Is Your Dog Stubborn?

…or Just Unmotivated?

Whether you are using punishments, rewards, or both, you are dealing with a dog’s motivation. Some dogs are extremely motivated to make their owners happy (like golden retrievers), some are extremely motivated to work (like collies and shepherds) and some aren’t particularly motivated to do anything unless they really have to (such as many guarding breeds).

Stubborn vrs Biddable

Dogs that are eager to please or work are called ‘bidable’, meaning it’s easy to get them to do your bidding. Dogs that aren’t intrinsically motivated to work or please often get labelled ‘stubborn’ because they aren’t as easy to motivate. For these dogs “because I said so” just isn’t good enough, and why should it be?

Consider the Dog’s Perspective

Dogs are individuals with their own ideas on what to do with their day, especially guarding dogs who were historically bred to work alone and only go into action occasionally, spending most of their time lying around and looking tough. Other dogs that can be difficult to train are the hound breeds, who again, never worked directly with humans. Spaniels and retrievers hunt by working closely with humans, but hounds were used simply to hunt, sniff, chase and bark while humans followed behind.

Although any breed is trainable (you can even train fish and crocodiles using mark & reward training), it’s important to know what motivates your dog and choosing appropriate activities and rewards for both their breeding and their individual interests.

How Can You Motivate Your Dog?

Food is a good choice for motivating dogs since they all have to eat and you may as well make them work for it. Most dogs will also work to avoid pain, though if you can get results without hurting your dog why would you want to hurt them? Many dogs will do an incredible amount of work just to catch a frisbee or play a short game of tug or even some good scratches. For more tips on getting your dog more motivated, check out our post on intermittent reinforcement.

So consider your french bulldog or akita. Is he stubborn? Or is he just more motivated to do his own thing? Is there any actual issue with this? The most important thing is to make sure these sometimes aloof pups stay safe and mind some basic manners. For that, it’s probably worth using some extra tasty treats now and then. And if having a super obedient dog is your desire, be sure you look for the right type of dog in the first place.

Why Thinking of Your Dog as Stubborn Sabotages Your Training

Thinking of dogs as ‘stobborn’ makes for bad training. It puts the blame on the dog, and is a permanent problem that the handlers can blame every time training doesn’t go well. When people think of their pet as stubborn they are likely to start thinking of their dog as ‘bad’ often leading to more angry outbursts than effective training. Thinking of your dog as unmotivated is a solvable problem; just figure out the right motivation. If your dog seems motivated, but just isn’t doing what you’re asking, maybe they’re confused, try my part 1 and part 2 of the Is Your Dog Stubborn series.

Did this article change the way you see your dog? Do you disagree? Please let us know, we love hearing from other dog lovers, even when they don’t agree with us.

Written by Nea Deptuch, Dog Trainer at Tammy’s Training Canine Services

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