If you have ever tried to work with a dog, that just seems to not be able to hear what you say, you know how frustrating that can be. When the dog looks at you, and you then give a cue, and he just walks off, or looks the other way, it is one of the worst feelings. And you ask yourself, why is my dog ignoring me?
We then often or start putting a lot of labels on the dog, like “stubborn”, “lazy”, “strong willed”, “stupid” etc. When we do that, we start getting into even more trouble.
The labels start to become self-fulfilling – so we only see our dogs as being, whatever we put into the label, stubborn and we stop looking for the actual solution to our problem. It becomes that dog’s reputation and all that he is seen for.
If we look at a typical example, like the recall, where dogs ignore the owner, the conversation can go something like this:
“My dog is so stubborn – he refuses to come when I call him.”
“Why does he refuse to come?”
“Because he is stubborn”
“Have you tried teaching him to come?”
“Yes, but he is always so stubborn, – he only does what he wants”
“Shall we try something else with him?”
“No need – he doesn’t want to – he is always stubborn”.
When we use a label like stubborn, and make it a something negative, we stop and resign with that being the truth. Instead of evolving as trainers and learn new skills to find cause and solutions for ignoring in dogs. We don’t teaching this dog to come, we decide that it is impossible, to work with “stubborn”.
Looking for causes for ignoring in dogs
Instead of claiming that working with dog is impossible, we should look at this behavior and find the reasons for dog, to ignore us. What is going on, when you call the dog? What does he do at which time and what does it look like?
If we can describe that, we can start working on the behavior.
A scenario that would give us more information could look like this:
“My dog does not come when I call”
“What does he do when you call him?”
“He ignores me”
“What does he do when he ignores you?”
“He looks up, and then he keeps sniffing the ground and might even pee before he even starts moving in my direction – if I am lucky”
“And when he then comes to you?”
“I quickly put the leash on, so I don’t have to stand and wait again”
That is perfect information, and now we have something we can act on.
We now know:
- That the dog us actually able to hear you
- What he does instead of responding to the cue
- What is reinforcing his behavior
- What happens when he does come to you
This means, that now we can actually start working on getting the dog to not ignore your commands and come.
Looking at the behavior would almost always be the first important step, in figuring out why your dog is ignoring your cues. If we start making all sorts of stories up, it will only cause us to be less effective. So lets just focus on what we can actually see.
Meaning of dog’s ignoring
When a dog does not listen to you, and you feel like he is ignoring you, it is very likely for one of the following reasons.
- The dog has not yet learned the meaning of the cue you are using
- There are competing reinforcers
- The dog is being punished for returning to you
If you find yourself in a position, where the dog is not responding to your cues, you need to ask yourself If you have done the hard work, for you to have reliable cues.
Most of the times, when a dog is ignoring commands, it is because we haven’t taught him well enough. He might be able to respond to the cue at home, or in the garden, but that is not the same as having a great recall when you´re out in the world where there are tons of great smells and things to look at.
Solutions for ignoring in dogs
When we are teaching the dog to come when called, we really need to be very aware of practicing this in various situations and gradually raise the criteria, as soon as the dog is ready for it. It is hard work, and we don’t get a perfect recall, unless we do it. But this is the way to stop your dog from ignoring you – reinforce that behavior – again and again.
If the dog has been taught a great recall, and he suddenly doesn’t come, there is likely something out there, that is reinforcing his behavior.
Following fresh wildlife tracks, is often more likely than coming to the handler, and it takes a lot of work to teach the dog to come to you instead. We really need to build a strong reinforcement history, for us to be able to compete with that. For more information on professional animal training, please visit https://tromplo.com/
When we then add insult to injury, by putting the leash on the dog when he comes, we end up punishing the dog for coming, as we are now taking away his opportunity to sniff. We can change all that, by building a strong history of reinforcement for responding to your cues. In all cases – the dog is not ignoring you – he is responding to his learning history and just haven’t learned the cue under these conditions, yet.