My Dog Doesn’t Listen to Me

By Kay Bradnum

It’s frustrating when you’ve worked hard with your dog, given him lots of love and all the right food, toys, and everything he needs – and you don’t exist for him. It’s even more frustrating when your Other Half just has to say the word and doggo is all ears and ready for instructions!

You’ll often hear dog trainers and behaviourists talk about ‘putting a value on’ the word or action. This is the key to pretty much anything you want attention for. It just means to make it worth your dog’s while to listen.

Let’s look at some common situations in which your dog might not be paying you attention, and where you can fairly easily put a value on the desired behaviour. I’m going to assume you’ve already had a vet check and you know for sure there isn’t a hearing problem.

  • Your new puppy has arrived home! You’ve done everything by the book, but he doesn’t respond to you at all; doesn’t even seem to know his name. Well, why should he? It’s still just a noise to him. If I stared at you and said, ‘tractor, tractor, tractor’, you’d think I was a bit bonkers and wonder if you should call someone. If I said ‘tractor’, and gave you £5 every time I said it, you’d pretty soon pay more attention, wouldn’t you? Put value on his name. A tiny piece of sausage or cheese is £5 to a dog. A lovely game of tug is £5. An ear rub or back scratch is £5 for the right dog. Find out what floats his boat and use it!

  • You’ve taught pup to sit; held a treat above his head until he sat, told him he’s a good boy, and given him the treat. Now he won’t do it without a treat over his nose. He just won’t listen otherwise. You haven’t put value on the cue ‘sit’. You’ve bribed him and/or the treat has become a part of the cue. Look at other ways to get dog to sit or phase out the treats gradually and have them in a pot or pocket so they appear after the sit. Rather than luring, capturing a common behaviour is often the best way. Take a look at Teaching a Down for a good example. It puts value on the action itself before the cue is even added
  • He’s been such a good boy. He was very reliable and sensible for about six months, and now he’s around a year old. What went wrong? Adolescence, that’s what! Just go back several steps in your training, treat him like a much younger dog again, and when the hormones calm down, you’ll come out the other side with the dog you had before. You must have put value on your cues before adolescence to have had such good results, so you’ll get there again
  • Your rescue dog has been an absolute dream for the first few weeks, but now he’s ignoring you, being defiant, and doing as he pleases. Of course, he’s actually not defiant. It’s a sign that you’re doing a good job of helping him reduce his stress levels, and he’s coming out of a sort of ‘shell shock’ from the trauma of going into rescue, kennelling, fostering, and rehoming. He’s ready to let you meet the dog he really is. The honeymoon period is over. Take it as a compliment, and get started on the real job of training – putting value on everything you ask of him

  • Your dog behaves beautifully at training club, or at home, but you don’t exist when you’re at the dog park or out on a walk. The reason is two-fold:
    • Firstly, dogs don’t generalise easily, so if you’ve taught a cue in the kitchen, teach it again in the front room, and the garden. And then just outside the gate. And anywhere else you can think of. It will get easier to teach each time. You will know when he understands that the cue applies everywhere
    • Secondly, it’s much harder to concentrate somewhere exciting. You can’t do your maths homework in Disneyland. I couldn’t even recite my five times table on a roller coaster. Bear in mind your dog’s age and limitations. Again, practise in as many places as you can think of. Make it easy for him to get it right, and he will slowly learn to concentrate everywhere. Or almost everywhere
  • Your dog is a dream for one of you, but not the other. He listens to everything your partner says, but even though you do everything for him, he’s not listening to you anymore. There could be lots of things at play with this one, so you’ll need to do some analysing.
    Does your partner have a deeper, stronger voice which the dog might find a little intimidating? That’s not something you want to duplicate, but it is a cue for you both to rethink why your dog obeys. I’m sure neither of you meant to actually make him slightly afraid to disobey you.
    Does your partner play a lot and have fun with him, while you do the feeding, grooming, and walking? Is it just food in a bowl, dog doesn’t love the brush, and walking is a brisk 30 minutes because you have to go to work? You actually have three good opportunities to put value on yourself here. You could use some of each meal as training treats and do some fun stuff together. Work on gently desensitising to the brush and mix it up with something your dog enjoys doing. Even the walk can be more fun. Every now and again, bounce and squeak a bit, take a few running steps, and get your dog to nose-bump your fist, drop a few bits of kibble in the grass to show him your ‘find’. Make sure you are worth listening to, just as your partner is.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it does cover the most common reasons that your dog might not be paying you attention. Hopefully, something will resonate with you, but if not, sit back and keep in mind that your dog isn’t choosing to ignore you, he just hasn’t been given a reason to pay attention. How can you put value on it?