Help! My dog doesn’t listen to me!

How do I get my dog to listen to me?

This is a question I get asked a lot. I then have to ask you what it is you want your dog to do. Then I usually get a confused look and maybe a simple, I don’t know? Just to listen in general.

When living with dogs it is very easy for us to forget that our dogs don’t actually know how to communicate with us on a verbal level. Unless you have trained a behavior and paired that behavior with a verbal cue your dog actually has no idea what it is you are trying to tell them. Most of the time your dog is guessing what it is you are wanting by simply watching your body language. If your dog guesses correctly 9 times out of 10 it is very easy to feel like your dog is being defiant when he or she isn’t getting it right. Or in other words, is choosing not to listen to you.

Back to the basics.

If you haven’t done basic obedience with your dog this is where I would start. If you have done some basic obedience but you haven’t been keeping it up take a step back and redo. By teaching your dog what you want you are helping your dog to learn to listen to you. The more you practice the more your dog will listen to you.

Keep training fun and exciting.

If your dog does not enjoy training it can something work against you. Try to make training fun for both you and your dog. Training your dog is not about dominating your dog. Training your dog is about building communication with your dog. It is about bonding with your dog. It is about growing as a team. Our style of training is called Clicker Training or Reward Training. This style of training uses motivation to teach a specific behavior. This motivation can come in the form of a food treat, a toy/game, something environmental, or praise. When dogs learn how to work with us they enjoy it. They listen better because they are motivated and the communication between handler and dog is clear.

So, how do I take the basics and apply them to real life?

Throughout the day try to find ways for your dog to do known behaviors for an environmental reward. For example: ask your dog to do a sit-stay at the door. Only allow them through the door when they are released. Not when the door is fully open. By doing this behavior you are teaching your dog that you have control of your dogs resources. Food, outside, toys, etc. With practice, your dog will learn to listen to you.

Withhold the reward.

If you ask your dog to sit, and then withhold the reward for an few extra seconds you are now asking for a stay. You do not need to say the word in order to ask for it. You just have to withhold the reward. As you practice this behavior you are going to ask your dog to sit for longer and longer periods of time. You may even ask your dog to sit while you take a step or two away from your dog. By withholding the reward in this situation you are teaching your dog the first steps to the cue “stay”.

Til you practice this step your dog doesn’t not understand what it is you want. He just knows that you said this new word and you expect something of him. Without training or practice your dog is left with a guessing game. This guessing game can become stressful. Especially if your dog is getting into trouble for guessing wrong.

So, when working on this stage of training never reprimand your dog if he guesses wrong. Simply just say “sorry, try again.” Then try to make it easier for him. It is never a bad thing to take a step back and retrain a part of a new behavior. Doing so will make the behavior much stronger. It will mean your dog will listen better with that behavior when working in a more distracting environment.

Withholding the reward is also the best way to wean off treats. Ask your dog to do 2 known behaviors for one treat. This is called withholding rewards. As your dog gets better with 2 known behaviors add a 3rd, 4th, etc. By doing this you are teaching your dog that even if he doesn’t receive a reward right away. He will receive a reward eventually if he just keeps trying. This is the secret to teaching your dog to listen to you.

Weaning off the rewards.

If your dog doesn’t get a reward at all anymore you may find your dogs listening skills deteriorating. Use the environment to help keep your dog listening. For example: ask your dog to sit in order to receive pets from strangers. Ask your dog to walk nicely in order to sniff a tree. To sit and stay in order to go to the backyard. Ask for a sit, down, sit before getting into the car. etc. As long as it is something your dog finds motivating, you can use it as a reward. Your dog will listen better if he is motivated.


If you are asking your dog to do something, and he isn’t doing it. It is not because he is choosing not to listen. It is simply that he doesn’t understand. Take the time to teach him what it is you want. Practice the behavior enough that he can perform the behavior anywhere. Mix up how you reward your dog once your dog understands the new behavior.

If you enjoyed this article check out our article How To Wean Off Treats.

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