My Dog Ignores Me: 9 Reasons Why
One of the most common problems to solve as a dog owner is when my dog ignores me.
So often people simply can’t figure out why their dog is not listening. They watch people running and playing with their personal dogs, while the dog listens and performs commands almost immediately and they are perplexed why their own dog does not act with the same loyalty.
I must tell you, I have learned from training dogs for the past 20 plus years devoted to dog training, that you must learn to think like a dog, and communicate effectively in order to learn that trust.
Trust, from another species, that speaks a totally different language is very difficult to earn!
These are the main reasons your dog is not listening to your commands
(Keep in mind – these could also mean that your dog seems unhappy in his relationship with you and your family. Altering these traits will drastically improve the relationship that you have with your furry friend.)
Your Timing is Off
When we get hung up on what we can do or say to prompt our dogs to behave, we have it backwards. Remember the first principle of dog training? The behavior that is rewarded gets repeated.
The consequences of a dog’s behavior determine how much of that behavior we’ll see in the future. If good things tend to follow a behavior, a dog will do more of it. If they don’t, he’ll do less of it. We create motivation by controlling what follows behavior. Once we motivate a dog to do something, putting it on cue is the easy part.
Proximity in time matters almost as much as order. Dogs are truly creatures of the moment. Our own brains stay busy analyzing past events and contemplating the future. Not our dogs. They live completely in the now. To communicate effectively with them, we must learn to do the same.
Our feedback on their behavior must always be about what they are doing RIGHT NOW. When your dog does something, you have about 2 seconds to weigh in on it, and that’s if you’re lucky. If, for example, your dog sits when you ask him to, but then jumps up on you before you’ve had a chance to deliver a reward, you’ve lost your chance.
The hardest time to follow the rule that our feedback must always be about the dog is doing right now is when our dogs make us angry. When you displease us, we humans want to tell you about it … and tell you about it … and then make sure you really understand. A dog’s reprimands, on the other hand, stop when the offending behavior stops. If you want to make sense to your dog, you must learn to change direction on a dime.
If your dog strands you at the dog park for an extra hour by refusing to come when called, for example, you’re going to be really frustrated. No matter how angry you are, you must praise and reward your dog when he finally comes. Because he associates your behavior with what he is doing right now, scolding will only make him less likely to come next time.
You Talk too Much
Your dog thinks you talk too much. Trust me. He does. Friends and family may hang on your every word, but not your dog. Dogs have their own natural “language,”, but it doesn’t have words. Dog language is visual. They communicate volumes with their posture, their tails, their eyes, and their ears. For this reason, their first instinct when trying to figure out what we want is to watch us; not to listen to us. Our constant talking is just noise to them.
Try following this simple rule. If you tell your dog to do something 5 times and he doesn’t do it 4 of those times, stop telling him to do it. Training happens every time we interact with our dogs, whether we notice it or not. If you keep calling your dog or telling him to get off the counter and he doesn’t listen, then you are actively training him to ignore you.
We need to make our words count in dog training. So what do you do if you can’t repeat a command to a dog who is ignoring you? You change your focus, which leads to our second big difference between how dogs and humans experience the world.
Your Treats or Your Rewards Are Kind of… Lame
As a dog trainer, I am always completely surprised by the weird “drivel” people bring to my group obedience class. Vegetables, Cheerios, bland biscuits, stale biscuits, odd stale rawhide sticks, or even regular dog food.
Now, any of these things can be good motivators for a hungry dog or a dog on a diet… however many of these things not only won’t motivate the average dog; they also take much too long to chew. By the time your dog is done chomping he has forgotten what he did to earn the reward.
Most dogs will happily work for tasty dog treats. You should choose treats that are small, soft, and easily broken apart. Treats should be highly valued by your dog and easily consumed. It is difficult to train a dog when he spends valuable time chewing and swallowing the reward treat. You want your dog to quickly eat her treat and look to you for more. Experiment with several different treats and find out which ones work best.
For dogs that are not motivated by food, try training using praise (happy talk). If your dog is motivated by dog toys, try rewarding him with a game of fetch. Some dogs are motivated by the company of other dogs. In this situation, the reward is play time with doggy pals.
Remember, if you want to be effective and a proficient trainer your reward must be greater than the distraction!
You Lose Your Temper
Again, as a dog trainer I watch this sad event play out night after night in obedience class. The truly wretched part is that I know the loss of temper, yelling, and often physical correction is even worse.
I once watched a client kick her dog in class in front of me and everyone else in the class. I was appalled and of course told her that if she ever laid an angry hand or foot on her dog again in my class, she would be meeting with animal control.
But I know that, due to her comfort level, this kind of abuse was a regular occurrence.
Abuse shuts some animals down completely and prevents them from performing the simplest task. Other dogs who are abused on a regular basis get obstinate and refuse to comply. Other dogs simply attack the owner. Losing your temper, whether verbally or physically, will not provide you with a happy and willing obedience partner!
You can also be mistreating your dog without losing your temper! Negative reinforcement often just does not yield the results that you desire, and it puts a strain on your relationship with your pup!
Animals, children, as well as adults, connect that good things happen when you do good things. It allows for reasoning. Yes, animals are capable of reasoning. If you doubt this, place a favorite treat out of their reach and leave the room. See if that treat is still there when you come back. They act instead of reacting.
Negative reinforcement connects with baser instincts. Particularly the survival and protection instincts. It puts the animal, child, employee in survival mode. They can become defensive. Defensive learning can lead to choices that simply avoid the punishment. Or being caught. Humans will lie, while animals may lash out and cause harm. They react rather than act.
Positive reinforcement dog training is a friendly, non-punitive method of teaching your dog to perform behaviors using food, dog treats or other positive actions as a reward.
Rewarding appropriate dog behavior makes that behavior more likely to occur in the future and is one of the most powerful tools you can use to shape or change your dog’s actions. I strongly advocate using positive reinforcement dog training as it not only teaches your dog what behaviors you desire (as well as those you don’t) in a humane manner, but also because it creates stronger bonds between you and your dog.
Compulsion dog training or training based on physical punishment usually involves some level of discomfort or even pain and is not recommended as it may cause your dog to bite in order to defend himself. Punishment may also be associated with other stimuli, including people, present at the time the punishment occurs. For example, a dog that is punished for getting too close to a small child may become fearful of or defensive around that child.
Avoid using harm as a means of training and avoid mistreating your dog. If you get mad, give yourself a break and your dog a break and try again later or another day. But don’t end on a bad note or try to punish him. Just try again later and let things go. Anger only shortens your life and risks your relationships.
You Train at His Playground
Oh, my! This is a HUGE Faux Pas! Do not train your dog at a dog park.
The worst place on earth to train your dog is a place full of distractions. Dog parks, city parks, crazy neighborhood running routes, horses, pigs, squirrels… the list goes on through literally dozens or hundreds of scenarios. If you want to get your dog to listen under distraction, he needs 95% reliable obedience at home.
If he ignores you when you say “sit” or “down” at home, there is less than a 3% change that he will listen when something exciting is going on around him. You must slowly add distractions and proof his behavior prior to expecting him to be reliable around things he finds fascinating. And, I might mention, that you have to be MORE fascinating than the distraction.
That point goes back to your quality of treats and games.
Anyways, when you’re training your dog, the training should be done in a fairly boring area. You don’t want your dog to get excited by its surroundings. Once your dog is worked up at a place like the dog park, well then… good luck trying to get its attention again! It’s much better to train your dog within the confines of your own home, or somewhere calm.
Once your dog is willingly and consistently following commands, gradually add distractions when you ask your dog to do a specific behavior, like sit or make eye contact. Ideally, this training should be done in low-distraction areas while on-leash like your yard or driveway, alley or parking lot, or on the sidewalk in front of your home. Then try these commands on walks during less noisy times, such as early morning, late evening or midday.
Once your dog can pay attention to your commands with some distractions around her, you can gradually expand her walks to include parts of your neighborhood or times of the day with more distractions.
To increase your success, start slow and keep expectations low to begin with. Reward short duration, low-effort behaviors. For instance, even though your dog may be able to stay or make eye contact for 10 seconds (or more) at home, only a second or two should be necessary to earn a reward on beginning walks.
You Can’t Commit
Making decisions is one of the hardest things we do as human beings. Should I go on the date? Should I get married? Should I quit my job? Should I take an unknown job in another state or hours away? These are all life decisions. But, let’s face it, most of what we have to deal with in dog training is not “life changing”.
Commit to a plan. If you don’t want your dog on the sofa, keep him off of it! If you want your dog to sleep in your bed, let him (unless you are dealing with dog aggression). If you want your dog to stop jumping on you and your guests, make it happen. But commit to consistency; nothing else is fair to your furry friend.
You Treat Him Like a King
Seriously? I mean, seriously? How on earth can you rationally think of a way to motivate your dog to do anything for you if you are already meeting all of his needs? I mean, if you gave me a billion dollars, do you think you could offer me the average hard-working job?
Would I do things for you out of the love and goodness of my heart? Some people would, and some dogs (rarely) will, but they are few and far between. Let’s face it; we are all in this life for ourselves.
We do what we need to do to have our needs and desires met, and once those are met there is no real reason to work hard or go above and beyond… Sad but true. In order to motivate and positively control your dog; you must be in control of his resources and all that he loves!
You Can’t (or Don’t) Make Time for Him
These next two tie together but they are a bit different.
Without spending time with your dog, you can’t build a bond with him. Without building a bond with him, he will not want to work for you. Without spending that time on your bond, he will not care about what you want and your feelings. He needs to be more exciting or at least more important than social media, your favorite TV show, or league sporting events.
If he is not, perhaps you should not have a dog.
Expectations Without Investment
My favorite conundrum, dog owners often expect their dog to be born with human expectations and rules inbred into those tiny cute faces. Let me be the first to tell you… that is FAR from the truth!
Puppies are born biting each other to figure out who is toughest and who should be in charge. Puppies jump on each other to play and to dominate situations. Puppies shred things because it is fun to watch stuffing and dirt fly. Puppies urinate and defecate in the house because they don’t understand why we don’t want them soiling the house. Puppies, and dogs, simply put, come from a whole different species.
In order to live peacefully with them, we must provide them with what they need but we also need to provide them with structure, mental stimulation and entertainment. We must invest in this relationship, like we would invest in any other, in order to end up with the dog that we have always dreamed of owning!
Follow these tips, and your dog will be sure to pay attention to you! Do you have any questions or comments? Feel free to share them below!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.