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Why Is My Dog Not Listening

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Drayton Michaels, CTC is the owner of Urban Dawgs Dog Training in Red Banks, NJ. He also holds a Certification in Dog Training and Behavior Counseling from the San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers (known as “the Harvard for dog trainers”). 

Why is my dog not listening to me?

If dogs are not doing something, so let’s say they’re, they’re not adhering to a cue directed from the human, you have to ask yourself “what is the motivation for this dog to disengage from that squirrel”. Have you provided a history of disengagement that equals some kind of payment? Okay.

So nobody does anything for free in this world, we all want a payoff and dogs are no different. So you want to make sure about everything else that when you are looking at dog behavior, you look at the environment, you look your behavior, right? What I would have been doing and then you can get better results from the dog.

History of reinforcement

My favorite argument that people use to discredit positive reinforcement is “well that is not how the real world works. Your boss does not give you a cookie when you do something good!!”.

Yeah, my boss does not give me a cookie when I do something right, but I get a pay check, I get medical insurance. I stay at the job because I can get a promotion, or a raise, or a bonus based on how well I am doing at the job. I would not go to work if I was not getting something that I want from it. So, why should we expect our dogs to do something when all they have is a history of punishment and no rewards.

Now, I am not saying that you should be treating your dog for the rest of their lives, there are other things that dogs want from us:

  • Treats (obviously)
  • Attention
  • Love
  • Cuddle time
  • Getting on the bed
  • Favorite toy
  • Walk time

You can you anything to reward your dog. The more consistent you are with rewards = the more consistent your dog will be. If every single time you called your dog and your dog came to you, you had a mini party for them, they are going to want to come to you when you call them. If they get yelled at and/or hit, why in the world would they want to come when they are called?

Reasons your dog is not listening to you:

  • They are distracted – you got to motivate them to leave the distraction.
  • They do now know what you are asking of them – have you really taught them the command?
  • The command is not generalized – just because your dog knows what to do in your house, might not mean they will do it outside.
  • They are afraid – when a dog is in a fearful situation they are less likely to “behave” or do what you ask them.
  • There is no history of reinforcement – they have not been rewarded or praised for doing something.
  • They are avoiding being punished – some dogs will avoid doing a “command” simply because they know that they will be punished if they mess up, so they just don’t do it at all.
  • They are stressed out – your dog could be overwhelmed and is not able to focus on the task.
  • They are sick or injured – some tasks are not possible to do if your dog is sick or is hurt. If they have back problems, laying down might be hard on them.

Always, look at the environment and yourself to see what could be causing the dog to not listen, before blaming the dog.