Dogs don't always listen? Here's why

Animal Welfare Specialist
Cathy has worked in the animal welfare field for more than 25 years. As a Director of Public Relations for local and national animal welfare agencies, Cathy developed and managed public relations programs, wrote press materials, and prepared staff to handle media interviews on animal issues.

sandy2Letters about “stubborn dogs” that don’t seem to listen flood my e-mail. Margie G. says, “Whenever we go for walks, I say my dog’s name, but she doesn’t turn her head to look at me.”

Gina says she must ask her dog to “sit” several times before her dog will even think about complying. “What am I doing wrong and how can I get Allie to sit on the first request?”

R. Rogers says that his dog responds to the stay command, but only for a second. “As soon as I turn my head, my dog is up and about again.”
Does this sound like your dog?

While the desire to please varies among breeds, most of the problem is not with a “stubborn dog” but with a pet owner who might foster indifference with less-than-assertive tones and a failure to see the command followed through on the first request.

For example, the other day, I witnessed a friend asking her dog to “sit,” except she said, “You are getting underfoot, Buttons; either go away or sit.” Of course, Buttons did neither because Buttons didn’t hear a clear request. My friend returned to her cooking. A few minutes later, Buttons was underfoot again. This time, she said, “I thought I asked you to go away. All right, sit. Sit, Buttons. Sit. I said sit.”

Buttons started to “sit,” but then my friend turned her back again before Buttons obeyed the less-than-clear request. Did she want Buttons to go away or sit? I wasn’t even sure what Buttons should do at this point. Buttons looked bewildered.

Dogs that ignore commands have either learned not to comply on the first request or can’t figure out the request because their pet owner is not clear.

As with any learned behavior, repetition is key — but only with the number of times you practice and succeed, not the number of times you say “sit” in one request.

What should my friend, as well as Gina and R. Rogers, have done? All should have said “sit” or “stay” once in a confident tone and then gently helped their dogs to comply by moving a treat over their head or down to the floor to get them to sit or stay.
As soon as their dog complies, they should acknowledge the obedient behavior with a “good dog” response or treat. They should never turn their backs until their dogs have complied with the request. And all requests should be concise and easy to understand.

As for Margie G., she needs to walk her dog, call her dog’s name once and give her a treat only when she turns her head to respond. If she doesn’t turn her head, then stop walking and stand without saying a word until she turns her head to see what’s going on. Then say, “good dog,” give a treat and walk again.

Repeat this process during the walk. Once the dog knows there are treats, she will turn her head every time you say her name. Eventually, this behavior will become ingrained and you won’t need treats to get the desired results.

Dogs listen best to pet owners who know how to communicate with dogs.

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