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Why Your Dog Ignores You

positive reinforcement history why your dog ignores you Oct 16, 2019

When it seems like your dog is ignoring you, have you ever wondered if it's "selective hearing"?  Of course, that would suggest that your dog is ignoring you intentionally.  But why would a dog do that?

Let's ask the question another way. 

Is it fair to expect your dog to immediately interrupt what he's doing whenever you tell him to?

Why does that kind of human control over a dog seem so necessary? Why is it that people often view their dogs as subordinate and expect them to comply, or else? Why make it such a big deal?

When I talk to dog owners about their pets they share some revealing insights about why they expect compliance from their dogs. Here's why a dog "ignoring a command" is such a big deal to some.

  • If I let the dog get away with disobeying me he will become dominant.
  • People are superior to animals so animals should submit.
  • The dog knows what he's supposed to do and he's just being stubborn to spite me.
  • When my dog misbehaves other people will judge me and think I can't control my dog.
  • My dog should be afraid to disrespect me. 

But what if you looked at your dog's actions through a different lens? What if you replaced descriptive words like disobey, control, dominant, superior, submit, stubborn, spite, misbehave, and disrespect with words like curious, intelligent, social, clever, instinctive, and natural?

Your point of view is a choice. It's up to you to decide if you'll see your dog as deliberately misbehaving or as being a normal dog.  That does not mean you become permissive and don't provide direction. You can teach your dog how to respect and trust you by first respecting and trusting your dog.

Here are three tiny changes you can easily apply right now.

  1. Create a positive feedback loop. Respond to your dog whenever he chooses to look in your direction with heartfelt approval. Make it even more powerful by using your facial expression, tone of voice, body language, and words. Make it quick, fun, and positive - a few seconds and you're done. The goal is to have your dog repeatedly choosing to look at you to get more positive feedback.
  2. Allow your dog to experience his environment the way nature intended. Give him the freedom to explore his world, to sniff, run, chase, bark, and fetch within safe and reasonable limits.
  3. Play a favorite game for 5 minutes a day. Do what your dog loves most and set him up to win. For fetch, give him the toys to play with on his own when you're done. Same for tug games.  For hide-and-seek, make finding you a big party.

 None of these activities require an additional investment of time in your already busy day.  They can all be woven seamlessly into the time that you are already spending with your dog.  The difference is in the meaning you give to the time and how you feel about it as a result.

Research has shown that gazing into your dog's eyes with a loving intent has many physical and emotional health benefits.  It's also been proven that spending time in nature reduces stress and improves problem-solving. We don't need science to tell us that games challenge us to be better in countless ways.

 What do you do then when your dog ignores you (and he will)?  It's like asking what to do when your car runs out of gas. Obviously, you add more gas to the tank because cars don't run on empty!

Your dog doesn't run on empty either.  Each time you routinely do small things like providing positive feedback, playing games, and spending outdoor time together, you fill your dog's "gas tank" so he doesn't run out of the drive to respond to you.

Small changes accumulate over time into a strong history of positive reinforcement. Your dog begins to value your attention alongside all the other delightful things in his environment. 

When your dog ignores you, consider how to restart his engine with positive feedback.  Warning: blaming or punishing the dog will make everything much worse. Seriously, would you get mad at your car for running out of gas? 

Do you need some help? Are you wondering how you can start to implement this with your dog? I would love to help with that. You can schedule a 30-minute phone call or internet meeting and I'll answer your questions.

Here's the link to the calendar of available times: 

Talk soon!


 PS - If you love reading about why people and animals do what they do, I want to recommend a book that I hope you will love as much as I do!  It has nothing to do with dog training and everything to do with it!  If you know what I mean.

The book is Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear. The inspiration for small changes to get better results from your dog comes in part from the science explained in this book.  It's currently 40% off on Amazon so it's a great time to treat yourself to a good book! 

Sensitive Dogs want to be heard, not trained. When you recognize the emotion behind the behavior, the behavior changes.

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