Why are people so quick to call dogs stubborn? Stubborn implies that the dog understands what is wanted by the human and then refuses to comply. As a trainer, I know that dogs are rarely stubborn. They truly don’t understand what is being asked of them because they’ve never been properly taught. If one of my dogs blows off a command, it’s likely because there is a competing motivator in the environment, not because they are being willfully defiant. Just because a dog will sit for a hand lure with a treat, does not mean that they understand sit while riding in the car. When the dog refuses to comply with the sit while riding in the car, he is not being stubborn; he doesn’t understand. He has never truly practiced that behavior in that context with a handler that is going to ensure success by using the correct and precise timing of reinforcement. Why do we presume dogs are just going to “get it?”
Trainers know that it takes hundreds if not thousands of repetitions for certain behaviors before the dog truly understands what the word-cue means. Additionally, the average dog owner can be incredibly inconsistent when it comes to the cues they give the dog and is typically not the best at follow through either. Trainers know not to expect a behavior when a dog is in the learning phase. It will take quite a while before that behavior becomes reliable in different environments and for different handlers.
You control all of your dog’s resources. You are literally the hand that feeds, so how and when you choose to feed your dog will directly impact how willing your dog is to LEARN a behavior and also perform it reliably around distractions. If you are not using food to your advantage, it’s likely your dog has little to no motivation because they’re used to getting everything for free. With intentional feeding, you can create an awesome boost in their motivation and engagement.
Dogs will forever be living in a world they will never understand; a man-made confusing world where they don’t speak the language. Engage your dog with empathy and ask yourself if you have actually taken the time to not only teach the command, but generalize it to different environments for reliability. For example, does your dog understand a release cue? If not, you can’t expect him to hold a down- stay if he doesn’t understand that the command has a beginning and an end. Also, ask yourself if you have the knowledge to really teach the dog by communicating in their language. Remember, dogs are a non-verbal species, so you cannot rely on verbal commands until he has been taught the sound’s meaning and context. If you want more reliability and confidence in your dog’s behaviors, seek help from a professional so you can understand how dogs learn and the importance timing, consistency and motivation in training. Your dog isn’t being stubborn or defiant, he just hasn’t been taught with the proper communication.