Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Why Won't My Dog Listen to Me?

One of a dog owner’s greatest frustrations can be a dog that doesn’t listen to what they are told to do.  You may feel that you spend an endless amount of time calling your dog into the house, trying to keep them from jumping, or attempting to get their attention when you are out for a walk.  Or maybe there are simply times you feel your dog has very selective hearing.

All dogs can be good listeners, but they need the proper guidance and relationship with their owners to achieve this.  If your dog doesn’t listen to you, one of the following is probably the reason.

You aren’t as much fun as whatever your dog is doing.  Many of the occasions when our dogs tune us out are simply because there is something more interesting to do.  If you are trying to call your dog in from the backyard and aren’t getting any response, your dog has probably learned that there is a greater reward in ignoring you – more squirrels to chase, more time to smell the grass, etc.  Plenty of dogs listen well at home, but when they are taken out, to the park or into town, they quickly stop listening to even the simplest commands.  In any of these situations, getting upset or frustrated won’t make your dog any more likely to pay attention.  The only way to get your dog’s attention is to become more interesting than whatever they are currently doing.  Make yourself fun, make yourself interesting, and make yourself exciting!

Fear of punishment.  If you correct your dog for something, you should be confident that you are addressing a behavior that you do not want repeated, and that your dog will associate the correction with that exact behavior, not something else.  For example, if your dog gets out the front door and leads you on an hour long chase through the neighborhood, chances are by the time you catch up to him you will be quite frustrated, if not outright angry.  However, if you punish your dog for finally returning home (or merely allowing themselves to be caught), your dog will associate that correction with the last action they took – coming back.  Because dogs have relatively short attention spans, they cannot make the connection between what you are frustrated with (the bolt out the door that happened an hour ago) and the punishment they are receiving now.  That means that if you correct him when he comes back, next time he won’t want to come when you call him.  Using positive methods instead of punishment based training will ensure you never make a mistake like this.

Your dog hasn’t been formally trained.  Many owners expect their dogs to respond to commands that haven’t ever been officially trained.  You may think your dog knows how to do something, but they may in fact have only gotten lucky in responding properly.  Or maybe they do have a little understanding of what you are asking, but don’t know well enough to be able to perform around distractions, when they are tired or bored or in a different situation.  Our dogs genuinely want to do the right thing, but we need to give them the tools.  If you feel your dog isn’t listening because she’s just being difficult or stubborn, consider that maybe she just doesn’t get it.  The easiest way to fix this problem is to do some formal training: go to a class, get a private lesson from a professional trainer or find a good book.  Educate yourself so you know the right way to teach your dog.

You’re speaking the wrong language – English!  Let’s face it; we are a very ego-centric species.  Without even knowing it we often expect our dogs to act the way we would.  It’s the only way most of us know how to behave.  But when we expect our dogs to understand us or act like us, we are usually asking too much.  If you’ve ever thought of your dog as your child, talked in complete sentences and sort of expected an answer, or felt like your dog was holding a grudge against you, you’re guilty.  Don’t worry – it happens to the best of us.  However, if your dog seems to be ignoring you, maybe it’s just a “language barrier” of sorts.  You speak English and she speaks canine.  And it’s not just about interpreting a bark.  Dogs are very tuned into body language.  They communicate mostly through posture, movement, eye contact…all without a single spoken word.  The next time your dog doesn’t listen to you, consider if she really understands the question.

If your dog is not listening, regardless of why, the best solution may be found through a professional dog trainer.  Good dog trainers don’t just know how to get a dog to sit, they can interpret relationships between dogs and owners and help you learn how to improve them.  That leads to a happy ending for both you and your dog, and lots more listening!


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