Help! I Have a Stubborn Dog!

I’m not listening to you!

Why Won’t He Listen to Me?

Have you noticed that sometimes your dog doesn’t listen to you? You ask him to do something and he… just looks at you! You know he knows the behavior. So why doesn’t he do it? Is he being a stubborn dog? Perhaps he’s willful and spiteful, or dumb? If those thoughts run through your mind, you’re not alone. I hear them all the time.

I tell people is that there is no such thing as a stubborn dog.

When a dog seems stubborn, it is usually due to the fact that he is simply not as well-trained as you want him to be. Here’s what I mean:  You’ve done “sit” with your dog multiple times in the living room on the rug. Why then does he not do it when you ask him for a “sit” at the bus stop? Is he showing off? Trying to make you look stupid? Nope. He’s simply not sure what you are asking him to do.

It’s just that dogs do not generalize well.

See, every time you’ve trained with him to do a sit, it’s been you doing it; you’ve done it in one place, in one position and without distractions. If you normally train a behavior in the kitchen and now you ask him to do that behavior in the bedroom, he most likely won’t do it because the context has changed. Not because he is a stubborn dog. Dogs are able to discriminate the smallest most minute detail of everything around them. As a result, if one of these minute details changes, and if you haven’t trained him with these changes, he may be confused.

With that in mind, I want you to try this right now… Ask your dog to “sit.” I’ll bet you he’s right in front of you and facing you. Now, walk away and face away from him and ask him to sit. Because he hasn’t generalized this behavior, he will either stand there looking at you or come in front of you and sit. This is a perfect example of how dogs don’t generalize. If you were across the room and I asked you to sit, you’d sit in the closest chair. That’s because humans can generalize.

You want to help him and become a better trainer.

You need to teach him “sit” in many different situations. Just like you first taught him, with a lure, you’ll want to ask him for a “sit” in different contexts. Sit in a chair, lay on the ground, go into various rooms, ask him to “sit,” and lure if necessary. This is to remind him that you also do this behavior in other contexts, rooms, and body positions. Have other people do it, so he’ll realize he does that behavior with others, not just you. These are ways to help your dog generalize behaviors. The more you do this with different behaviors, the better he will get at generalizing. Then you’ll see that he isn’t a stubborn dog after all!

Don’t forget to train with distractions!

Now… You take him to the bus stop to pick up the kids. There are eight screaming kids running around. You ask him for a “sit.” What happens? He doesn’t pay attention to you and jumps all over the kids. He knows what “sit” means so why won’t he do it? You just did all of that hard work helping him generalize this in different contexts, rooms and body positions! But you’ve never trained him to “sit” with so many distractions. There are so many things that are out of context. If you don’t train your dog to do a behavior while there are distractions happening, he won’t be able to learn the behavior while distractions are happening. Help him succeed by taking him to the bus stop with yummy treats like chicken or cheese, and practice doing “sit” with him over and over again. Start with an empty bus stop. Work your way slowly to a bus stop full of kids.

What can I do now?

What a relief to know that you don’t have a willful, dumb or stubborn dog!

He just needs you to help him learn in the way that he needs to learn. With patience and consistency, your dog can be well trained, and YOU can be a better trainer! He can’t do it without you.