4 Reasons Your Dog Doesn’t Listen

Have you ever wondered if your dog has selective hearing? You swear they know what you’re asking, and you know they can hear you, but they listen just about as well as a rock wall. We’ve all been there at some point or another. When you call your dog to “come” and instead they run away and make you chase them like it’s a game. Or you tell them to drop something and they seem to just tease you with it. What gives? Today we’re going to go over four common reasons your dog doesn’t seem to listen. 

Reason #1: You sound like a broken record.

Dogs don’t understand human language the way we do. Dogs learn to associate certain sounds we make with certain behaviors that we teach them. But, if you don’t use your words wisely, they can become meaningless. For example, let’s say you taught your dog a “come” command as a puppy, but now you find yourself repeating the command over and over and over again. When you repeat yourself, what your dog learns is “So I don’t really have to do it the first time”. And the more you repeat yourself, the more your dog learns that your command is really more of a suggestion. Sure, maybe they know what you want them to do - but they don’t have any reason to actually want to do it. Or, you’ve used the word so many times that they don’t actually associate it with anything anymore. It’s completely lost its meaning. Which brings us to …..

Reason # 2: You don’t enforce your commands. 

You can give your dog a command 100 times, but if he knows you’re not actually going to do anything about it, odds are he’s going to choose to do what he wants. For example, your dog's running around the park with another dog. It’s getting late and you’re ready to leave. You call your dog to “come”, but he knows that you don’t actually have any way to enforce it and based on what’s happened every other time you’ve called him to come, he knows the choice is really up to him in regards to when he comes back to you. Playing with his friend is much more fun than running back to you. Of course he’s going to continue playing!

Every time you give your dog a command, he’s learning something - whether that means he has to listen, or he doesn’t.

Reason # 3: Your dog is confused. 

I’ve seen this happen numerous times. Sometimes, we start using commands with our dogs without actually taking the time to formally teach them what the command means. At home, your dog may offer a behavior to make you happy and it just so happens to be the one you wanted. But that doesn’t always mean he understands the command. Or, maybe you did formally teach the command. But, you only taught it in your living room. Dogs aren’t able to generalize the way we can. Even if your dog understands a command in the comfort of your living room, they may not understand it through a doorway or around big distractions in new environments. Dogs take in a lot of details when they learn something new, if the details change, you may need to continue teaching your command to show them the command stays the same. 

Reason #4: You only give your command to end the fun or as a punishment. 

If you’ve ever given a command and your dog hangs his head and avoids, you may want to look at this one a little more closely. When our dogs tend to be well-behaved, we don’t generally need to give commands very often. We’ll continue to use our “come” command as an example. If you only ever call your dog to come when you’re going to scold him, or even to just end the fun (call him away from playing with a friend, away from his toy, etc.), it's no surprise your dog is reluctant to oblige. Why would he want to come to you if all you ever do is get mad or take away the fun? 

So, how do you fix it?

The great thing about dog training is that it’s never too late to start or improve. If you’ve found that your dog often doesn’t listen, the first thing you’ll want to do is go back to the basics. Start teaching from scratch, make sure they truly understand what you’re asking them to do. And make it fun! Use treats or their favorite toy as a reward, use a leash to help guide them and make sure to practice in all sorts of settings.

Once your dog understands, make sure you only ever give your command one time. And when you do give that command, make sure you can enforce it if they choose not to listen. Using the “come” command again, if you're not 100% confident that your dog will come when called, attach a long leash to their collar. This way, once you give your single command, you can use your leash to reel them in and show them you mean it. Give that command some meaning. And finally, when your dog does come, make it worth it. Reward them with lots of praise. Practice periodically around the house or in the yard and make coming to you the most exciting thing they do all day.