What to Do if Your Dog Won’t Listen

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?

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