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What To Do When Your Dog Won't Comply

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

It’s all too easy to get frustrated when your dog doesn’t comply with a request, or worse, doesn’t even pay attention to you. I mean, you’re the Provider of Petting, the Giver of Goodies, and the one with the opposable thumbs that can open dog food cans. You’d think your dog would know which side his dog bone is buttered on, right? But not to worry. Let’s break non-compliance down into three types of scenarios and talk about how to handle each one.

Let’s say you’re teaching a new skill, in this case a down-stay. As your dog remains in a lying position, you move five steps away. Whoops! Your dog pops up and runs to you. What happened is that you’ve pushed your dog too far too fast. Here, the solution is simply to go back to the place where your dog was successful and build small steps from there. So, if your dog was able to remain in position when you took only one step away, repeat the exercise moving one step away. Then, instead of moving five steps away, move only two steps away. Build distance incrementally until your dog can successfully remain lying when you’re five steps away.

Another common reason for non-compliance has to do with distractions. A distraction might be anything from another dog close by at the park, to someone walking into the room, to your dog hearing something outside your door. Trying to get your dog to comply with a request when his attention is occupied by something else is difficult. (Same goes for your spouse, by the way. You’re welcome.) The solution? Get your dog’s attention first. Call his name, and once he looks at you, then give your verbal cue. If you’re unable to get your dog’s attention in general, work on attention exercises—meaning he gives you eye contact when you call his name—to improve his response.

In many cases, a dog has been completely trained (along with having generalized the behavior) is fully aware of what you want him to do, but for whatever reason, he chooses not to comply. If you’re sure your dog understands your request and is able to comply but chooses not to, a consequence should follow. Consequences are not physical or even verbal corrections, but actions. For example, you ask your dog to sit before the door opens to go for a walk. Instead, he stands there looking at you like you’ve grown antlers. The consequence might be that you remove his leash and walk away as though the walk isn’t going to happen. A minute later, you return and again ask for the sit. You’ll be surprised at how fast doggy butt meets floor. The same applies if you ask for a sit for your dog’s food dish to be put down. If he doesn’t sit, put the dish away, wait 30 seconds, then try again. It works like magic.

Of course, there can be numerous other reasons for non-compliance. Perhaps your dog is simply not feeling well that day, or what you are asking for causes pain, for example, a sit causes pain in the hips. Or maybe he is stressed because of something going on in the household. The tips above are meant for typical situations, but all of these things should be considered first.

Taking these types of approaches to non-compliance is not only preferably to you becoming frustrated or even angry with your dog, but they actually solve the problem by addressing the underlying issue. Keep them in mind the next time your dog doesn’t listen!

Reminder: Virtual consults are now available for owners and trainers!


©Nicole Wilde

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