Ah…stubborn dogs. You know: the leash pullers, the ‘won’t-come-when-called’ pups, and the ‘I’ve-got-your-ball-and-I’m-not-giving-it-back’ doggos. Many wonderful dog trainers will tell you there’s no such thing as a stubborn dog, and I agree with them based on their perspective that dogs aren’t trying to do things to spite you. But, I have a knee-jerk reaction that makes me want to correct people when they say things like, “my dog knows this!” or “she just won’t listen!” So maybe it’s time to go back to the basics?
I often urge people to try and see things from the dog’s perspective. But sometimes I need to remember to stop and think about the human’s perspective too.
How is stubborness defined?
Definition from Oxford Languages: stub·born /ˈstəbərn/
Adjective: Having or showing dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so. “A stubborn refusal to learn from experience.”
Recognize anything here? Is the dog stubborn? Or is it you?
What does dog stubbornness mean to most people?
- When a dog knows a command, but won’t comply in certain situations
- When a dog pulls on the leash or won’t give into pressure
- Dog will only do behaviours for treats
- When a dog won’t do a behaviour, even for treats
- When a dog is excited and jumps around and won’t stop
- The dog follows their spouse’s commands, but not theirs
- They know doing something is wrong but they do it anyway
- Bad attitude
- Thinks they’re the boss
OK, so there are a million articles on why your dog isn’t stubborn, and they are totally worth checking out! But I’m going to try to stick to the question you are probably really asking: how do I make my dog do what I want them to do, when I want them to do it? How do I get them to stop doing things I don’t want them to do?
Step 1: Rule out ways you might be accidentally sabotaging your training
When do you call your dog? Is it mostly when it’s time to leave the park? When your dog is behaving well, such as relaxing on their bed, how often do you bring them a treat? Does your dog duck away when you pat their head as a reward?
If a dog has learned that sitting or relaxing leads to being ignored, but jumping on you or stealing something of yours get a rile out of you, you might actually be training your dog to steal things. Most dogs are willing to take your anger if it also comes with attention.
We need to be sure that when we try to reward a dog, it is actually something that they would rather have than doing whatever it is they want. The problem I see the most is when a person uses petting when a dog doesn’t want to be petted, or even pets them in the wrong way. It’s like when someone gives you a big squeezing hug when you really need to go to the bathroom; usually nice but please not right now!
Check out this video on doing a petting consent test and try it out in different scenarios.
Step 2: Give them an alternative that is acceptable for both parties
As living, intelligent and social beings, dogs have things they want to do. They also have a lot of genetic instincts that play a huge role in how they behave. Choose ways you want your dog to ask for things and find ways they can act on their instincts in a way that suits your lifestyle.
For example; if your dog is a shepherd type (Collie, Australian Shepherd, or a Blue Heeler) they are likely to be highly intelligent, sensitive, work motivated and nippy. Without the right kind of outlets and training this can lead to reactivity, nipping, anxiety problems.
You’ll find these herding dogs happiest doing sports, tricks, and solving puzzles in open, quiet spaces like fields and forests.
Step 3: Go back to basics
Pick up that treat pouch and your tug rope, we are going to rewire your dog’s brain using good old fashioned classical conditioning. If you want your dog to sit, you are going to practice getting them to sit and reward them for doing so!
I haven’t met many, if any stubborn dogs. But I’ve met a lot of stubborn people! Some people are really stuck in the belief that pain and fear are required to train dogs and that using rewards is a bad thing that should be phased out ASAP- even when provided with good research, examples, easy to grasp explanations with links to research…
So, your dog knows the rules. And maybe it’s time to re-approach this with a fresh set of eyes.
Furbaby Pet Care dog trainer Nea DeMuri looks at scientific theories on canine behaviour, cognition, learning to find the least intrusive and most practical ways of changing behaviour. She is the owner of Dogs in Balance in Saskatoon.
She starts with management and prevention, to make sure everyone is safe and to reduce the dog’s ability to practice the unwanted behaviours.
Then, she will look into fulfilling needs and adding enrichment. What needs is the dog trying to have met by performing the unwanted behaviour? More mental stimulation? Reduce stress? Defend themselves in what they perceive is a dangerous situation?
Finally, Nea will work with you on training. Even when the dog has all the right toys and appropriate options, active training is needed to change a dog’s habits.