Does your dog ignore you?

A common complaint I hear from clients is: My dog just ignores me. I ask him to come, or tell him to stay, and he totally ignores me!

Do you also get frustrated with your dog not listening to you? If so, the good news is that your dog is not purposely ignoring you. Instead, the most likely thing happening is a failure in communication.

Common issues that lead to our dogs “ignoring us” are all communication based. That being said, we shouldn’t ever expect our dogs to listen to us 100% of the time. I’m not saying you can’t expect to have a well trained dog if you put the effort in, but instead that dogs are not robots. They’re going to have bad days, they’re going to have good days, and they’re going to have moments where they just can’t focus on what you are asking them right then. But if you feel like your dog is ignoring you most of the time, you’ve got a problem with communication.

What can you do to improve communications with your dog?

  1. Stop repeating their name all of the time. We humans LOVE to repeat names. We do it to get attention from other people all of the time (any parent will know this). But when we do this to our dogs, they just learn to ignore it. If you say your dog’s name and they don’t respond to you, wait. You can try to make some noises (other than their name) to get their attention such as kissing sounds, clicks, etc. But DO NOT repeat their name until it’s been at least 10 seconds.
  2. Stop setting up your dog for failure. I know you do not mean to do this. But we all end up with high expectations for what our dogs can accomplish and this leads to setting them up for failure. When we practice something like our recall, in a dog park full of dogs, while our dog is mid-play and having a blast, we are setting up for failure unless we have been systematically and slowly practising up to get up to this moment. If you think there is a good chance your dog won’t respond right away, then don’t ask them for that skill in that moment. Instead, as in the park recall example, go get your dog when it’s time to go. When we keep practising skills when our dogs are not set up to succeed, we are teaching them to ignore us. It’s not on purpose, but that’s what they are learning.
  3. Stop repeating the cue. Just like their names, when we keep repeating the cue non-stop, we are teaching our dogs that we don’t actually expect them to respond on the first go. So instead, if you’ve asked your dog for a skill that you KNOW they can perform in that situation, just wait. Don’t even make noises here, just wait and give them time. Some days, just like us, our dogs take a bit longer to process information. If after 10 seconds they haven’t done the skill or they disengage, then it’s time to move to something easier and try again later.
  4. Don’t fade out treats too quickly. Food is the best way for our dogs to learn, and it makes the learning fun and safe. But we always get to a point where we are maybe tired of dishing a cookie out for every single sit. That’s fair and after our dogs have mastered their skills, we can start to fade out food rewards, but if we do it too quickly, before our dogs really get it, then we risk them failing in the future. So when should you fade out food? You can safely fade out food once your dog has (1) generalized a cue for the skill. That means, you can give them the cue in all the rooms of your house, outside, on the sidewalk, in a park, etc. Your dog should also be (2) responding quickly to the cue – within a couple of seconds – and should be performing the skill properly. Finally, your dog should be (3) able to perform the skill when the cue is given from someone else.
  5. Don’t have food in your hand when you are training. Unfortunately, sometimes we end up teaching our dogs that we are going to ask for a particular cue, when we have food in our hands. This is a common issue for new dog owners. You’re all juggling a new dog, learning how to speak dog, learning how to teach and trying to deliver rewards effectively. It’s a LOT. So if you’re bad for this, don’t worry. Instead, just start to put the food away and only grab it once the dog has done their skill. That means, keep your hands out of your treat pouch or pocket. Instead, reach for the treat AFTER they performed the skill. It’s important to note that you may still need food in your hands when you are still luring your dog to teach a new skill. This is okay, but as soon as we have that skill on a cue, or we are not luring anymore, we shouldn’t be holding food while we ask for that skill.

If you’re not a regular offender of the 5 items I listed above, they’re still good tips to have you improving your training in no time. If you’ve found yourself doing any of the five items above, rest assured you can fix things. Stick to the tips I’ve provided and you’ll see that your dog will stop ignoring you in no time. Because they really don’t mean to!

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