Why doesn’t my Dog Listen?! Help for Doggie Amnesia.

It is very frustrating for owners when their pets won’t listen to basic commands, like “sit”, especially when you know they know what you are saying!  I hate to be blunt, but the reason this happens is because your dog doesn’t respect you and/or is afraid.  Dogs that don’t perceive their owners as leaders (alpha) or that have anxiety, will not consistently listen to commands.  Sure, your dog loves you and adores you, but in order to consistently get your dog to obey, you must win their respect and in particular in the case of an anxious dog, win their trust!

Winning Respect

The first step to winning respect from your dog is basic – leadership.  Doing everything first:  leading on a walk, leaving the house first, eating first, and making decisions by asking your dog to obey commands rather than allowing your dog to make decisions for you….like deciding where to go on a walk or barking when he is hungry.  In addition to doing all these things, your delivery of commands is important. Your dog needs the non-bullying, calm, non-frustrated, self-assured leadership that he can look up to rather than shrink away from.  The tone of your voice, your body language, the way you are standing and what you actually say all send him a message about listening or choosing to have amnesia.

 Do you ever sound like this?   “Buddy sit”…”Buddy I really wish you would sit down”…”I really don’t see why you are not listening”… “sit”… “sit”… “siiiiiiiiiit”“SIT”…. “Buddy! SIT!!!!!!!!…Oh forget it!”

 It sounds very confusing doesn’t it?  Here is what Buddy might be thinking:

 “Hmmm…she said ‘sit’ but I am not sure that she really meant it…now she is saying a lot of stuff…but I don’t understand…probably not talking to me….ugh, but she sounds angry…I wonder what I did?….Oh, she left…she must have not wanted me to sit after all!  I hope her day improves…she seems very unhappy!”

I know I am humanizing dogs here, but it illustrates how your dog perceives your words and actions.  Having a conversation with a dog is useless; they just don’t understand.  Repeating a command numerous times while getting more and more aggravated and whiny makes the dog think that you really don’t mean it and certainly that you don’t expect him to do it after the first time.   The worst thing you can do is to get frustrated/angry/laugh and/or not finish the exercise – your dog will understand that your expectations of him are not very high…you give up eventually, so why not make the decision to comply or not?

 Here is what you should do:

Get the dog’s attention and when you have made eye contact give him the command in an assertive and loud voice:  “Buddy, SIT”

  • If Buddy is looking at you but not sitting, try to entice him in a different way –treats, cooing, moving your body, patting the floor until the dog to completes the task
  • Never repeat the command
  • Don’t get frustrated/angry
  • Remain cool – try to maintain eye contact and stand your ground – your dog will eventually sit
  • Use a leash when initially practicing, that way he doesn’t just get up and go when he is bored!

Winning Trust

In addition to respect, you also have to cultivate trust between you and your dog.  Sometimes dogs are intimidated by different environmental factors and even though they respect you, when you ask them to “sit” on a busy street they are just not completely sure that you are looking out for their best interest.  Some practical instances of letting your dog know that you are looking out for them include the following: 1). Making sure that you only allow your dog to meet friendly dogs on a leash, 2.) Protect your dog in the dog park if he is getting picked on excessively, 3.) If you have two dogs and one doesn’t want to play, then give him a break.  I don’t want your dog to be a sissy or not be able to work things out for himself.  However, when the dog is getting increasingly defensive…for example:  leash aggression, getting under benches in the dog park for protection and rabidly barking/growling and lunging and the dogs that are taunting him, then it’s time to step in.  You want you dog to know that as his leader you will protect him.

In addition, when you are asking for the dog to obey a command, then say it firmly, but not in a scary tone.  Look at your dog’s body language, when you give him a command, does he freeze, or have his ears back and stares at you blankly?  That might mean that he is scared…it means you need to be firm, but also make the exercise fun for him and care free….a minor “happy” inflection in your voice might make a big difference.

Lastly, Practice, Practice, Practice.  You can’t expect your dog to always obey when you don’t practice.  Dogs need mental stimulation as much as they need physical stimulation!   Practice in a structured way every couple of days or so, but in addition integrate general obedience into every day life. 

 Tips for Integrating Obedience Training To Your Daily Routine

  •  Ask your dog to sit before you feed him, before you go out the door and before he gets petted (‘sit’ becomes a default behavior)
  • When you are at the dog park or in the yard, ask your dog to “come” throughout the time you are there, so that he does not associate “come” with leaving
  • When you are in the house and in another room from your dog, ask him to “come and sit”
  • When you are eating dinner ask your dog to “lay down and stay”

Remember that it will be tough the first couple of times, and your dinner might be completely interrupted the whole way through as you keep getting up and trying to put Buddy in a down stay, but if you don’t give up, the pay off will be huge.  Your dog will start to respect you because you don’t give up after a couple of tries, and it will become a routine that is practiced…and practice makes perfectJ!



If you have questions regarding this issue or topic ideas, please contact Kinga at Kinga@kk9s.com or 703-868-7857.


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