try 10, 15 because you're setting dog up to fail. Slow and steady baby steps. Oh, always use a happy voice, sing song like you were talking to an infant! They respond and listen to a happy voice! The come can be in the house as well. Sit down and ask dog to come. As soon as the dog makes a move to come, click n treat. As he becomes more consistent, don't click or treat till he gets closer to you and at last when dog has the command consistently responding, don't treat until he is at your feet. Heel is the same, can be done in house. Leash on. Ask dog to heel while treat is visible (some people actually put the treat near it's nose (I opted not to because dog wasn't thinking, she was just FOLLOWING the treat). Ask for heel, take only a couple steps and if he's stayed at your side, click n treat. When the couple of steps is solid, take 3 or 4 and repeat the process, extending the number of steps taken until you think you'd like to try outside. Training sessions can be 15 min a couple of times a day; make them fun and always end on happy successful response from the dog and you play with him for 30 seconds or so. You stay on the end of the toy during these 30 seconds as he'll connect the fun as a reward for training well done and the fun play time connects dog more to you. Google the different commands on youtube to get more ideas. Find what works for you. I use cheese sticks for Sassy's treat. I can hold the stick in one hand, clicker in the other and easily put cheese stick to mouth and bite off just a tiny, tiny bit. I know this has been very long to read, I hope it helps is some small way. Patience first, kindness and gentleness is imperative to keeping the connection between you and the dog. Training has to be fun and rewarding. I'm by no means a professional trainer but have had a fair amount of success training my animals. I'm retired, 68 years old just so you know you don't have to have a great deal of stamina to accomplish the training sessions! These 2 videos show training KooPurr when he was a kitten and the other about a year ago. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHJQZ189IPQ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a87pJSk2BUk I have to tell you as I age, my voice becomes like gravel and my happy voice isn't like is once was 🙂 I wish you best of luck!

  19. Betsy Warren

    If you're running on the assumption that he knows but ignores, 10 points to you. He knows it, but getting him to do when walking is another thing entirely. In the house? In the yard? He sits no problem. The walking problem? He is hyper. Like majorly hyper. Leo is "oh you're home let's do backflips in the yard" hyper. I think it must have come from his mutt mother rather than Daddy the Dane. Either way, getting my bundle of excitement to settle down is never easy. Well. Sit was easy. Treat went up, butt went down. As soon as he figured that out sit was simple. LOL, figures huh?

    The issue with him walking is all that hyper translates into very distracting. What's that smell mom? Oh look, stray cat! Squirrel! What dog left that scent? My brother peed there now I have to run and cover it. Oh boy, another unleashed neighborhood dog.

    I can keep his attention for a little while, but we live in the boonies, where there are smells galore for him to explore. I don't trust him on a retractable or I would put him on one and not worry about heel. He's just also very very territorial because he's protective of me. People here, they leave their dogs off leash and let them run loose. When said lose dogs growl or bark at us, I want a firm hand on Leo so if anything happens I have clear control of my dog. Also. We have deer. Leo loves deer. He thinks they are big yard invading walking dinners. He's never caught one and I'm never giving him the chance, which is why he stays on leash, and why I'm still trying to train the heel.

    I've actually heard of but never done the clicker training thing. It might be time to try though. I love my boy, but he is one big ole ball of happy go lucky bounce. I suppose it's time to be a little more firm though. I've never had issue training dogs, but Leo is a little more distractable than my other fur babies. I just worry about going about it all wrong, which is why I've plugged along at the sit wait heel. I think Friday it's time for a Petco run for a clicker and a bigger treat stash. Thanks much for the help, now I just need a little luck. 🙂

  20. Betsy Warren

    LOL, I have a Sassy too, but she looks more like your KooPurr. I don't even bother to train her. She went right to the litter on her own, doesn't try to leave the house, and hides from people she doesn't know. Which works for me. Would I love if she stayed off the counter at midnight? Sure, but she's a cat lol. My dog goes deaf when told heel. And stay when other animals are involved lol.

  21. Cyndy Townson

    I understand and completely agree with this manner of training, Victoria is absolutely my hero... With my puppy I'm stuck!!
    What do I do to stop him for bitting my pants and other things, after distractions is not working... What do I do when the dog has no desire to cooperate???

  22. shiva

    the same case hapng with my dog...when i have rewards in my hand...it will tries to grab it at first....if she unable to get it..then she listen comands with a bit of barking on me.....she only listen to me in outdoor when i shout repetedly....my gsd is 1 year ols female

  23. Frank

    A reward is an obvious motivator, it would be better to write about ways to train your dog when rewards don't work.

  24. Adri

    Very nice article. I always hear people saying that they want to gain more 'control' over their dog and I always shake my head. It's not about control, it's about a relationship based on cooperation.

  25. Courtney

    Thought this article would be helpful. Not at all. I've tried all this already. My husky is extremely intelligent, and extremely food-driven, and she listens superbly everywhere -but- outside. I've tried taking it a few steps back to make it easier for her, but she already knows that. It doesn't help. She just plain doesn't want to listen. I can let go of her leash outside, and she stays in the area, but she still only comes when called when inside or when on leash. The second I let go of her leash, she stops paying attention to me. Not because she's unintelligent, not because I don't have treats, just simply because she doesn't want to. I don't know what to do.

  26. Scott

    I'm in the same boat. Mylo will not even look at me when I call him if he's playing with another dog - not even for a treat! He even snaps at me when I try to put him on the lead if calling him doesn't work. If it's just the two of us, he listens fine and rarely leaves my side. I don't want to resort to professional training but I'm out of options. The only other option is to never let him off the lead but half the time he refuses to walk on the lead because he knows it's much more fun with no restrictions.

  27. Jordan freeman

    I need some serious help with my dog, I've tried this, clickers, a training collar (not electric), kennel training and everything else under the sun I could find online. We tried a class first and that didn't do anything. The big problem is my dog has no confidence and has a problem with submissive urination, I want so so so so so bad to help him gain confidence and just help him be an overall happy dog. I've had him since he was 7 months when I adopted him from a shelter and these are things he's always done. I want to train him so he has more stability but nothing I do works please please if someone could help me you would be the bees knees and I would be indebted to you for forever. He's a smart dog and he's so sweet and loving and I just want to help him learn basic cues so he isn't always thinking what am I doing wrong.

  28. Jordan freeman

    I need some serious help with my dog, I've tried this, clickers, a training collar (not electric), kennel training and everything else under the sun I could find online. We tried a class too and that didn't do anything. The big problem is my dog has no confidence and has a problem with submissive urination, I want so so so so so bad to help him gain confidence and just help him be an overall happy dog. I've had him since he was 7 months when I adopted him from a shelter and these are things he's always done. I want to train him so he has more stability but nothing I do works please please if someone could help me you would be the bees knees and I would be indebted to you for forever.

  29. Rebecca

    I took my puppy from a dog foster home about a year ago. I love him to bits; he has a great personality, and I feel that he loves our family so much. BUT, whenever I leave him at home he pees in the house: on the carpet, on the bed, on flowers..
    My husband and I were thinking about taking him to 'doggy school', but then again, it’s extremely expensive, and the nearest 'doggy school' is far away from us. Maybe you have some advice? THANK YOU!!!!

  30. Jamie Robertson

    If he's only doing this when you leave the house, he's marking his territory out of anxiety. He's afraid someone may come while you're gone, leaving him to be the only defense. I would look up training for seperation anxiety.

  31. Christine

    Exactly same. This positively positively - is positively shit in actually working. My dog will come as and when he thinks it is in his interest. So if the treat doesn't outweigh the desire to chase the scent then f*** it he's gone.

    It pisses me off - this whole "oh just give them more rewards" he doesn't want rewards! He wants to chase after the scent that is the reward and the only way to stop it is a negative consequence otherwise there is no/zero bloody reason for him not to run-off after the scent.

    It is just irritating. This clearly works for a people-pleasing dog but not for others. Pointless.

  32. Ashley Rosa

    My dog has a problem coming when he's called, every now and then someone forgets to close the gate and he gets out. When he does he won't come, he'll run farther away. The other day he went 2 blocks before I could catch up with him. He stopped when he got to another dog. How can I get him to come to me when called?

  33. Letti

    Our dog keeps jumping our gate and fence and it's very hard to get him to come back when called because if we run after him he thinks it's a game where when we get to him he will wait till we get there then just bolt, he's a staffy x springer and very boisterous he just doesn't listen to any commands but when he is calm he likes being petted but I want him to follow commands like coming back when called as there are roads nearby and I'm worried he will get hurt one day he's only just turned one not sure what to do I love my dog a lot but feel he's just to disobedient for me and my partner and doesn't settle for long just always bouncing about

  34. Crystal Klosterman

    my 8mth old mastiff knows her commands but stopped listening. Now I have to tell him 5-10 times to sit or lay. How can I fix this? Why did he stop listening? I praise him and play with him all the time. I'm worried the bigger he gets the harder its going to be. Does anyone have any suggestion? I'm willing to try anything

  35. Crystal Klosterman

    my 8mth old english mastiff was very easy to train but for the last month he won't listen to commands like he use to, now I have to tell him 5-10 times. Does anyone have any suggestions? I will try anything. Plz and thank you

  36. Serene Dougan

    Try doggie diapers/binders (for males) with disposable liners. He may try, and succeed, in removing them, but it might work to save your carpet and furniture. Also, is he crate trained or have an exercise pen, where he can be in his home without having total access? Do you have a room that is pee proof that he can stay in? there are ways to gradually build their confidence in your return, but it takes time and lots of positive reinforcing. Good luck!

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