Tuesday Training Tip: When Your Dog Doesn’t Listen

Rugby James:

Doggers ignore their owners for all kindsa reasons, and sum of them might surprise our readers:

  • They is distracted wif sumping else more interesting, like a skirrel in the yard, or the neighbors are out, etc.
  • They doesn’t wanna give up doing what they wantsa do for what the Uprights wants them to do
  • There’s not enuff paycheck to convince the dogger to do what the Upright wants
  • They’re off leash sos they doesn’t hasta do what the Upright wants.
  • They is past their threshold for reactivity, sos they can’t listen because they is all stressed out, over-excited, etc.

When I was a new dogger to the Mama, I had already learned that I didn’t hasta do what she wanted, so we hadda start slow and undo sum stuff what I had already learned.

When doggers is playing wif fings, they is focused on what they is doing, and NOT on their Uprights!

One common fing in all of those items on my list, is that doggers gots stuff to do, just like Uprights does!  We fink our stuff is important, just like Uprights does!  And, we is just lil doggers wif small brains what doesn’t understand the big picture of safety, and Uprights gotsa leave on time for work, and stuff like that.

If you remember one fing today, just remember that your lil dogger is trying the best that he can!  He’s really trying, and he needsa has you understand that and help him to have success!  The Mama will tell you how to make that happen!

Would this face lie to you? Remember that your lil dogger is really trying. He. Is. Really. Really. Trying!!

Mama Sally:

This issue is probably one of the most frustrating experiences for a dog owner:  a dog who just won’t listen!  However, most of the time, I think owners really have put their dogs in a situation where they will likely fail.  Look at the reasons that Rugby gave for why dogs don’t want to listen to their owners.

Typically, when your dog won’t pay attention to you, it’s most often when the dog is off leash, so they are a free agent, and your dog knows it!!  When your dog is off leash, you have zero control over what he’s doing, and you can’t “make” him do anything he doesn’t already want to do.  Do yourself a huge favor, and put a leash on your dog before you ask him to comply with anything!

The common denominator in all of Rugby’s examples is that the dog is distracted!  Expecting a dog to ignore distractions and focus on their owners is a long process.  Dogs don’t generalize things easily or quickly, so it’s very difficult for them to understand commands and focus in the midst of distractions.

Systematic introduction to distractions is the key to success.  When the dog understands how to focus on their owners, with no distractions, and then they are taught to focus through small distractions and increase to bigger distractions, they will be able to generalize that focus over time.  Two commands that are helpful here are “Leave it” and “Watch me.”

When I teach “Leave it,” part of the signal that the dog gives is that he must break focus with what he wants, in order to look at me from either a sit or down….whatever position the dog chooses.  It’s really a very important part of the process to help a dog learn to break that focus and look at his owner/handler!  As long as your dog is looking at the source of his focus, he is going to do what he wants to do, and he’s not paying attention to you.

One thing that works right along with teaching distracted work, is watching your dog’s threshold with the distraction.  The further the distraction, the more likely your dog will be able to focus on you.  As your dog learns how to focus on his you,  the threshold can be reduced gradually over time.

Expecting your dog to focus off leash out in the yard with distractions is your last step in the process. Be sure you are systematically getting there!

Remember that all distractions are not created equally.  You really need to know your dog and what trips his triggers.  I like to start focus work with things that don’t trigger a dog at all.  That way, he can practice and learn the correct behavior that you want from him before you start distracted work.  It really makes things go faster by the time you add in distractions.

The other thing that comes along with distracted work, is the paycheck that you offer your dog for his work.   When he is working with no or low distractions, he likely won’t require a high value treat.  However, when I want Rugby to focus on me when the neighbors are out in their back yard, I know I have to pull out a super high value treat because of the proximity to our yard, and the movement and sounds the neighbors are making.  A low value treat just won’t do it.

To summarize:

  • Be sure your dog is on leash when you start focus work.
  • Start your work with training “Leave it” and “Watch me.”
  • Your initial training should be with no distractions at all.
  • Systematically add distractions little by little as your dog learns and becomes consistent with his responses.
  • Consider your dog’s threshold to the distraction, and be sure the distraction is far enough away as your dog is learning.
  • Make sure your paycheck matches up with the work you expect from your dog.

And remember Rugby’s sage advice:  Your dog really IS trying to get things right!  He’s trying so hard to figure out what you want him to do!  Help him in the process by following my suggestions, and you’ll be off and running with a dog who can’t wait to listen and focus on you!

I’m really excited to have joined a wonderful Positive Pet Training Blog Hop!  What that means, is that you’ll see some additional blog icons at the bottom of this post.  This month our Blog Hop Theme is all about what to do when your dog won’t listen.  You can click on the additional blog icons if you’d like to know more about this subject from a different blogger.




  1. says

    I love that you included why our dogs don't listen to us. I think that's really important. Keeping that in mind will help me to be more patient while we're working on these things as well.
    One of my biggest problems with Luke is when he gets barking at something out the window. If I don't catch him and stop him soon enough, I lose him, and "leave it" just doesn't work. I'm thinking maybe putting a leash on him might help him to pay more attention to me?
    This is all such great advice, and thank you so much for joining our blog hop!

    • Sally says

      Thanks for your sweet comment, Jan! I think when we can know WHY our dogs produce the behavior that they do....we have a much better shot at understanding how to "fix" the problem behavior. I love giving Rugby a voice on these posts, because I think it's so important for owners to really understand what's going on from their dog's perspective! Definitely a leash on Luke with help, but honestly, I think you probably need to take a few steps back and retrain "Leave it" with some smaller distractions. For a hound....varmints out a window are like a jackpot, and he's definitely going to be all in on the barkfest!! I'm so glad to be a part of the blog hop! Love that April included me!! 🙂

  2. says

    This is all great advice! We do a lot of these things, too. I think Rye might be part cat, though, (or she spent too much time with her kitty brother before she was allowed to be free with Barley) because she has a much bigger independent streak than Barley does 🙂 I'm so glad you joined our hop!

    • Sally says

      Oh Beth, I feel your pain!! I've trained many independent dogs over the years, and they really are challenging, because it's hard to convince them to do things that you want, and they just simply don't care! Watch your treat values, and use a leash, and you might try training when Rye is really hungry, because she will be more motivated to work! Thanks so much for reading and for your comment! I'll enjoy following your journey with Rye!! I'm tickled to be part of the hop!! So happy that April invited me!! 🙂

      • says

        Unfortunately, Rye just doesn't really care about food (unless she has the opportunity to steal it and then she's really into food)--luckily for us, she doesn't want to eat other dogs like Barley used to and she loves agility more than anything else, so that training is pretty easy. And I can live with the cat-like behaviors of sitting on the back of the couch and the sofa table 😉

        • Sally says

          Beth, I've had a few dogs who are not at all food motivated, so I just work with what gets them all excited! Positive training is all about finding the "thing" or "things" that your dog really likes and wants. It's different for every dog, but most will still respond to food, if the treat values are high enough. Get creative and think outside the box with your girl. I've never had a dog who wouldn't respond to something....but sometimes finding what gets them excited can be one of the biggest challenges in training!!

  3. says

    We've gotten past most of the other hurdles. If Mr. N doesn't listen, it's usually due to reactivity issues and he's too riled up to think properly. He loves being off-leash and he's pretty good about listening... he knows he goes back on leash if he doesn't! Thanks for joining the hop.

    • Sally says

      You're so tuned into what is going on with Mr. N, and that's such a big part of the puzzle!! Once dogs are reacting, they can't think, because they are functioning emotionally. Getting him out of the emotional response and into a cognitive one takes time and practice! You're doing so well with him, and all progress forward is good progress forward!! Thanks so much for inviting me to join the Blog Hop!! 🙂

    • Sally says

      Kari I really understand that sentiment about bait! There can be several things going on. If your dog normally is interested in bait and hits moments when he’s not, it’s likely that the distraction is too much for him. You’ve gone too far too fast. Try lowering the distractions to help him learn what you want, and then also try training before meals, when you know that he will be hungry and that will increase his interest in the bait. If he’s like Rugby, and he’s stressed or anxious or worried, you’re not probably going to be able to work with bait in that situation. You’ll likely need to practice lower level work with him and very slowly introduce distractions! Good luck and keep working. Don’t give up!! And thanks for reading and for your sweet words about Rugby!!


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