Updated: Feb 20, 2021
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1) Unclear Cues: Are You Confusing Your Dog?
Dogs thrive on consistency, so make sure you always use the same command cue and that all other people training the dog are on the same page. If you ask for a command and your dog just stares at you, consider if that command has a history of being used consistently.
In classes, it is not uncommon to encounter a family where the wife uses “come” to call the dog, the husband uses the dog’s name, and the kids just say “here!” Don’t ask for behaviors in multiple ways, and make sure your body language is congruent with the verbal command. Dogs find body language more salient then verbal cues.
Also, try your best not to repeat commands over and over, otherwise your dog will learn not to listen to the first time you say it, but will wait for you to finish your sentence instead!
2) Frustration Buildup: Are you Getting Frustrated?
Dogs are masters in body language, and they can easily detect frustration. When the handler’s frustration builds up, dogs often shut down instead of becoming more compliant. In this case, it helps to ask the dog for a behavior he knows well (such as a sit) followed by a reward to end the session on a positive note. You can try the exercise again a little bit later, possibly further splitting the exercise into smaller sections if it was too hard for your dog.
Also, keep in mind that if you start raising your voice, bending down or getting into your dog’s face, you are intimidating him dog and he will feel the need to send you appeasement signals and default behaviors, rather than listening to your commands.
3) Emotional Problems: Are Emotions Getting in the Way?
If a dog is fearful, anxious or nervous, his emotional state may interfere with training. This is because the dog is often in a fight or flight state which affects his cognitive function, impairing his ability to learn. In such a case, you may need to work in areas where your dog is less likely to be frightened and then gradually introduce more and more stimuli in a way which does not cause him to react.
As an example, if your dog was frightened of thunder, instead of immediately exposing him to recordings of thunderstorms on full volume, you should first play them at a very low volume, where he acknowledges the sound but does not become scared. After rewarding your dog while the sound is played, you would, over time and numerous training sessions, increase the volume at which you play the recording. This process is known as desensitization and is a common technique used in dog training.
4) Health Considerations: Is Your Dog in Pain or Uncomfortable?
If your dog ignores you, he may be feeling unwell or uncomfortable. If your dog has always been obedient and is now slacking off, it is best to have your veterinarian rule out any medical problems. Sloppy sits or a reluctance to lay down may be indicative of orthopedic problems.
Aside from medical problems, some dogs may not like to be trained on certain surfaces, or perhaps the weather is too hot, too windy or too cold – there are a multitude of possibilities. Often, a distracted dog may simply need to relieve himself or get a drink of water. Consider how well you could perform in an exam if you were busting to use the bathroom!
5) Are You Forgetting to Brain Train Your Dog?
Many owners are not aware of this, but when it comes to dogs, idle minds are the devil’s workshop. Yet many owners are happy to leave their dogs bored by the fireplace all day, leading to untold behavior problems. The simple secret to a well-trained dog is engaging their mind and getting them thinking.
In the wild, before domestication, dogs would spend much of their lives performing tasks necessary for survival. Even in more modern history, dogs had special roles to perform in their relationships with humans. You can still see these natural drives in dogs today! For example, you will notice how beagles love to follow scents, how some terrier breeds love to dig, and how treeing coonhounds bark upon noticing prey up a tree. Unlike humans who perhaps dread the 9 to 5 grind, dogs actively WANT to work, and when they do not, they become prone to behavior problems, disobedience, and poor psychological well-being. Many owners spend THOUSANDS on dog training when the solution could be as simple as providing Rover with more mental stimulation!
As seen, there are many reasons why your dog may not be listening to you. Don’t quickly label your dog as stubborn, don’t begin shouting commands like a drill sergeant, and don’t give up training altogether – instead, try to give your dog a break and consider what may really be going on. A better understanding of how dogs learn should pave the path to better training.
You can check out Adrienne Farricelli’s Brain Training for Dogs course here