“My Dog Won’t Listen”

How many times do we hear that?

We all remember from our school days the Mr. Smith who couldn’t keep control; we all ignored his shouting and ‘discipline’. There were riots in his class.

Mr. Smith dished out detentions and punishments freely.

On the other hand, many of us will have left school with our favourite subjects. These will have been taught by teachers who fuelled our enthusiasm and interest. They didn’t need to shout.

They simply had ‘it’.

Charisma? Enthusiasm? True interest in each child’s learning?

I was a school teacher once – many years ago. I like to think I had control without shouting. How?

I rose to the challenge of ‘being interesting’. I taught class music which could be a challenge with teenagers. It would need imagination to capture the enthusiasm of 13-year-old Steven to listen to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony when he’d rather be outside kicking a ball.

It was MY job to make Beethoven something that fascinated Steven.

It wasn’t HIS job to be interested.

It was down to me, not the boy.

What if I took my eyes off the ball and I sensed the rumble of a rebellion?

I reacted immediately. No shouting. Shouting merely adds fuel to the already ignited fire.

I stood very still. Silent. Silence with stillness eventually gets attention. Then, when I spoke, I spoke VERY QUIETLY.

They listened. They sank back into their seats.

Now I tightened up my own game. It was my failure, not theirs.

Some kids, admittedly, are more inclined to disrupt the class than others. Some are more of a challenge. They have wandering minds and a short attention span. With them we have to raise our game.

See the parallel with dogs?

Commonly the dog that ‘won’t listen’ has learnt to become deaf to the more and more loudly repeated commands. The shouting is simply less relevant to him than what he wants to do.

The more the ‘dog doesn’t listen’, the louder the shouting. He may even be punished for ‘not listening’.

But whose to blame?

You want Alfie to ‘listen’? Then tighten up your game. You simply need to become more interesting, more rewarding. You are quieter. You consider Alfie’s needs. You use management to avoid Alfie getting into the position of challenging you.

An example

A common example is the dog ‘not listening’ when she’s called. Bella can hear you but the lingering smell of a recently passing fox is a lot more relevant to her.

How can you be more relevant than fox? Be realistic. You probably can’t!

While we humans have been occupying ourselves all day with our own chosen things like jobs, internet and watching TV, our dog spends much of the day waiting for his or her opportunity to do ‘dog things’. Things like sniffing where foxes have passed recently.

It’s no wonder we can be low down on out dog’s list of priorities when out in a field.

I would suggest you go with it instead of fighting it.

In the case of ignored recall, use a long line. Wait until Bella eventually loses interest in fox scent and then call, not before. Even if you’ve had to wait, make coming to you really worthwhile.

What is worthwhile? You know Bella best – it could be food or it could be fun. You may need to engage more generally – to be more on her wavelength. Vary the reward. Don’t let her know too well what you are going to do. Keep ahead. Keep her interest.

Trying to be forceful and shouting repeated commands will probably have the opposite effect to what you want and could damage your relationship with your dog.

If your dog ‘won’t listen’, then it’s due to you, not the dog

Some people do build up the kind of relationship that gets priority over the scent of passing fox. It’s possible. Have you got the time for the hard work, commitment and consistency necessary?


About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist C.C.B (Certified Canine Behaviourist) INTODogs). I have helped over 3000 dog owners over eighteen years. In addition to online consultations all over the world, I cover Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks for home visits. A 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a full member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site: www.dogidog.co.uk
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9 Responses to “My Dog Won’t Listen”

  1. Interesting analogy, Theo. Brings to mind my growing-up years when my Mom would walk quietly into my brother’s or my room and tell us “either turn down the volume or I’ll turn it off.” We turned it down FAST. Eventually we got smart and kept it low to begin with. 😁 When Ducky won’t listen, I try to keep my voice low as I go to her and clip her leash to her collar. At that point I can usually get her to walk with me without even using the leash. Bogie is a teenager now so he’s more of a challenge – I have to leave his leash attached. I try not to shout at him; but sometimes my impatience with something or someone else gets directed at him. Then I feel instantly bad and apologize. Raising a teenage male Golden Retriever is quite a challenge for me these days, but we’re getting there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lyn says:

    An excellent article, as always, Theo, thank you for posting


  3. Michael Wali says:

    As a former teacher of Physics, I endorse the contents of this blog post without reservation. My experience of dogs and teenagers exactly mirrors that of the author. I do not always agree with the author’s posts, but in this case he is spot on. Patience and understanding (especially of frustration in the dog or student) is a key to success.


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