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Why Your Dog Doesn't Listen to You: Understanding the Reasons - PawSafe

Why Your Dog Doesn’t Listen to You: Understanding the Reasons

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

Dogs are known for their loyalty and obedience, but what happens when your canine companion doesn’t listen to you? It’s a common frustration among dog owners, but the good news is that there are ways to address this issue.

There are plenty of tools to make sure your dog listens to you. It’s always worth investing in a good no pull dog harness to ensure good behavior on leash and have more control over your dog if you need it.

In this article, we’ll explore the reasons why your dog may not be listening to you and provide solutions to help you build a stronger bond with your best friend. To help with this, we will incorporate the best advice from clicker trainer pioneer Karen Pryor, and Professor Bonnie Beaver’s book on Canine Behavior Insights.

Contents show

Sidenote: If you are having trouble discipling your dog, make sure to see our article on how to discipline dogs properly.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding your dog’s behavior is key to improving communication and building a stronger bond.
  • Positive reinforcement training techniques are effective in encouraging good behavior.
  • Seek professional help if you are experiencing difficulty training your dog.

Common Reasons Dogs Don’t Listen To You

Common Reasons Dogs Don’t Listen To You

1. Health Problems

If a dog is not listening to their owner, or ignoring them, it could be due to an underlying health problem. Hearing loss, ear infections, and other health issues can all make it difficult for a dog to hear and respond to commands. If a dog is not responding as expected, it is important to rule out any potential health problems by consulting with a veterinarian.

Having a dog that doesn’t listen to commands can be frustrating for owners. However, there are several reasons why dogs may exhibit this behavior. Understanding these reasons can help address the issue and improve communication with your canine companion.

2. Incomplete Training or Lack of Understanding

The most common reason dogs don’t listen is insufficient training or a lack of understanding of the commands. Dogs need clear and consistent training to learn and comprehend what is expected of them. Reinforce training regularly and use positive reinforcement techniques to help them grasp and remember commands.

Remember, dog training is really a lifelong process that extends far past early puppy obedience classes. It is also more than teaching your dog to sit for a treat. Training is actively and consistently (and patiently!) reinforcing the behaviors you want in your dog everyday. This is the only way to ensure your dog will learn to listen in any situation. 

3. Unfamiliar or Different Environments

Dogs may struggle to obey commands in new environments due to a lack of generalization. This means that a dog that learns to sit and stay in your backyard probably will not obey the same commands in the dog park or a public space. 

Training should be practiced in various settings to help dogs associate commands with different surroundings. Gradually introduce distractions in controlled environments to strengthen their ability to obey commands despite external stimuli.

4. Lack of Engagement

4. Lack of Engagement

When dogs are not engaged with their owners, they may become disinterested in following commands. Building a strong bond through positive interactions, play, and rewarding experiences helps foster engagement and encourages dogs to focus on their owners’ cues.

Engagement means you are more interesting to your dog than a nearby squirrel or another dog across the street. It means your dog learns to focus on you and tune everything else out. Remember, your dog can only listen to you if they are engaged with you and this is something that has to be conditioned. 

Below is a video to get your dog engaged with you.

5. Impulse Control Training

Without impulse control training, dogs may act on instinct or impulses that override their owner’s commands. This means the will impulsively take after a squirrel and simply not listen to anything you may be shouting or calling.

Teaching impulse control through exercises such as “wait” or “leave it” helps dogs learn to resist temptations and make better choices, promoting discipline and self-control. See the video below for an example of how to work impulse control into your dog’s daily routine to get them to listen to you before they act on their urges.

6. Instinctual Behavior

Certain instinctual behaviors, such as chasing prey or territorial instincts, can override a dog’s response to commands. Recognizing these instinctual triggers and implementing appropriate training techniques and management strategies can help redirect their behavior and improve obedience.

It is very difficult to shift a dog’s instincts. Hunting dogs, for instance, typically instinctively chase anything that moves. This is instinctive behavior built into their DNA. For a dog with a very high prey drive, you may need to always control their environment to prevent them being able to chase small animals. And you can channel their instinct to chase into a better activity, such playing fetch.

6. Survival Mode or Reactivity

In high-stress situations or when a dog is in survival mode, their ability to listen and respond to commands may be compromised. Dogs get tunnel vision when they are in fight, flight, or freeze mode and they simply cannot listen to you at this times. This applies to both aggressive dogs and anxious or fearful dogs.

Identifying triggers that induce hyperarousal and working on desensitization techniques can help them regain focus and respond more reliably. Now reactivity in dogs is very difficult to manage and we can’t cover it all in this article. The key idea is that for your reactive dog to listen to you, you need to intervene before survival mode kicks in.

7. Inconsistent or Ineffective Command Delivery

Inconsistency from owners in delivering commands can confuse dogs and lead to disobedience. Ensure that everyone involved in the dog’s training follows consistent command cues, voice tone, and reward systems to maintain clarity and reliability. 

This means that if you sometimes allow your dog on the furniture, but other times you don’t like it, it will be hard to make them obey any rule about not being on the furniture. 

Another common problem is simply nagging your dog. Repeating commands over and over again but getting no response is a surefire way to teach your dog not to listen to you. If they don’t listen the first time you give a command, then it means you need to go back to basics. For example, if your dog does not come when you call once, don’t keep calling. 

Turn around and walk in the opposite direction until they turn to find you. When they do find you, put them back on the leash. From that point, you can let them go on a long leash so that if you call and they don’t come, you have the option of immediately shortening the leash. Only let them off leash again once they become 100% reliable about coming when called. 

8. Negative Association or Punishment

If a dog has made negative associations or has been punished for obeying a command, they may become hesitant or reluctant to respond. It’s crucial to use positive reinforcement methods, making obedience rewarding and reinforcing the desired behavior rather than relying on punishment.

Let’s use the above example of a dog that doesn’t come when you call. Suppose after a lot of calling, they eventually do come to you. But you’re angry and frustrated, so shout at the dog for running away. The problem is now your dog has associated coming to you with being shouted at (they won’t remember the bit about them not coming in the first place. When this happens, they’ll be even less inclined to come to you in future.

9. Command Perception

Dogs may think that certain commands are optional if they have not been consistently reinforced. Reinforce obedience by consistently rewarding and positively reinforcing desired behavior, demonstrating that commands are non-negotiable.

10. Boredom and Excess Energy

Dogs that are bored or have excess energy may not listen to their owners because they are too distracted or restless. Providing regular exercise, playtime, and mental stimulation can help alleviate boredom and reduce excess energy. 

But there’s a catch. Taking your dog for a walk where they are yanking on the leash or running around the dog park will not make them listen to you.

To have a dog that listens, exercise has to become structured with clear boundaries. For example, you can ask your dog to obey commands in between throwing the ball in a game of fetch. Walks need to be focused, meaning that you have your dog’s attention. When playing tug, your dog should learn to release the toy on command. 

In short, exercise is very effective to get your dog to listen to you. But it should be exercise where your dog is engaged with you with clear rules. If you let your dog off leash to run around with no training first, they have no reason to learn to listen for when you call them to come back and this can be a problem.

11. Handling Distractions and Improving Focus

Dogs that are easily distracted may not listen to their owners because they are too focused on other things. Training exercises that involve gradually increasing levels of distraction can help improve a dog’s focus and ability to listen to their owner. This may involve using treats, toys, or other rewards to encourage the dog to pay attention.

Watch this video below to see how a dog can be trained to listen even when fireworks are going off next to them.

How Do You Discipline a Dog That Won’t Listen?

Disciplining a dog that won’t listen can be a challenging task, but it’s important to remember that positive reinforcement techniques should always be used over punishment or physical correction. Here are some steps you can take to help discipline your dog in a kind and effective way:

1. Set Up for Success, Not Failure

Avoid putting your dog in situations where they are likely to disobey commands, as this sets them up for failure. For example, keep them on a leash when there are distractions like squirrels present. Make it easier for your dog to do the right thing by rewarding them heavily for focusing on you. Use toys and food as rewards, gradually increasing distractions as their focus improves.

2. Teach Focus and Engagement

Train your dog to focus on you by using positive reinforcement techniques. Teach them commands like “look at me” or “watch me” and reward them generously for maintaining eye contact. Building focus and engagement strengthens their responsiveness to your commands.

3. Reinforce the Right Behavior Consistently

Consistency is key in reinforcing the desired behavior. Reward your dog immediately and consistently when they obey a command or exhibit the desired behavior. Use positive reinforcement techniques such as treats, praise, and play to reinforce their understanding of what you expect from them.

4. Manage Your Dog’s Environment

Control your dog’s environment to prevent them from being exposed to situations that may trigger disobedience. Gradually introduce distractions and challenging situations as their training progresses. This helps them gradually learn to focus and obey commands even in stimulating environments.

5. Work on Bond and Communication

Building a strong bond with your dog enhances their willingness to listen and follow your commands. Spend quality time together, engage in interactive play, and provide positive experiences. Effective communication through consistent training and clear cues strengthens your connection and understanding.

6. Understand Instincts and Drives

Recognize and understand your dog’s instincts and drives. Whether it’s prey drive, territorial behavior, or other natural instincts, tailor your training methods and management techniques accordingly. Redirect their instincts in a controlled and constructive manner, channeling their energy into appropriate behaviors.

7. Redirect Bad Behavior

Instead of punishing your dog for bad behavior, redirect their focus to something more appropriate, such as a toy or designated chew item.

8. Seek Professional Help

If all else fails, seek the help of a professional dog trainer or behaviorist. They can provide expert guidance and training techniques to help you and your dog overcome any behavioral issues.

Remember, discipline should always be done in a kind and loving manner. Physical punishment or correction can cause fear and mistrust in your dog, which can lead to even more behavioral problems. Consistency, patience, and positive reinforcements are key to effectively disciplining your furry friend.

My Dog Doesn’t Listen to Me But Listens to Others? 

It’s not uncommon for dogs to listen to some people but not others. Here are a few reasons this might be happening and what you can do about it. The most common reasons for this are:

  1. When a dog does not understand your cues, commands, or body language but they find another person much easier to read and understand.
  2. When you don’t read your dog’s body language and cues as well as somebody else does.
  3. When your dog does not view you as a consistent leader they may sometimes be more obedient to someone who is calmer, more assertive, or simply clearer in their communication.
  4. If you have been inconsistent with your dog’s training, they may not fully understand what is expected of them. Review your training methods and make sure you are using consistent commands and rewards.
  5. If you inadvertently reward bad behavior, your dog will learn that they can get away with not listening to you. Make sure you’re not unintentionally reinforcing bad habits.
  6. Dogs are creatures of habit and may feel more comfortable obeying someone they know and trust. Spend quality time with your dog to build a stronger bond and increase their trust in you.

Remember, building a bond with your dog is essential to effective communication. Work on developing trust with your dog through consistent training and positive reinforcement, and your dog will be more likely to listen to you.

Building a Strong Bond with Your Dog

Building a strong bond with your dog is essential for effective communication and obedience training. Dogs are social animals that thrive on attention and affection. When you establish a strong bond with your dog, they will be more likely to listen to you and follow your commands.

Here are some tips to help you build a strong bond with your dog:

  • Spend quality time with your dog every day. This can include playing, walking, and cuddling.
  • Use positive reinforcement training techniques to reward good behavior and discourage bad behavior.
  • Be consistent with your training and commands. Use the same words and gestures every time.
  • Respect your dog’s boundaries and give them space when they need it.
  • Provide your dog with plenty of exercise and mental stimulation to keep them happy and healthy.
  • Show your dog love and affection through physical touch, such as petting and grooming.
  • Use treats and toys as rewards for good behavior.
  • Attend obedience classes or work with a professional dog trainer to improve your training skills and build a stronger bond with your dog.

Remember, building a strong bond with your dog takes time and effort. Be patient and consistent in your training, and your dog will learn to trust and respect you.

Training Techniques

Dog owners often ask, “Why does my dog not listen to me?” The answer is not always straightforward, but it often involves training techniques. Here are some training techniques that can help improve your dog’s listening skills:

Positive Reinforcement Training

Positive reinforcement training is a popular and effective training technique. It involves rewarding your dog for good behavior with treats, praise, or toys. This technique helps your dog learn that good behavior leads to positive outcomes. Positive reinforcement training is especially effective for dogs that are anxious or easily distracted.

Consistency and Repetition

Consistency and repetition are key to successful dog training. Dogs learn through repetition, so it’s important to practice the same commands consistently. This helps your dog understand what you want from them. Consistency also helps establish you as the pack leader and builds a stronger bond between you and your dog.

Verbal Cues and Commands

Using verbal cues and commands is an important aspect of dog training. Dogs respond well to clear and concise commands. However, only introduce the verbal cue after your dog understands the behavior. For example, if you say “sit” before your dog actually knows the command, they don’t really learn what the command means, leading to a lot of useless repetition.

So it’s vital to first lure your dog into a sit position, and then clearly say “sit” and reward. Only once your dog has clearly associated the word “sit” with the action of sitting, can you start using the word as a cue for them to sit. 

Rewards and Reinforcement

Rewards and reinforcement are essential to dog training. Dogs respond well to positive reinforcement, which can include treats, praise, or toys. Reinforcement helps your dog understand what is expected of them and encourages good behavior. It’s important to reward your dog immediately after they follow a command correctly.

In conclusion, training techniques can help improve your dog’s listening skills. Positive reinforcement training, consistency and repetition, verbal cues and commands, and rewards and reinforcement are all effective techniques. It’s important to be patient and consistent with your training. If you’re having trouble training your dog, consider working with a dog trainer who can help you develop a training plan that works for your dog’s breed and behavior.

When to Seek Professional Help

If your dog is not responding to basic commands, it may be time to seek professional help. A dog trainer can help you identify the underlying issues and work with you and your dog to improve communication.

Dog Trainers and Obedience Classes

Dog trainers can help you teach your dog basic commands such as sit, stay, and come. They can also help you address more complex behavioral issues such as jumping, biting, or aggression. A good dog trainer will work with you and your dog to develop a training plan that meets your specific needs.

Obedience classes are a great way to socialize your dog and help them learn basic commands. These classes are usually offered at local pet stores or community centers. They provide a structured environment where you and your dog can learn together.

Agility and Advanced Training

If you and your dog have already mastered basic commands, you may want to consider agility or advanced training. These types of training can help improve your dog’s physical abilities and mental agility. They can also be a fun way to bond with your dog and meet other dog owners.

Agility training involves teaching your dog to navigate obstacles such as jumps, tunnels, and weave poles. Advanced training can include activities such as scent work, tracking, or even search and rescue.

In conclusion, seeking professional help from a dog trainer or attending obedience classes can help you improve communication with your dog and address any behavioral issues. Agility and advanced training can be a fun way to bond with your dog and improve their physical and mental abilities.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How to discipline a disobedient dog?

Disciplining a dog involves positive reinforcement, consistency, and patience. Punishing a dog may lead to fear and aggression, which can worsen the problem.

What to do when my dog ignores me?

When a dog ignores commands, it’s important to assess the situation. If the dog is distracted, try to refocus their attention. If the dog is unresponsive, consider seeking professional help.

How to get my dog to listen without treats?

Using treats is a common way to train dogs, but it’s not the only way. Positive reinforcement, such as praise and play, can also be effective. But a great way to avoid treats is to just stop feeding your dog their meals in a bowl. Keep their daily food on you in a treat bag, and feed your dog their normal food as a reward throughout the day, especially when they listen to you. This is called hand feeding, and it’s an excellent way to get your dog focused on you and listening.

Why isn’t my one-year-old dog listening?

A 1 year old dog may still be in the process of learning, maturing, and require more training. At a year old they are usually still adolescents, and it takes consistency and patience to help them navigate this phase where they naturally push boundaries. It’s important to be patient and consistent with training to ensure the dog understands what’s expected of them.

How to train a three-month-old puppy to listen?

Training a puppy involves positive reinforcement, consistency, and patience. Start with basic commands and gradually increase difficulty. Avoid punishment and focus on positive reinforcement.

Final Thoughts

Understanding why dogs may not listen to their owners is essential in addressing and improving their obedience. Dogs require a positive and proactive approach that focuses on setting them up for success, teaching focus and engagement, reinforcing the right behavior consistently, managing their environment, working on the bond and communication, and considering their instincts and drives.

By implementing these strategies with patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement, owners can build a strong foundation of trust, enhance their dog’s obedience, and foster a harmonious relationship based on effective communication and mutual understanding. Remember, discipline should be approached with kindness, respect, and a focus on positive reinforcement to create a well-behaved and attentive canine companion.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


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.

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.