We all want a furry friend that will stay by our side or come directly to us when we ask them to. Sometimes it takes a little work to get your furry friend to understand what you’re looking for. Is your pet not paying attention to you? Do you wonder why your dog acts like you’re not talking to them? If this happens, instead of repeating the command over and over until you get a response -which we advise against; let’s take a step back and consider the common obstacles encountered when training dogs.
1) Are you using “High Value” treats?
This is number one for a reason! The right use of treats can really make the difference between a dog who is eager and happy to work and one who could not care less and will probably ignore you.
We have found it best to use soft smaller than bite-sized treats that have a strong smell – the scent will help keep your pet focused on you. It’s important to use small treats so your command is quickly rewarded, and your pet can quickly move on to the next task. Examples of high value treats we use for Floki are Wellness Soft Puppy Bites (broken into smaller pieces), and Pet Botanics Training Reward Treats.
For Floki, we also use what are considered “Low Value” treats for small rewards, like after we come in from walks. We do this for 2 reasons; first so he appreciates the high value treats when he’s working for them, and second because low value treats are less expensive and ok to use for everyday treats. Examples of the dog treats we use for this are Milk Bones and Doggy Delirious.
2) Are you consistent with rewarding good behavior?
Consistent reinforcement is the key to long lasting behavioral change. There are plenty of distractions- sniffing the grass, looking at neighbors, marking their territory, and doing dog things are easier than training. It’s our job to teach them that paying more attention to us will be the most rewarding thing they can do. Increasing the rate of reinforcement during early training by giving your dog more treats for his training efforts should help to motivate them and will teach them to give you more attention than the distracting world around them.
Prompt repetition is the key in early training sessions – and once your dog shows signs of responding well can you move on to a more varied schedule (only giving treats for success every now and then). We recommend not moving to the varied schedule until you are getting 100% positive reaction from your dog during the initial training for each task or behavior, you run the risk of moving backwards if you abandon the consistent early training techniques too early.
3) Are you expecting too much too soon?
It is helpful to think of training as building layers of positive behaviors. While it might be tempting to try to teach multiple new behaviors in a single evening, you will end up frustrating your dog and yourself it is too much for them to understand at one time. We recommend breaking the task down into several smaller steps to help you and your dog succeed. For example, if you were trying to train your dog to touch the tip of a target stick with his nose, you might reward him for touching ANY part of the stick at first. After a few sessions your dog should get the fundamentals of this task, then you can then move on to rewarding your dog for only touching the tip of the stick.
Pro-Tip – It’s important the training sessions don’t last too long. While it’s ok to have multiple sessions throughout the day, we recommend keeping each session around 30 minutes. That said, depending on the task you’re training them for it might make sense to have a longer session.
4) Are there a lot of distractions where you are training?
Dogs are curious and easily distracted early on so be sure to start your training sessions in a quiet room where they can focus on you. Once your dog can learn to focus on you and perform the task in the quiet room, you can gradually start asking your dog to perform the task in a room with more distractions. You can gradually raise the bar by training the same task in the yard, then the dog park and so forth.
Initially training in a distracting environment will probably cause your dog not to respond because they do not have the foundation for the desired task or behavior.
5) Is this the first time your dog has been trained?
Dogs who have never been trained and have been allowed to do as they please for a good part of their lives will require patience during the initial stages of learning. The concepts are new to them so it’s up to you to keep it interesting and make it worth their attention by investing in reward-based training methods, for example Adrienne Farricelli’s Brain Training for Dogs course.
6) Are you using the same command structure every time?
Dogs respond to consistency, so it is important that you and anyone training your dog always use the same command cue. If your dog is keeping eye contact with you but doesn’t respond this could be the issue.
An example of this would be if one family member uses the command “off” when the dog is jumping, and another family member uses the command “down”. It’s important that everyone is on the same page in both command words and body language. As you dog progresses in your dog’s training body language will be as crucial as verbal commands, particularly in noisy places.
Pro-Tip – It’s best not to repeat commands they know over and over. If your dog doesn’t respond you’ll want to reset the training environment without a reward and start over.
7) Did you bring your patience to the training session?
Remember, this is difficult for the dog in the beginning, and it might be frustrating for you as well. Dogs pick up on body language and might shut down if they sense the trainer losing patience. An easy way to reward both of your is to ask the dog to perform a task he knows well (such as a sit) followed by a reward to end the session on a positive note. In the next session you can try the exercise again, maybe splitting the task into smaller pieces if it was too hard for your dog. (see number 3).
8) Is your dog emotionally ready for a training session?
I know, it sounds silly to ask if your dog is “emotionally” ready, but if a dog is fearful, anxious or nervous it will most likely interfere with training. We recommend training sessions start when the dog is calm and well rested, particularly when training a puppy.
Pro-Tip: A way to address situations that impact your dog’s emotions is known as desensitization. For example, if your dog was frightened of thunder, you might first play sounds of thunder at a very low volume, where your dog acknowledges the sound but does not become scared. After rewarding your dog while the sound is played, after numerous training sessions you can increase the volume of the recording while continuing the rewards.
9) Is your dog physically ready for a training session?
If training has been moving along in a positive manner and suddenly, your dog stops paying attention to you, he may be feeling not be feeling well. If your dog has been reasonably obedient and is now not interested, it might be wise to have your veterinarian rule out any medical problems. Also, keep in mind that some dogs may not like to be trained on certain surfaces, or if the weather is too hot or too cold for example.
Pro-Tip: A distracted dog may simply need a drink of water or to relieve himself. Taking breaks during a session can improve focus from both of you.
10) Dogs are smart, are you keeping their minds busy?
Bored dogs are mischievous dogs. Yet some leave their dogs in the house bored by the fireplace all day, leading to common behavior problems. The simple secret to a well-trained dog is keeping their mind working on positive projects and getting them thinking.
In the wild, before domestication, dogs would spend much of their lives performing tasks necessary for survival. Even in more modern history, dogs had special roles to perform in their relationships with humans. You can still see these natural drives in dogs today! For example, you will notice how beagles love to follow scents, how some terrier breeds love to dig, and how treeing coonhounds bark upon noticing prey up a tree. Unlike humans who perhaps dread the 9 to 5 grind, dogs actively WANT to work, and when they do not, they become prone to behavior problems, disobedience, and poor psychological well-being. Many owners spend THOUSANDS on dog training when the solution could be as simple as providing Rover with more mental stimulation
Pro-Tip: Fortunately, Brain Training for Dogs offers a solution to this problem. Written by professionally certified trainer Adrienne Farricelli CPDT-KA (who’s work has appeared in USA Today, Everydog Magazine, Nest Pets and more), Brain Training for Dogs is one of the first training programs to not only teach obedience, better behavior, important skills and tricks, but to also work on increasing intelligence and engaging the dog’s brain too. Through 21 fun and simple games, the novel and scientifically proven methods taught by Adrienne are sure to improve the lives of both you and your dog! By the end of Brain Training for Dogs your dog will be able to tidy up his toys, play the piano (yes, really), and identify his toys by name – all while being a better behaved and more obedient dog.
Take a look at the course, it’s a lot less than a trainer and can give you a head start with your dog:
There can be many reasons why your dog may not be listening to you. Don’t give up, try to give your dog a break and consider what may really be going on. A better approach to understanding how dogs learn should pave the path to better training, and a better relationship between you and your dog.
We hope this helps, and we look forward to hearing your success stories! Cheers!