In today’s post, I want to talk about something difficult: your stubborn dog! I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot because Facebook was kind enough to show me a memory of a quote that I shared three or four years ago: “In order for a dog to be considered stubborn, he must first know what the rule is and then actively choose to disobey it. There are very few stubborn dogs in this world, but there are a lot of untrained dogs.”
I stand behind this statement, and I still think it’s true. That was one of our most popular posts: it was shared thousands or times, and a lot of people commented on it. Many of them said things like “Well, you don’t know my dog! He’s actually stubborn!” or “This might be true, but my dog’s the exception!” Exceptions do exist. But in reality, there are very few stubborn dogs in the world and there are a lot of dogs who aren’t sure what is wanted of them.
Let’s get deeper into that concept. So many dogs are ignorant of the rules, even those that their owner believes they have taught. Take a simple command like “come” as an example. Many clients tell me: “My dog doesn’t come when he’s called; he’s very stubborn.” I always ask how they taught him to come. Their answer? “When he was a puppy, I brought out some treats and he would come. We did that a bunch.” As I dig deeper, I find that they did a handful of sessions over the course of a few weeks. That’s great, but you can’t use low levels of consistency for a short amount of time if you want real obedience and reliability. Don’t communicate a concept poorly and then expect your dog to do something well! Yet so often owners do this, and call their dogs stubborn when they are disappointed. I often find that owners haven’t trained their dogs to come in the presence of distractions, or trained in various locations, or done many repetitions. Why do they expect their dogs to come? “Because I told him to come!”
We’re talking about a dog who was never actually taught this concept, or was only taught in a way that the human owner could understand. To be honest, if you followed that process with a human child, they probably would be pretty good at following that command. But dogs learn with a different pace and rhythm, and you have to follow the rules of behavior when you’re training them.
I would encourage you to look at your dog and ask how well you’ve communicated your rules to him. If you’ve done very well and your dog doesn’t listen, then perhaps you do actually have one of those rare stubborn dogs. But more than likely your dog just wasn’t trained all the way. If that’s your dog—it’s time to get to work!