If your dog does not listen, you need to ask, “why does my dog ignore me ?” This is especially true if you have been trying to train and socialize your canine. It can be hurtful and frustrating and even dangerous if your dog ignores you and refuses to listen.
It’s absolutely crucial in many situations that your dog does not ignore you. For example, when they are running into a busy road, you can’t afford to have them not listen to your commands. It’s essential in these cases not to tempt fate, and make sure your dog is in a secure, no-pull dog harness to prevent a tragedy.
Even if your dog isn’t simply asking for a time-out and is, in fact, ignoring you, it’s best not to take it personally. We are going to refer to several expert sources, such as Canine Behavior Insights and trainer, Karen Pryor, with real-life examples to explain this canine behavior.
So, Why Does My Dog Ignore Me?
One common reason why dogs ignore their owners is a lack of training. Dogs need to be taught how to focus on their owners and respond to commands in every situation as part of their socialization and training. Other reasons for dogs ignoring their owners are fear and anxiety, not bonding with owners, distractions, pain, and a negative experience.
16 Reasons Why Your Dog Ignores You & What To Do
1. Low Engagement and Environmental Distractions
Some dogs may have low engagement levels with their owners, often finding their surroundings more captivating than human interaction. This can be attributed to individual temperament or a lack of proper training and socialization.
A typical example of how this happens is an owner takes the dog park, lets them off leash, and then gets on their phone, leaving their dog to their own devices. The dog soon learns that their owner is not a source of interest, and that playing with other dogs or chasing squirrels is far more rewarding than trying to get their owner’s attention.
This dog has no incentive to engage with their owner, and if they don’t engage with their owner, then it’s easy to ignore the owner (just as the owner typically ignores them).
The video below deals with how to build engagement with your dog so that they don’t ignore you in public situations:
2. Hyper-arousal and Survival Instincts
In certain situations, dogs can enter a state of hyper-arousal, where their instincts kick in, making it challenging for them to focus on their owner’s commands. This can occur when they feel threatened, are about to engage in a dog fight, or are in a heightened state of agitation or fear.
In these moments, dogs may develop tunnel vision, prioritizing their immediate survival over following instructions. In such cases, it is crucial to prioritize the safety and well-being of both the dog and those involved. It’s not that your dog doesn’t want to hear you, but when they are over excited, over stimulated, or in fight or flight, they simply can’t hear you.
To manage this problem, it’s critical to physically remove your dog from the trigger. Trying to get through to them by talking isn’t going to work for a dog in a hyper aroused state. Thereafter, you can work with a professional on gradual desensitization and counterconditioning to stop your dog’s unmanageable response to their triggers.
Also, see our article on what to do after a dog fight.
3. Lack of Understanding Commands
Clear communication is essential when training a dog, and often dogs just don’t understand what you’re asking. Dogs rely heavily on cues and consistency, so if a command is unclear or inconsistent, they may struggle to understand and respond appropriately.
Recently, I watched an interaction between my mother and my dog, Jack. Jack is a soft-hearted Bullmastiff who thrives on praise and affection. My mother had come to my home tired after a long shift at work and found Jack barring her way to the bathroom. Stressed, my mother began repeating the command “Jack move!” Each time she spoke her voice got higher and tighter with stress and frustration.
But Jack didn’t move. It’s not because Jack was ignoring her on purpose. In fact, he was feeling as stressed as she was. I knew this because he kept looking at me for help, giving stress signals like averting his gaze, licking his lips and yawning.
The problem was that Jack had never heard the command “move” in his life and had no idea what he was supposed to do. Neither was he familiar with my mother’s body language so he couldn’t intuit what he had to do.
To fix the situation, I gave him a command he does understand. I called him to come to me. His whole body relaxed with relief when he was given the option of complying with a command he understood. He got up, shook himself off (a natural way of getting rid of some anxiety), and trotted over to me.
If your dog is not complying when you give an order, ask yourself if they truly, actually, understand what you’re asking him to do.
4. Ignoring You Because You Nag
Consistent nagging can lead to a dog ignoring its owner. Repeatedly yanking on a leash or incessantly repeating commands without proper conditioning can desensitize a dog and cause them to tune out. How many times have you heard someone repeating a command like “don’t, don’t, dooooooon’t” to a dog that completely ignores their owner.
Whether it’s humans or dogs, nagging does not work.
Another example of nagging as a way to teach your dog to ignore you is when people get in the habit of yanking on the leash to try to correct pulling. If you find yourself yanking every 30 seconds to stop your dog pulling, they’ve learned to tune it out. And this means it’s time to invest in effective training to stop dog pulling.
Negative experiences associated with commands can also lead to avoidance. Employing positive reinforcement techniques, setting clear boundaries, and using consistent, gentle guidance can help prevent dogs from learning to ignore their owners due to nagging behavior.
5. Lack of Impulse Control
Dogs that haven’t been taught impulse control may struggle to resist temptations or react impulsively in different situations. This can hinder their ability to focus on their owner’s commands.
Teaching impulse control through obedience training, reward-based systems, and gradual exposure to distractions can help dogs develop better self-control and increase their responsiveness to commands. Most importantly, one needs to teach impulse control everyday so that your dog learns to control their urges and not ignore you:
6. Failure to Correct Behavior in Different Contexts
Dogs can’t generalize or carry over learned behaviors from one context to another automatically. For example, a dog that has mastered obedience training in a controlled backyard environment may struggle to apply the same level of obedience in public spaces due to the change in surroundings and distractions.
Reinforce and practice your obedience in all environments to help dogs understand that learned behaviors should be carried out consistently, regardless of the situation. See the video below on generalizing commands to help your dog understand that they don’t only have to listen in the kitchen.
7. Lack of Training
One of the most common reasons your dog ignores you is just a lack of training. Dogs need to be trained to understand what you want from them. Your dog may not understand what you are trying to communicate without proper training.
Consistent training with positive reinforcement, such as treats and praise, is essential for your dog to learn and progress. Avoid punishing your dog, even if they’re ignoring you and getting on your nerves. Read our article to know if your dog will forgive you for hitting him if you’ve already punished your dog.
Distractions are another common reason why your dog may ignore you. Dogs have a cognitive ability to get distracted easily, especially when more exciting things are happening around them.
A study showed that dogs trained in distracting environments learn tasks less efficiently than dogs trained in silence. Additionally, it shows that initial training for puppies should be conducted in a non-distracting environment.
To avoid distractions, you can train your dog in a quiet environment and gradually introduce them to more distracting surroundings.
9. Fear and Anxiety
If your dog is anxious or fearful, they may ignore you or avoid eye contact. This behavior can be due to past trauma or lack of socialization. Try to create a safe and comfortable environment for your dog. You can also consult a professional dog trainer to help your dog overcome their fears.
Dogs suffering from anxiety, panic attacks, and fear display signs like trembling, hiding, excessive panting, pinned ears, and tucked tail. These dogs may try to distance themselves from you and escape to their safe spaces.
10. Cognitive Disorders
If your dog suddenly starts ignoring you, it may be due to a mental issue. Dogs, especially older ones, can suffer from mental decline like Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD). Even hormonal disorders like hypothyroidism can cause marked changes in behavior that may cause a dog to start ignoring.
CCD is similar to amnesia and can cause dogs to act like they don’t know you and ignore you. Unfortunately, cognitive decline in dogs is incurable, but you can help them with mental exercises, a better diet, and certain aiding medications.
11. Pain or Discomfort
If your dog is in pain or discomfort, they may ignore you or become distant. Dogs may not always show obvious signs of pain, so it’s essential to pay attention to their behavior. If you suspect your dog is in pain, take them to the vet for a checkup.
Conditions like arthritis, dental problems, or ear infections can affect their overall well-being, leading to a change in behavior. Other dogs can even ignore you when they sense it’s time to cross the doggy rainbow. They do this as their final act of protection from the inevitable heartbreak of losing them.
12. Negative Associations
Dogs are highly perceptive animals and can form negative associations with certain experiences or individuals. If you’ve unintentionally associated yourself with unpleasant situations, your dog might avoid interacting with you and even like you less.
For instance, if you harshly scold or punish your dog excessively, they may associate you with fear or discomfort. Building trust and a positive association is crucial to reverse this behavior.
As dogs age, they may experience physical and cognitive changes that can affect their behavior. For example, senior dogs may develop hearing or vision impairments, making it difficult for them to perceive or respond to your cues. This can make it look they are ignoring you.
Cognitive decline, often seen in older dogs, can also impact their ability to focus and understand commands. Dogs that once loved to play and jump around may calm down and seem to ignore your cues for playtime because their bodies can’t handle it.
14. Lack of Exercise
If your dog is not getting enough exercise, they may have excess energy, leading to restlessness and a lack of focus when interacting with you. Ensure your dog gets sufficient daily workouts through walks, runs, or play sessions.
A tired dog is more likely to pay attention and engage with you, strengthening your bond and reducing instances of being ignored. See our article on workout with your dog for tips on how to get that exercise in.
15. Lack of Socialization or Incorrect Socialization
A major problem recently is the idea that a well-socialized dog is a dog that wants to play with other dogs and that can be let safely off leash to run and play with other dogs.
This is not socialization. For example, what happens if your friendly dog runs off leash and meets an unfriendly dog and they get into a fight? Your dog probably then learns to fear other dogs and may become reactive to them. Now all the puppy socialization classes you’ve taken have gone out the window.
Also, not all dogs will always love every other dog they meet. Nor should they. Do you feel like playing with every person you meet? A well-socialized dog is really a dog who knows how to be neutral in a public setting.
They should be able to walk past other dogs on a loose leash without pulling, becoming excited, fearful, or aggressive. When a dog is able to ignore their surroundings, they can focus on you and you don’t need to deal with them ignoring you.
Watch this video below for a better understanding of what socialization is:
Also, Inadequate socialization during your dog’s early stages of development can result in them being aloof or indifferent towards you. Dogs not exposed to different people, animals, and environments may struggle to form strong bonds and display disinterest in their owners.
This is especially true for rescue dogs and dogs adopted or bought when already old. They need some time to warm up and get used to the beauty of bonding and interacting with a loved one.
16. Inconsistent Rewards and Consequences
Consistency is vital in training and reinforcing desired behavior in dogs. If you are inconsistent in rewarding your dog for positive behavior or fail to address undesirable behavior, your dog may become confused and choose to ignore you.
A good example is if you are inconsistent about letting your dog on the furniture. One day you allow it, the next day you want them off. Chances are, your dog is going to start ignoring you altogether and get on the furniture regardless of how you feel about it on that day.
Establish clear rules and boundaries, and ensure your pup is on the same page. Use positive reinforcement techniques, and consistently keep at the rewards whenever your dog follows a command.
How to Train Your Dog to Stop Ignoring You
If you find that your dog is ignoring you, it may be time to train them to pay attention. Lack of training is a big reason for adolescent dogs ignoring commands. Here are some tips to help you train your dog to pay attention to you
Positive reinforcement is one of the most effective ways to train your dog to pay attention to you. When your dog responds to your commands, praise them with a treat, a toy, or verbal praise. This will encourage them to repeat the behavior.
The most important thing is to build strong engagement with your dog so that they are always focused on you and not ready to respond to your commands.
Consistency is key when it comes to training your dog. Ensure you use the same commands and cues every time you interact with your dog. This will help them understand what you want from them.
Clear communication is essential when training your dog. Use simple, clear commands and cues that your dog can easily understand. Use hand signals and body language to reinforce your commands.
Rewards and Treats
Rewards and treats are a great way to motivate your dog to pay attention to you. Use high-value treats to reward your dog when they respond to your commands. This will help them associate good behavior with positive rewards.
How can I train my dog to come when He’s distracted?
Training your dog to come when distracted can be challenging, but it is possible. Start by training your dog in a low-distraction environment and gradually increase the level of distraction. Use positive reinforcement training techniques and reward your dog for coming when called.
What to Do When Your Dog Ignores You
Assess the Situation
If your dog ignores you, the first step is to assess the situation. Is your dog distracted by something in the environment, such as a squirrel or another dog? Is your dog in pain or feeling anxious? Or is your dog simply bored or overwhelmed? Understanding the reason for your dog’s behavior is important in determining the best course of action.
Use Positive Reinforcement
One effective way to train your dog not to ignore you is to use positive reinforcement. Reward your dog with treats, attention, or toys when they respond to your commands or cues. This will encourage your dog to repeat the desired behavior and strengthen the bond between you and your furry friend.
Avoid Negative Reinforcement
Avoid scolding or punishing your dog when they ignore you. This can create a negative association with you and make your dog less likely to listen to you in the future. Instead, focus on positive reinforcement and be patient with your dog’s progress.
Be Patient and Consistent
Training your dog to listen to you takes time and patience. Be consistent with your commands, cues, and rewards. Use the same words and hand signals each time, and make sure to praise your dog when they complete a task. Remember to be patient and never give up on your furry friend.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why won’t my dog listen?
Dogs may not listen to their owners for various reasons, such as lack of training or attention, feeling anxious or scared, or simply being distracted. It is essential to understand your dog’s behavior and work on building a strong bond with them through positive reinforcement training.
How can I get my dog’s attention?
One way to get your dog’s attention is to use positive reinforcement training techniques. This includes rewarding your dog for good behavior and ignoring bad behavior. You can also use verbal cues and physical gestures to grab your dog’s attention.
What can cause a dog to ignore their owner?
Dogs may ignore their owners due to a lack of training or attention, feeling anxious or scared, or simply being distracted. It is essential to understand your dog’s behavior and work on building a strong bond with them through positive reinforcement training.
Why does my dog only listen when I have food?
Most dogs are motivated by food (called food drive), which is why they may only listen when food is involved. Food is essentially payment for a certain behavior and if they’re not getting paid, why listen?
However, training your dog to listen to you without needing food rewards is crucial. This can be done by using food to condition a response to the command, and gradually reducing how often you give food until they respond whether or not you have food.
Is my dog intentionally ignoring me?
It is unlikely that your dog is intentionally ignoring you unless they have lost trust in you or found that listening to you leads to negative consequences. It is important to understand your dog’s behavior and work on building a strong bond with them through positive reinforcement training. When a dog is properly trained, then issues like them ignoring you are no longer a problem.
Your dog can ignore you when anxious, over-stimulated, in pain, or after you break trust with them. Cognitive decline, inconsistency, and under-stimulation can also cause them to ignore you. You can train your dog in a less distracting environment, use positive reinforcement, and bond with them to help with the ignoring.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.
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