How can I make my dog obey?

Last week we discussed the reasons behind the frustrating problem of your dog disobeying you. (And if you haven’t read that piece yet, please go read it first before you go any further. Really. We’ll wait.)

As helpful as it can be to understand the reasons behind your dog’s behavior, there are still times when it’s really important that your dog listen to you. So, how can you increase your dog’s reliability? Let’s explore two of the easiest things you can do to help your dog respond more enthusiastically, every single time you ask.

Photo by Vincent Brown (flickr)

Photo by Vincent Brown (flickr)

1. Train responsibly. While this was already mentioned in passing last week, it’s such an important thing that it bears repeating. If your dog isn’t obeying, give him the benefit of the doubt. Rule out physical and emotional pain first, and if you have any reason to suspect that your dog is hurt or anxious, address that problem immediately.

Remember that dogs, like people, learn gradually. If you know a situation is too difficult for the level of training your dog currently has, don’t expect your dog to succeed in that situation. Young learners, whether human or canine, deserve to be taught in such a way that they build on success rather than setting them up for failure. Gradually make training exercises harder for your dog as he gains proficiency, and help him out if he’s struggling.

2. Make it worth his while. How, when, and why you reward your dog can make or break your training. Most new trainers tend to reward infrequently, but doing so is shooting yourself in the foot.

Remember, dogs learn through repetition. The more frequently and generously you reward your dog, the faster he will learn. Make sure the rewards you use are those your dog really wants, as well. If your dog isn’t willing to work for whatever you’re offering in the moment, it’s not going to change his behavior. Kibble or even just praise may work fine to train your dog at home, but you may need to offer chicken or tuna at a busy dog event.

Furthermore, don’t limit yourself to one reward. Mix them up! In addition to food, consider using toys, play, and access to things your dog loves. If your dog lights up when he gets to chase bunnies, why not let the opportunity to move towards a bunny be his reward for focusing on you? If your dog really gets into digging, put the behavior of digging on cue and then let your dog dig as a reward for obeying when you’re in areas where it’s appropriate for him to do so. For dogs who love sniffing and peeing on every vertical surface, give your dog the opportunity to relieve himself in exchange for his compliance with one of your requests. By approaching your relationship with your dog in this way, you can develop a rich partnership in which you both get exactly what you want by working with one another. How cool is that?

Ultimately, the responsibility for your dog’s behavior falls on your shoulders. After all, you’re the one with the opposable thumbs (not to mention that big prefrontal cortex)!  And that’s not a bad thing. The more you work with your dog, support him, and help him succeed, the more he’ll give back in terms of his focus and willingness to try for you.

Now it’s your turn, blog readers. How have you improved your dog’s reliability? What tips and tricks would you like to share with others? Please add to the discussion in the comments section below!

4 responses to “How can I make my dog obey?

  1. I love brainwashing recalls. For many dogs, a single piece of kibble or similar low-grade reward is sufficient if you’re asking them to do something really simple, like turn around and make eye contact when you say their name, or bump your hand (from a short-medium distance, no distractions) on cue (known hand target behavior). So get (say) 20 pieces of kibble and do that 20 times in quick succession, at home in (say) your kitchen. Repeat as often as you can possibly be bothered to, or happen to remember (realistically, for me, a couple times a week). No, it’s not the same as when you’re calling your dog away from a distraction outside – you’ll still have to work on that – but having those oodles of easy reps under your belt WILL help. More than you might think.

    As Stalin is reputed to have said, “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

    (Credit to Shirley Chong for first turning me on to the role of zillions of easy reps as a component of recall training.)

  2. Midwestern Plant Girl

    My border collies are crazy smart dogs. They learn quick, but they were unreliable in listening to me. Age really helped. They are 3 and 6 now. When the older one hit 3 1/2, a light bulb went on and he started listening to me on the spot. It was odd. The younger one wants to please me so bad, he was the easiest dog I’ve ever trained. Just a taaad unreliable, on a few things, like jumping on visitors, but it could be worse. He’s getting better. Thanks for the tips!

  3. My 3rd Rottweiler is a sweet adhd dog when inside the house, in the garden or alone on the streets at night and she listens very well. Lately, however, she seems to think she is another breed: a hunting and sniffing one. When she smells something, she can’t resist and must go and explore!
    And it is as if she doesn’t even remember that we exist. Now and then she will come and see if we are still in the neighbourhood and then quickly rushes off again, not listening to anything I say.
    It all started when she found an illegal tent in the woods which was so very exciting that she refused to come to us. I tried to get her and after a while I told her firmly to go down and stay and she did. I could finally put her on the leash and I praised her for listening to me.
    Ever since that day she is looking for tents and other smells and scents in the woods. She seems obsessed with basically any smell that attracts her attention. We can’t ever let her off-leash anywhere near the areas she once found so interesting because as soon as her nose goes up in the air: she’s gone (with the wind).
    She also loves chasing joggers, horses, screaming and yelling kids but thats old news and we are trying to work on that too.
    How can i redirect her when she puts her nose in the air to pick up a scent when near one of the places she once found something interesting in?
    I know i need help from a professional trainer but i am still searching for one and in the meantime reading everything i can find on this subject.
    So i need lots off advice , and i am sometimes at my wits end.
    so more tips are very welcome .

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