The Stubborn Dog – Whole Dog Journal


I am shocked when I hear someone refer to a dog as “stubborn”. It is obviously unfair to call a dog stubborn. Dogs do what works for them (as we all do), and when they don’t do what we ask, they have a good reason. If your dog isn’t responding to your cue, maybe he has come to associate it with something aversive, maybe he doesn’t understand what you are asking, or maybe he’s too distracted or stressed and your request doesn’t even register in his Brain. In any case, as a supposedly smarter species, it is our job to figure out how to get our dogs to do this want to do what we want them to do.

Some people believe that dogs should do what they’re told simply because we tell them to. “Because I said it!” listens to childhood when parental instructions were often accompanied by the implied “do it or else!”. In these days of a more enlightened dog training philosophy, this compulsive approach is not what many of us want our dogs to be. We prefer relationships that are based on a cooperative partnership.

If your dog isn’t doing what you ask, consider the following questions:

Do you train competently? Remember, dogs don’t have to do what we say just because we tell them – or just because they love us. We want them to do it want to do it. Make sure that your reinforcers are valuable enough that your dog will eagerly provide the behavior you are asking for and that you tag and / or deliver the reinforcer with good timing so that your dog will associate the reinforcer with the behavior you want.

Is there something aversive about the behavior? Years ago my first Pomeranian, Dusty, began to disapprove of jumps when we were training for the Open Division of the obedience competition. I didn’t punish him for not jumping – I took him to my vet and found he had bad hips. It hurt him to jump. Behavior can also be emotionally offensive. If a drive always means a trip to the vet, your dog may be reluctant to jump in the car. Your challenge is to consistently get car trips to predict “good things” – a hike in the woods, a trip your favorite canine friend takes for a game session, right? If he refuses to enter his crate because he has a mild separation and has been linked to leaving the crate, conduct behavior changes (and possibly appropriate medication) to alleviate the separation then convince him Kisten is wonderful.

Doesn’t he understand You may have taught him to respond to a cue for the desired behavior, but you may have used body language prompts in the past without realizing it and now he won’t understand what you’re asking him to do without being prompted. Fade out any prompts if you want him to reliably respond to verbal cues. Perhaps you’ve always practiced in the kitchen in front of the refrigerator, which is why he thinks “sitting” means “sitting in the kitchen”. If you ask him to sit in the living room, he won’t sit because it’s not the kitchen. He’s not stubborn – he needs you to help him generalize his behavior so that he understands that “sitting” means putting his tail on the ground wherever You ask him to do it. Even your tone of voice can play a role. If you usually give cues in a happy voice, but your emotional state is causing your voice to sound different, he may not understand it.

Is he distracted? Of course, unless you generalized your dog’s behavior to distracting environments, his or her attention will be drawn to the myriad of exciting things that are happening around him. He doesn’t ignore you. he probably isn’t even Listen You, because he’s so focused on the fascinating world around him. Help him hear and respond to your behavioral requests by exercising in different environments with gradually increasing distractions.

Is he stressed? “Stressed” is an even bigger challenge than “distracted”. When stress occurs, the thinking part of the brain (the cortex) shuts down and the emotional part of the brain (the amygdala) takes over. We even have sentences in English to describe this phenomenon: “I was so scared that I couldn’t think clearly.” “I was beside myself with worry.” If your dog is so stressed that he cannot think clearly, it is unfair to hold him responsible for not doing what you ask. Relieve him (remove him from the stressor and / or make behavioral changes to change his association with the stressor) and try again.

Your relationship with your dog will be a lot happier if you stop calling them stubborn and see how you can help them respond better to your behavioral demands. Now, busy yourself with helping him do what you want him to do.

Featured photo: Christine McCann / Getty Images

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