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Why Won't Your Dog Listen? Common Training Issues and Solutions

We've all been there – you're trying to train your dog, and it feels like they're completely ignoring you. It's frustrating, but before you label your dog as stubborn or give up on training altogether, it's important to understand that there might be underlying issues causing this behavior. Dogs are incredible animals, but they have their own motivations and needs that can affect their responsiveness to commands. We'll explore the most common reasons why your dog might not be listening and offer solutions to help improve your training sessions.

brain train your dog

Low Value Treats: Are Your Treats Worth Working For?

Dogs are opportunistic beings, and they're often motivated by rewards. Using low-value treats, such as kibble, can be detrimental if your dog isn't excited by them. During training, it's crucial to use treats that are high in value and appeal to your dog's taste buds. Soft, smelly, and bite-sized treats work best, as they allow your dog to quickly enjoy the reward and refocus their attention on you. Consider using freeze-dried liver, which renowned veterinarian and trainer Dr. Ian Dunbar refers to as the "Ferrari of dog treats."

Check out my favorite recipe for training treats HERE!

Low Rate of Reinforcement: Are You Missing Out on Rewarding?

In the initial stages of training, or when there are distractions around, your dog may find other activities more rewarding than training like sniffing the grass, looking around, marking territory and pulling on the leash more rewarding than training. Why is that? It’s probably because there are stimuli that are extra interesting and are worth the attention. To motivate your dog and keep their attention, increase the rate of reinforcement by giving more treats for their training efforts. Start with a continuous rate of reinforcement, rewarding them for every successful response. Gradually transition to a variable schedule once your dog responds well.

A low rate of reinforcement can also cause your dog to get frustrated and give up trying; remember, during the initial stages of learning you need a continuous rate of reinforcement (giving rewards for every success), and only once your dog shows signs of responding well can you move on to a variable schedule (only giving treats for success every now and then).

High Criteria: Are You Asking Too Much at Once?

Avoid overwhelming your dog by asking for too much too quickly. It's important to break down your training objectives into smaller, attainable steps. For example, if you're teaching your dog to touch the tip of a target stick with their nose, initially reward them for touching any part of the stick. As they progress, refine the criteria. Keep training sessions short and sweet to prevent your dog's progress from stalling.

High Level of Distractions: Is there too Much Going on?

Dogs learn best when there are little to no distractions around, so be sure to start your training sessions in a quiet room where there is not much going on.

Once your dog is able to perform the behavior in the quiet room, build from there and gradually start asking your dog to perform the behavior in a noisier room. Then, progress to the yard, a busy street, the dog park and so forth.

If you start on a busy street or at the dog park right away, your dog may not respond because you have not yet built a foundation for the behavior.

Lack of Training: Has Your Dog Ever Been Trained Before?

If the handler has a history of being inconsistent and not following through with the dog, there’s a chance the dog may have learned he could get away from certain behaviors and has learned to ignore the handler. Dogs who have never been trained and have been allowed to do as they please for a good part of their lives often find the initial stages of learning difficult, since the concept is entirely new to them. It is up to the handler to become interesting and worth listening to by investing in reward-based training methods, like the ones taught in Adrienne Farricelli’s Brain Training for Dogs course.

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!

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.

Emotional Problems: Are Emotions Getting in the Way?

If a dog is fearful, anxious or nervous, their 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.

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!

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!

Fortunately, Brain Training for Dogs offers a solution to this problem. Written by professionally certified trainer Adrienne Farricelli CPDT-KA (who’s work has appeared in USA Today, Everydog Magazine, Nest Pets and more), Brain Training for Dogs is one of the first training programs to not only teach obedience, better behavior, important skills and tricks, but to also work on increasing intelligence and engaging the dog’s brain too. Through 21 fun and simple games, the novel and scientifically-proven methods taught by Adrienne are sure to improve the lives of both you and your dog! By the end of Brain Training for Dogs your dog will be able to tidy up his toys, play the piano (yes, really), and identify his toys by name – all while being a better behaved and more obedient dog.

Want to get started with brain training? You can check out a great course by clicking here:

brain train your dogs

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.

Hope this helps!


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