Few things are more frustrating than having a dog who “knows the commands” but for some reason, seems to refuse to perform them on cue. Dogs like this are the ones who have owners saying, “She knows how to sit, she just doesn’t always do it,” or, “We went to training classes and he knew everything then, but now he only does it when he wants to.” There are a lot of these dogs out there, and if you happen to share your home with one, just know that there are ways to overcome this.
Before doing anything else, make sure your dog has been to the vet recently for a full exam. Stubbornness could be a sign that, instead of refusing to do a command, perhaps your dog can’t hear the command anymore, or can no longer see well enough to distinguish your hand signal. Not doing a command could also also be a signal of that command causing your dog pain.
If your dog has been cleared by the vet, next on the list is figuring out why your dog won’t listen every time. It is important to understand your dog’s individual personality and motivations. My Basset Hound, Lou, had a problem with coming when called. Sometimes he did, sometimes he just looked at us like we were crazy, and other times he acted like he couldn’t hear us with his head turned away, freezing on the spot and seeming to hope that we didn’t see him.
Lou never really had a strong coming when called foundation. He wasn’t taught as a puppy, he had no set word used every time and wasn’t given motivation to follow through. I tried using all the baby step techniques – walking backwards with tasty treats in my hand, using a leash to ensure he couldn’t get too far away, and more. As it turned out, the only reason Lou was “stubborn” is because his motivation and way of understanding is different from many other dogs. Lou loves treats, but he loves to know what is going on even more. He froze because he didn’t know what was expected of him. He stared at us, waiting for more direction. The key to this stubborn dog was really to just coax him along, praising every single step until his tail wags, his tongue hangs out, and he is happily trotting towards me. As time goes on, he needs less and less direction.
My Great Dane/Coonhound Mix, Daisy, on the other hand, is an entirely different sort of stubborn dog. Daisy’s main motivation in life is to simply avoid punishment. She is a sensitive dog by way of touch, sound, and quick movement, but she is also a take charge and a “make me” sort of dog. Even when I knew Daisy was aware of what commands meant, she would quite simply refuse to do them, as though she did not see the point. Treats and praise meant nothing at all and performing the cue was not worth the tasty morsels of meat or cheese after she had done a few repetitions flawlessly.
Daisy needed constant challenges and a lot of patience. One of the golden rules to dog training is to never let your dog get away with not doing a command when asked. This is the number one golden rule when working with dogs like Daisy. I once found myself standing in front of her on a walk, getting ready to cross a street, asking for a Sit and refusing to move for a good seven or eight minutes before she finally sat down. It now takes only a few seconds for her to decide that sitting is worth it in order to continue on the walk.
These dogs need structure. They need routine and your expectations of them need to remain consistent. I expect Daisy to sit at every street corner before crossing. I haven’t once let her cross without doing so. I expect her to lay down and wait for her food at breakfast and dinner time and have not fed her without her doing so. These behaviors do become automatic in dogs – even ones like her – with enough time and patience.
The key to working with stubborn dogs is to take the time to figure out why they are so stubborn. Do they really, truly, understand the command and have you taken the time to teach it well? (Be honest here because this is the number one reason that dogs appear stubborn!) Is there a physical ailment that has so far been undetected? Is the motivation you’re using in line with what your dog needs (ie. Treats, praise, toys, etc.)? Have you ever let your dog get away without performing the command after you have asked for it? (If you have done this often, it may be time to start at the beginning and retrain your dog to a different word! It is easier to start from scratch than to teach your dog to pay attention to a word she has already decided has no meaning.)
Your stubborn dog just needs a lot of love, some detective work on your part, and a great deal of patience. She is not stupid, or particularly defiant, she is merely operating in a world that is foreign to her and doing the best she can with what she has learned so far. Remember to be diligent, forgiving, calm, and consistent and you’ll have an obedient dog in no time!
If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle the submitted questions, and give practical advice to solve common dog behavior issues. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.