I often hear my clients say that their dog is stubborn or defiant. Most of the time, when dogs don’t follow our cues, it has nothing to do with being stubborn. Here are 8 reasons why your dog might not be responding to training and your cues:
Too Many Distractions: Dogs don’t generalize very well and need a lot of practice and repetitions in many locations, before they can follow a new cue with distractions. If you just taught your dog “sit”, most likely he will have a very difficult time understanding that cue if you ask him to do it at the park on a busy day. If your dog is having a difficult time focusing and following cues, move further away from the distractions and start practicing that cue in areas where your dog can focus.
Training Sessions are too Long and Not Rewarding: Training sessions should only be 3-10 minutes long and always be fun and rewarding. Like children, dogs have a short attention span, so if you are training too long or if your sessions are not rewarding, your dog will lose interest very quickly. Remember, dogs don’t know English, so you are teaching them a foreign language. When learning something new or difficult, short and fun sessions will keep your dog motivated and interested in learning more.
Not Enough Exercise: If your dog is full of energy and not exercised enough, he will have a very difficult time staying focused. Meeting your dog’s exercise needs is a must for successful training. Walking, jogging, fetch, tug, and swimming are just a few great ways to burn some energy before your training sessions.
Patience: It’s not uncommon for us to get frustrated with our dogs and expect them to respond to our cues immediately, regardless of what is going on in the environment. We might even ask them to do something without getting their attention first. When they don’t respond the second we ask, we tend to rapid fire cues, “sit’, “sit”, “sit” and sometimes we change the cue, “sit”, “look at me”, “sit.” If the overwhelmed dog still does not respond, we tend to get louder and then force them into the position. If you get your dog’s attention first, calmly give a cue and then give them a long second to process the cue, most likely, they will follow through the first time asked.
Stress: Dogs that are stressed are not able to learn or respond to cues well. Here are some signs that your dog might be stressed: Nose-licking, chattering teeth, scratching, yawning, drooling, hyperactivity, lack of focus, panting, loss of appetite.
Health or Physical Issues: We often overlook the possibility that our dog is not following our cues, because they don’t feel well or have physical issues. Sitting and walking can be painful for dogs with hip and knee issues. Dogs that are overweight have a hard time moving quickly and getting up from a down position. Like us, sometimes dogs don’t feel well, making it difficult to focus and follow cues. Regular vet check-ups are always recommended to make sure your dog is healthy.
Free Feeding: There are many reasons why free feeding is not a good idea, but when it comes to training, it can really interfere with your dog’s motivation. Food is one of the highest value motivators for most dogs. If you free feed your dog and use treats for rewarding, your dog will lack motivation, because food is always available to him.
Tone or Punishment: Using harsh tones or punishment can cause a lot of stress and anxiety in dogs and even make them shut down. Dogs that are scolded, physically forced to sit, down, look at their owner, etc or physically punished will often avoid eye contact and display displacement behaviors, such as avoidance, to try and defuse the conflict. Verbal and physical punishment are not necessary when training a dog and can be very damaging to the human dog bond. Your relationship with your dog should be based on fairness and trust, not fear.