Why Your Dog Doesn't Listen To You


Dog problems are almost always the result of a lack of proper communication between the dog and the Pet Parent.  

When Pet Parents come to me for training, I’ll watch the way they relate to their dog while they talk about their concerns.  I hear... “Foxie!  How many times do I have to tell you not to jump on me! I don’t like it!”  -- “Princess!! Ssssh! Stop barking! Shhhh!” -- “Fido sit!  I said Sit!  Sit!  Sit!!”  The dog is clearly ignoring them and when they are finished I quietly say, “The dog doesn’t speak human.”  They look confused and ask, “But how do I get him to understand me?!?”

Dogs recognize sounds not words. In training we attach a sound to an action and repeat it.  We can even use a whole sentence, “I’ll be right back, wait here,”  as long as we use it for the same thing over and over.  The dog does not understand what any of those words mean -- you could easily say “oozy, boozy, piggly, wiggly,” but when you repetitively attach that same sound to a specific action, the dog will soon associate that sound with the action. A firm “Off!” and turning your back to the dog whenever he jumps up, often stops a dog from jumping up on you every time you walk in the door.  Eventually all you have to say is “Off!” before he jumps up on you or your visitor, and the jumping ends. 

Learning how to communicate effectively with your dog is the simple secret to getting a dog to listen to you. Communication is not just a matter of words used properly but also involves tone, attitude, body posture and timing, all of these communicating information to your dog.  Your dog is highly alert to the cues you give her (physical, emotional and voice tone cues you may not even be aware of) telling her who you are and what you are going to do.  Dogs get a lot from our tone of voice and can tell a pushover or a frustrated person when she hears one. Neither of these tones inspire confidence in your leadership. 

The following behaviors, developed by Virginia Satir, a pioneer in the field of family therapy, describe the different communication styles people use.  They are a pretty good description of the different ways people relate to their dog.  Can you recognize yourself?


You really want your dog to like you and will do whatever it takes to make sure the dog doesn’t get their feelings hurt or perceive you as unfair.  But dogs need more than friendship and don’t understand "fair." They need leadership, someone to tell them what to do.  They actually enjoy it.  If you refuse to be the leader, the dog will start to lead you because somebody’s got to be responsible for the pack. In small ways we reinforce their leadership when we are going overboard trying to be "nice". Example: Out on your walk you let the dog stop at every tree and bush. You slow down when he slows down. You are literally following his lead.  


Common quotes -- “It’s the dog fault!”  “He knows what he is doing is wrong. He’s just trying to annoy me.” “She does it for revenge.” The blamer often has a hard time listening to advice because it might indicate that perhaps, the blamer is to blame. They tend to argue more than listen. But contrary to the blamer's belief, I have found that if the Pet Parent learns to do it right, the dog will do it right as well.  Example: "My dog punishes me by jumping on the sofa when I leave without him. He knows he's not allowed!"  What the dog knows is that when you are home he's not allowed on the sofa, when you are gone, he is. 


These Pet Parents tend to try to use reason and logic in their behavior toward the dog. Their downfall is equating the way dogs think to the way humans think. They get frustrated when the dog just doesn't "get it" or appreciate their efforts to be "reasonable."  Example: long discussions with the dog in an effort to get them to understand what you want. "Fido, you know you make mommy mad when you do that and I really need you to stop!" All the dog hears is "Fido."


I have seen Pet Parents completely ignore a dog’s bad behavior.  They will be talking to someone while their dog is constantly pulling the leash, or starts barking at something without stopping. Meanwhile the Pet Parent ignores the bad behavior and pretends it isn’t there. “Oh, she is just excitable.”  “Isn’t she adorable. We don’t mind her little faults.”  “He just does what all dogs do.” Distracters won’t acknowledge a problem and tolerate unacceptable behavior.  Example: Dog barks at everything on the walk. Owner lost in their own thoughts, or emabarrased, ignores and refuses to find a solution. 

Leveler (Assertive).

The Leveler has an appropriate attitude toward the dog. They offer friendship and affection as well as clear and firm leadership. They don’t take the dogs bad behavior personally and they find effective solutions to address it. Their voice is controlled, reasonable, friendly and firm when necessary, never frustrated or out of control.  The commands are clear and consistent, not confusing.  The dog learns to trust the Pet Parent's leadership whose behavior is consistent, loving, clear, firm and predictable.    

One of the great joys of having a dog is the ability to take your well-behaved dog anywhere as a result of the bond that comes from an appropriate, loving, respectful connection and the resulting deep level of affection and communication between the Pet Parent and the dog.  Ask any dog. 

To find out more about improving your communication with your dog, visit www.whatagooddogla.com (5 Stars on Yelp) or call 323-871-8580 for a free consultation.




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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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