stubborn dog

My dog won’t take no for an answer

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“My dog has many good points but does not take no for an answer and is very disobedient when he appears to be totally deaf.”

So wrote a reader of her “challenging” dog.

Well, I’m glad the poor dog’s owner recognises he has good points! But the rest of her statement means that she doesn’t understand her dog or his motivation one bit.

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Disobedient. The dictionary tells us this means “refusing to obey rules or someone in authority”. Now if you’re to obey rules, you have to know what those rules are. And I’m willing to bet this dog has NO idea what the rules are that he’s meant to “obey”!

A common misconception

There seems to be an extraordinary misunderstanding rife amongst dog-owners. They think their dog arrives pre-programmed with English (or Spanish, or Turkish, or whatever they speak themselves). They think that the dog will have a perfect understanding of the meaning of words enunciated loudly and with clarity. So “SIT!” should immediately have the dog sitting.

Furthermore, they think that all their physical expressions and vocal tones will be instantly understood. So “NOOOOOO!” said in a menacing way with finger wagging will clearly mean “Take your paws off the table and go to your basket.”

How is your non-verbal, non-human, dog meant to know this?

Teach first

In the first place, your dog needs to be taught what it is that’s wanted - not left to guess, take pot-luck and hope he gets it right.

You have to give the dog information about what it is you want, not just what you don’t want.

Think of a toddler in your home. You’d be showing her what you wanted, kindly and patiently, naming objects and actions in that motherly chatty way that comes naturally to loving parents. Requests would come as suggestions, (Do you think your teddy bear would like to have tea now?) You wouldn’t bark orders at her! You wouldn’t expect her to understand language before she is verbal herself!

You may treat your dog the exact same way. And it’ll help if you think of how you get your wishes known and followed with your human family.

Cues not commands

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Do you order, or “command” your partner or family?

Or do you perhaps ask them?

Perhaps you drop hints, without even saying anything at all! For instance, you may come home exhausted and throw yourself into an armchair. A sensitive family member may say “I’ll put the shopping away for you - would you like a cup of tea?” Or even, “You make us a cup of tea and I’ll deal with all these groceries.”

We give and take. We assess a person’s mood and act accordingly. We adapt our requirements to the situation. We are kind and patient (if we want to keep the peace!).

In enlightened dog training, we call these communications - not “commands” but “cues”. They can be vocal cues (“Would you like to sit?”), or they could be environmental cues (I’m holding your lead - if you want me to put it on you for a walk you need to sit). And no, they don’t understand every word - neither does your toddler. But they can get the drift.

So if you take the word “command” right out of your vocabulary you may find that straight away you get on better with your dog. Really!

You have asked your dog to Sit and she doesn’t. Instead of shouting SIT ever louder and more urgently, you may ask yourself why she doesn’t sit:

• Is it because she’s in pain?

• Is it because the floor is slippery so she’s unable to prop herself up?

• Is it because it’s wet and muddy and she’s a comfort-lover? (My whippet wouldn’t dream of sitting on wet grass - and I’d never ask her to!)

• Is it because she’s distracted by the dog over the road/the postman/children screaming/the shopping bags on the floor/[insert your dog’s fear or fancy here]?

• … or is it perhaps because you never taught her?

“Disobedient” and other such words

The dictionary gives us related words for disobedient:

unruly, wayward, errant, disorderly, delinquent, disruptive, troublesome, rebellious, defiant, mutinous, recalcitrant, uncooperative, non-compliant, wilful, unbiddable, intractable, obstreperous, awkward, difficult, perverse, contrary, naughty, mischievous …

I’ve heard almost all of those words applied to a dog’s behaviour by a frustrated and thwarted owner! Often it’s new dog-owners talking about their first puppy. They clearly are labouring under the misapprehension I outlined above, and are expecting miraculous perception from this baby of another species.

Usually I suggest they substitute the word they’ve used (often stubborn, difficult, disobedient) with a word which better fits the situation: try fearful, shy, overexcited, hungry, overtired … perhaps the sort of words you may use to describe that little toddler who is not doing what you’d like.

We all have reasons for doing things

Of one thing you may be sure - dogs don’t do things for no reason.

You may not be able to see or understand the reason - but there is a reason! And as we’re meant to be the ones with the bigger brains, and we chose to have this dog live with us, it’s up to us to work out what that reason is.

You’ll find some study of Dog Body Language will repay you well (see Resources below). Your dog will heave a huge sigh of relief when at last you seem to understand his clear messages! And no, they’re not obvious to most of us dumb humans till they’re explained to us.

Once you know whether your dog is just distracted or - perhaps - afraid, you’ll be able to deal accordingly with the situation. Keep in mind that you cannot train an emotion-based behaviour out of a dog. They’re not operating on a rational basis at that moment, any more than your shrieking toddler who wants something she can’t get.

So, as I replied to the reader I quoted at the top of this piece, assess the situation carefully before you apportion blame. Your dog needs your help and understanding, not condemnation.

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How can I stop my dog doing stuff I don't like?

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People are often looking for an instant fix to something they don’t like. 

Me too! 

I’d like a magic wand to wave over life’s problems. Trouble is, people come to me thinking I can wave a magic wand over their dog’s problems and they won’t have to do a thing. 

A recent query was along the lines of, “My dog runs around barking all day in the garden. How can I stop him?”

You don’t have to be a genius to see that your first step must be - don’t leave him unattended in the garden! You can’t hope to change his behaviour until you’ve changed things enough to prevent him indulging in it.

My dog keeps … [insert annoyance here]!

Here are some starters for you:

    •    Jumping up on the furniture
    •    Raiding the bin
    •    Running off on walks
    •    Barking
    •    Destroying shoes
    •    you name it

Whenever someone tells me one of these things, I have one (smug) question:

“Where were you when he was doing all this?”

If you cannot yet trust your dog in any of these areas, then you shouldn’t give him the freedom to carry on doing what you don't like!

Practice makes Perfect - this doesn’t just apply to piano and tennis!

Every time your dog indulges in one of these annoying activities he’s getting more fun from it, and getting better at it. It becomes a habit - and we all know how hard habits can be to break.

The good news is that good habits are just as hard to break as bad ones.

Free online training workshop for you and your dog!

Free online training workshop for you and your dog!

  • If your toddler had a fascination for the oven, you wouldn’t be leaving her unattended in the kitchen.

  • If your 6-year-old is a danger on his bike, you wouldn’t let him out on the road on his own.

  • If your teenager was beginning to mix with the wrong crowd, you wouldn’t be cheerily waving him goodbye of an evening, knowing you’ll be finding him in the police station later that night.

So if your dog is doing something you don’t like, the first thing to do is make sure he can’t do it. 

  • You can shut the door to the front room when you’re not there (this will prevent chewing the furniture and barking at the window).

  • You keep your dog in the same space (room/garden) as you so he can’t chew shoes, raid bins, dig up the flowerbeds, bark at the moon.

  • And if he runs off on walks - you use a long line so that he can roam but not ramble.

That's just for starters ...

Now that isn’t the end of the story. And none of this should be forever. 

Once you’ve got a measure of control over the situation, and you’ve removed the frustration and the yelling, you can start to re-teach your dog what you’d like him to do. 

Dogs don’t exist in a vacuum. They can’t NOT do something - they’re doers.

So once you’ve eliminated what you don’t like, the way is open to change your dog’s habits to what you do like.

So come and join our free 5-day Workshop today! 5 days of free online training, with videos, text, and live broadcasts. You’ll get to meet a host of other lovely dog-owners who are looking to improve the connection between them and their dogs.

 

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Three words to your dog that reveal the wrong attitude

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“She’s stubborn. She doesn’t obey my commands.”

When I hear someone talking about their dog like this, I know just what to expect when I visit them.

There will be a lot of shouting, in an increasingly stern and abrupt voice. There will be finger-wagging, the owner will bend over the dog and stare at him. And the dog will either fly around getting more and more excited (read “stressed”) or shut down completely and opt out. The owner will think his dog is complying, but this is what’s known as Learned Helplessness - “I can’t do anything about this so I’ll give up”. There will be much frustration all round.

This has come about not because the owner is nasty or domineering, but because of how they think they need to act with their dog. 

Old sins have long shadows!

They seem to have got the idea that you have to be firm, authoritarian, dominant - whatever you like to call it - with a dog. While they accept that this is not going to work with people, they blindly accept that this is what you do with dogs. It’s true that dogs - all animals - had a hard time in the past, and still do in many cultures. They were regarded as second-class beings - some people even believe they don’t feel pain as we do. 

These people should open their eyes and look around them! Have they not seen Guide Dogs leading their blind owners safely past street hazards? Assistance Dogs opening washing machines and putting the clothes into a basket? Have they not seen a dog telling his deaf owner that there’s someone at the door? (Yes, mine tell me that there’s someone at the door, but because they’re anxious about the invasion, not because they’ve been trained to quietly indicate to me!)

Then what about the astonishing displays of Dancing with Dogs, where the dog learns an extended routine of actions to perform in harmony with its owner? Here’s a superb example.

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If you see the enthusiasm and joy expressed in that video (do watch it, it's not long and you'll be enchanted), and in the dogs who excel at Agility and Flyball, you’ll realise that this can’t come from being nagged or punished. It’s pure enjoyment, harnessed.

Even the police - who used to claim they had to be hard on their dogs to be confident that they’d protect them - are now finding that working with the dog rather than against him is infinitely more successful and rewarding for both dog and officer.

We don’t treat children, spouses, or employees like this any more, so why do it to our dogs?

Lazy habits and popular tv

There has been so much change in the way we live over the last century. But it seems that animal care and education lag behind the general trend - by a good number of years.

Doing things a certain way, unquestioningly, because that’s how our parents did it, is not going to move us forward. That thinking would have kept us in caves! We have to take the learning available to us and implement it in our lives. So we must question what we are told to do. This is one of the valuable aspects of the teenage years - question, reject, question, reject. Of course you have to replace what you’ve rejected with something better!

And this would mean being picky about what you watch on television. Just because it’s printed in the paper or broadcast on the screen does not mean it’s right! There are plenty of people making good money from programmes indicating that a sharp, quick, fix is what’s needed to solve all dog behaviour problems. If you still think that beating a child for a minor transgression is ok, then you probably believe this twaddle. 

But most of the people I work with are good, kind, people, who wouldn’t dream of abusing their children. Yet somehow they have allowed this dissonant belief - that animals are different and need to be abused to be acceptable - to take root in their heads. 

I recently saw video of one of those tv personality, non-qualified, self-styled “dog trainers” giving a course on teamwork in the workplace. He used his unpleasant practices on their dogs - leaning over them and shouting, sneering, jabbing them, yanking their lead - to demonstrate. I was appalled that the owners were accepting all this! Suppose they were to go back to their office and shout at their staff, belittle them, jab them in the ribs, pull and push them around?! I feel sure this is not something they would countenance - and if they did they’d soon be advertising for more staff! - yet they swallowed all this because this guy had given himself a funny title and been on television.

"My dog is stubborn" No he's not! Find out what really motivates him

"My dog is stubborn" No he's not! Find out what really motivates him

People seem to lose their critical faculties when dealing with their dogs!


Dogs are not “stubborn” 

Dogs are simple souls who try to please. They have fears and anxieties just as we do. They do what works. 

Your puppy who sits down on the pavement and refuses to move is not being stubborn. 

She’s just afraid.

If you’re not sure whether you’re heading into a swamp or a quicksand, sitting still and pondering is a good survival tactic. And if you’ve only been on the planet a few weeks, sitting still and waiting for Mum to guide you is also a good move.

So if you find yourself describing your little puppy as “stubborn”, “obstinate”, “wilful”, and the rest, try substituting the words “fearful”, “anxious”, “eight weeks old” into what you just said and see if that fits better. You’ll surely treat the situation differently once you look at it differently.

Working with someone is so much more pleasant - and effective - than imposing your will on them. Giving the dog a choice (heavily loading the odds in your favour!) will get the result you want without all the expenditure of effort involved in shouting, repeating yourself, and trying to sound masterful.

Dogs do not arrive with us with a perfect grasp of English, or any understanding of our wavy arm gestures. Before you can expect her to respond to what you’re saying, you need to teach your dog what it is you want. Then you can concentrate on the good things your dog does, and ignore the rest. 

What you focus on is what you get.

If you tell a child he’s a cheat and a liar, that’s what he’ll be. 


Turn your focus to what you do want, rather than what you don’t want. 

Catch your dog doing something you do like - and be very excited about it! Once I’d understood this, life with my dogs became a breeze. Most things I don’t appreciate are ignored - no point in stressing about something that is over.

So if shouting “commands” at your dog is not working, try treating your dog as you would a shy two-year-old, and quietly ask her for what you want. You may be astonished at the response you get!

 

P.S. You’ll have worked it out by now: those three words are “stubborn”, “obey”, and “command”. Banish them from your vocabulary!

 

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What you expect is what you get - or, Be careful what you wish for!

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“He’s a terrier - he’s never going to come when he’s called!”

“You can’t teach a spaniel to listen. Their attention span is only a few seconds”

“My dog’s thick. It’s a waste of time teaching him anything.”

 

Really. People say these things. And they become self-fulfilling prophecies.

If you truly believe that your terrier will never come when he’s called, then guess what? He never will.

If you really think that your spaniel is incapable of focus, then you’ll never put in the work needed to build a team with him.

And if you truly think your dog is too stupid to learn anything, you have a cast iron excuse for never bothering to teach him.

Get-out clauses?

These are all lazy, get-out, clauses. You got a dog - you thought it would be a good idea - then found that it didn’t come with training and manners installed. You were expected to add these yourself? Oh no! Work required - application, dedication, education, understanding, patience … This all seemed too hard. Much easier to claim that your dog is untrainable and leave it at that.

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I recently had an email which read: “I have two dogs, one is a perfect companion and the other is a challenge. She has many good points but does not take no for an answer and is very disobedient when she appears to be totally deaf.”

So her first dog is perfect, and the second is not. (I wonder how much this had to do with the individual attention that No.1 got, while No.2 was tossed into the mix to sink or swim?) Her dog is disobedient, she doesn’t listen, and won’t take no for an answer.

What a lot of labels in a couple of sentences! This poor dog is always going to struggle against her owner’s preconceived notion that she is difficult, stubborn, and uncaring. Whatever she does will be perceived as wrong, or potentially troublesome, while Dog 1 gets all the praise for being a goody-gumps. (Any of you younger children out there may recognise the same thing from your own family life, where there was one favoured child and one difficult one.) 

And it’s likely that when she does do something right it’s either not noticed or greeted with “For once! At last …”

This dog needs a program of training which caters to her own individuality, her own quirks and foibles. You cannot blossom when continually compared with someone else - you have to have a pride in your own achievements, done your own way.

So my reply to this owner was along these lines: 

“My dogs don't understand the meaning of NO either - why? I never say “no” to them. “No” doesn't give them any information about what you'd like them to do - only that you're cross with them. Try focussing only on what you do want, and rewarding that. Totally ignore what you don't want. Give it a week and see where you are!

This is what a puppy-owner said to me this week:

“Just thought that I would let you know that your brilliant idea of rewarding for the behaviour that we want has helped Odin to become a very calm and patient puppy when it's our dinner time. He will lie down nicely and play with his toys while we're eating. :)”

This took her about 10 days to achieve.

Come back to me in two weeks and tell me how you get on.”

 

Sadly I didn’t hear from her again. So I guess Dog no.2 is still being shouted at.

 

As the famous saying goes, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you always got.”

 

There has to be change for change to happen. And the first change is in your mindset! All our dogs are capable of being trained, of learning new things, and of fitting into the household comfortably. Yes, it takes time, and all that dedication and self-education, understanding and patience, mentioned above. But is it worth it? What do you think?

 

But what about my terrier / spaniel / dumb dog?

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• To see just what terriers are capable of, take a look at Jesse the Jack Russell Terrier. You will be amazed! 

• Think of what spaniels are bred for - hours and hours of tireless work in the field, focussing on one thing only - finding birds. They are capable of laser focus - if the reward is right you can teach your spaniel to focus on anything you like!

• And as for our dumb dog … it’s true that some dogs are not blessed with as many brains as others. Cricket the Whippet will never beat Rollo the Border Collie in an initiative test, though if there is food to be found - she’ll find it! Her phenomenal speed is in her legs, not in the workings of her brain.  But she has plenty to offer, and once you’re on her wavelength you can teach her some very un-whippety things to do. Cricket - and Bolt, another whippet I know - have great retrieves.

Here’s Cricket showing off her amateur dramatics

You see? Her gift is in making us laugh!

 

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Less control but more understanding saved this rescue dog

  • You couldn’t find a nicer pair of people. A smashing young couple whose lives were dedicated to helping others. So wouldn’t you think they’d be able to manage a new dog in their household?

Sadly, no! Well-intentioned as they were, they had a fear of the dog doing something bad, and this gave them the wrong approach. 

Jimbob was a rescue dog. He’d had a bad start in life, lived with someone who was harsh with him, and he’d developed lots of strategies for survival. When he arrived with his new owners, he simply carried on doing the things he’d learned. And they had no idea how to deal with this.

His repertoire included:

  • Chewing everything

  • Escapology

  • Inability to relax

  • Destruction (his crate, his bed, furniture …)

  • Refusing to relinquish prize articles he’d found

  • Growling, teeth-baring, snapping

Defiant and Stubborn?

Jimbob’s owners had unwittingly managed to escalate the situation by challenging him over all of this. They misread his survival strategies as defiance, his refusal to comply as stubbornness. Fortunately when they realised they needed help they scrapped the coercive trainer they’d been going to and chose a force-free trainer, viz me.

So we started to work with Jimbob instead of against him.

His owners worked hard and made speedy progress. They were surprised not only at how willing Jimbob was to learn, but how easy it became to divert him from one of his annoying habits into one of the new games which they were teaching him. 

After only a few sessions (and much dedicated homework from his family) Jimbob was happy to go into his crate and find the things given to him to chew there. He was free to rip up his own blankets if he wished and not a word would be said.

He no longer growled or bared his teeth, because his owners now knew how to get what they wanted without threatening him. 

  • They started playing new games with him that engaged his breed-specific instinctive drives (hunting and sniffing, mainly)

  • They taught him tricks

  • They interacted with him in a relaxed way

  • They stopped trying to control this wayward creature and instead rejoiced in giving him more freedom

  • And they ended the day with a happy, sleepy dog!

By the time their course was over, Jimbob could sleep in his crate while they worked at their desks, and was happy to rest there quietly when they were out.

 

Before: “He steals food all the time. Destroys cushions, blankets, curtains, parquet flooring - happens daily. Growling, snarling.”

 

After: “Thank you so much for all your help with Jimbob; he is certainly much less boisterous and we feel a lot happier and more confident in relating to him and encouraging him in his positive behaviours. It is actually easier than I thought to ask Jimbob to do something, rather than just telling him (or telling him off) all the time.”

 

While I was able to give this couple lots of techniques to change Jimbob’s ways, it was the change in their attitude to their new pet that formed the basis of their success. 

 

Find some of the strategies we used in the detailed lessons in this free e-course:

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Find out how to gain this control with understanding  - and no "NOOOOs"! Six weeks of daily video lessons will get you there.

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