My dog is so stubborn!
I often hear “My dog is really stubborn” during consultations and enquiries, and it is often the suggested reason why a dog is not responding to their owner.
But can dogs really be stubborn?
The quick answer is no, dogs really do not actively listen to a cue and then decide not to perform because they simply do not want to.
There are so many different reasons why a dog may not respond to their owner and it takes a little detective work to find out why that is.
One thing to look at is – do they one hundred and ten percent understand what the cue means and what behaviour is associated with that cue? Dogs learn through association but just because they understand a cue based in the home, they may still need to learn it in other contexts too as they do not generalise very well. You need to teach a cue in at least ten different places before they fully understand what is required from them.
Another is – are they motivated enough to work with you? Motivation is a huge aspect of training and it is important that the dog is motivated to work alongside you. Dogs can be motivated by many different things including food, toys, physical and verbal praise.
It is also important to look at – can they truly focus on you? If your dog cannot focus on you they will really struggle to respond to cues. There are many things that can distract our dogs out in the great big wide world including other dogs, people, bikes, traffic, smells, livestock, wildlife and many more.
When introducing cues it is often taught through shaping, luring, then adding your cue in. It is important to only use the cues once, as you can easily dilute the cue if you keep repeating it to the dog. If they are repeated it may take multiple repetitions to get the behaviour you want.
It is important to pay your dog well! The more you reward your dog’s behaviour the more they will offer you. Once they have a good understanding of the behaviour, it is then randomly reinforcing good choices to keep behaviours consistent. If you stopped getting paid for the work you do how long would it take you to stop working?
Dogs cannot wilfully ignore cues given to them as that is not how they think or learn. It is very much humans anthropomorphising their dog. Which we do so often with our dogs!
So instead of thinking your dog is being stubborn think about why they are not performing the behaviour you have asked them to do and how you can help them out to achieve it. I always recommend making it as easy as possible for your dog to get it right as this is setting everyone up for success.
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask!