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The Big Three. “Why is my dog not listening to me?”

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Have you ever wondered why your dog isn’t listening to you? Are you frustrated with your dog’s behavior? Have you ever taken your dog out to a new place only to find suddenly they have seemingly forgotten all of their training? You aren’t alone!

Misbehaving? It’s important as as an owner and trainer to understand the reasoning behind our dog’s “selective hearing”, so we can better help them to be successful. Often times this misbehavior is attributed to a lack of leadership or dominance, but modern science tells us this is not the case. In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever to support the idea of inter-species dominance, meaning, your dog knows you are not a dog and is not challenging you for some imaginary position of power. Dogs are scavengers and opportunists, and their behavior is driven be reinforcement. Is your dog walking ahead of you and pulling on the lead? They aren’t questioning your leadership position, they have simply learned that pulling on the lead gets them to where they would like to go. Your role as an owner is to create a partnership with your dog where you work together to create behaviors that work for BOTH of you! Do you want your dog to walk nicely alongside you? Simply make that the most reinforcing choice for your dog to make by showing them what you would like, and rewarding them well for it. This concept works across the board to address all of those not so wonderful behaviors your dog may be practicing. He is simply doing the best thing he knows how to do to get the things he would like (attention, food, interesting things to sniff, a comfy spot etc) and it is our job to educate them and show them what we DO want them to do instead. My students will know this concept well as I often talk about living in “DO-Land” with our dogs. Rather than punishing unwanted behaviors, focus on rewarding the ones you like instead.

What about those situations where it seems your dog has suddenly forgotten what he knows? If you find yourself asking your dog for a specific behavior and they are not responding, you’ll want to ask yourself the following, I call these “The Big Three”…

  1. Is your dog too distracted, overwhelmed, anxious, excited etc to be able to work in their current environment? What can you do to change the environment/context to make it easier for them? Perhaps they are not ready to be practicing with that level of distraction (new place) and you need to go back to somewhere less distracting to proof the behavior.
  2. Were YOU unclear with what you asked for? Perhaps the verbal cue/hand cue was not given clearly and the dog did not understand/hear/see what you asked for.
  3. Does your dog actually know this behavior? Perhaps you need to go back and practice this skill and verify your dog truly understands the cue/behavior you are asking for.

Simple enough, right? But SO very important. At the end of the day the onus is on us, not our dogs, to figure out where that breakdown is coming from and make the appropriate adjustments to help our dogs be successful in that moment.

Training with your dog should be fun for both of you, and if you find you and your dog are struggling, I’m here to help! Until next time…

“Training is everything, and everything is training.” – Seren

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