Training Techniques for Stubborn Dogs

Posted by Jackie Ly on

owner and a stubborn dog not listening

Dog training is tried and tested when it comes to maintaining a dog’s overall well-being and keeping their behaviour in check, but that doesn’t mean it’s a smooth-sailing journey– some dogs are just more strong-willed than others!

You may ask, “When can I say that my dog is stubborn?” A stubborn dog is one who intentionally disobeys what they are told and is highly focused on what they want. Instead of following your lead, a stubborn dog resists and tries to take the lead.

Many dog owners feel it is impossible to train a stubborn dog. Even in dog adoption, some prefer senior dogs as they want a pet that’s already been trained.

But as a full-fledged fur parent, you mustn't give up! You should meet your dog’s stubbornness head-on with your determination. There are plenty of ways to train your dog, no matter how headstrong they are!

But like always, addressing the problem starts with identifying the causes. Ask yourself, “Why is my dog stubborn?”

Reasons why a dog is stubborn 


Dog behaviour is greatly influenced by genetics; stubbornness may also be inherited and is more common in some breeds than others.

While some were designed to cooperate closely with humans, certain breeds were genetically bred to be more independent and "headstrong."

Medical reasons

Maybe your dog is in pain, or feeling some sort of discomfort, and that’s why they can’t do the commands you’re teaching or requesting them to do. There may be underlying health issues that cause tiredness, pain or fatigue making them unable to heed commands.

Environmental factors

Dogs sense if there’s something wrong around them– danger, instability, or anything they’re not familiar with. When you’re training outdoors, something unpleasant nearby can distract them. Though for humans it could be something not worth worrying about, it’s different from a dog’s perspective.

Also, animals learn quickly from past experiences, and maybe the reason why your dog is acting up during training is because they had some bad experiences in places you trained them. Maybe last time you took them for a walk in a certain street they encountered an aggressive dog. Or maybe the pavement is just too hot or cold.

So when it looks like your dog is not paying attention to you, that means something is bothering them and they’re currently unable to process your commands.

Unknowingly-taught cues

Your dog notices and remembers even your simple actions, and when done repeatedly, they start seeing it as cues. When they don’t follow your command or do something else, recall if you’ve used that gesture for a different cue before.

Like when you sit and lower your hand and command them to sit, but they just start nibbling on your fingers– maybe you used to sit and lower your hand to give them a treat before.

Your own personality 

The way you present yourself to your dog goes a long way in dog training. Dogs are pack animals, and they need to see the leader in you before they obey you. 

Dogs can read your energy and if you’re easily frustrated or discouraged, they might see you as their equal, try to take the lead and thus, the stubbornness. Your confidence should not waver if you want to successfully train your dog.

No positive reinforcement or consequences

Your dog may also be acting stubbornly if they start to consider your commands to be irrelevant.

This is known as “learned irrelevance”-- when your dog realises that obeying you has no lasting consequences, either positive or negative. 

What to do with stubborn dogs

If there’s a medical reason, address it

Rule out any underlying health issue, especially if the stubbornness is a sudden change in their behaviour. 

Consult your dog’s vet and schedule check-ups. Recall if there’s any recent event that made them stubborn, or if that’s already innate to them.

Train them 

When there are no underlying health issues for the stubbornness, then it can be addressed through training.

Dog training may begin at any age and is a critical part of a dog’s life. Training boosts confidence, stimulates the mind, and deepens the connection between you and your dog. This way, you’ll be able to sit closely with them, observe their behaviour, and teach them how to behave properly.

Training techniques for stubborn dogs

Basic dog obedience techniques include potty training, sitting (and staying), refraining from barking and walking on a leash. These four basic techniques will help you improve your dog’s listening skills and establish discipline and obedience.

Potty training: The ‘Jackpot’ method

  1. Get some small treats. Although it's nice to give our dogs large treats as rewards, we're using little, breakable, semi-soft treats for this activity.
  2. Take two to four treats and cut them in half (two for small dogs and four for large dogs) so you now have 4–8 pieces in your hand-- that's the Jackpot.
  3. Let your dog sniff and see these treats.
  4. As you lead your dog outdoors, say "Potty potty potty." For this training activity, use your leash to guide your dog into a small area of the yard that you want them to use every time.
  5. While on their potty break, compliment them verbally on how great they're doing (you can say "Good dog go potty!"). Give them the treats straight away, praise them, and play with them for a while.
  6. If they don't go potty, bring them back inside and try again in 10 to 15 minutes. Continue to try until they go, and when they do, react as if it was the greatest thing ever. Your dog deserves praise when they do what you’re teaching them to do. 

Sitting and staying: The “Sit” command

You must be facing your dog while standing straight while using the command "sit." Hold a treat near their nose and slowly pull it up and back. Get their attention, then say your dog's name and say "Sit." Your dog should instinctively sit as a response.

Use a hand gesture to go with the word “Sit”. It doesn't really matter what hand gesture you use  as long as you (and everyone else who interacts with the dog) is consistent with it.

Occasionally, this won't work, and you'll have to gently nudge them to sit, but never force or intimidate them into sitting. Be patient because eventually they’ll do it since they want those treats! 

Once they're seated, make them stay for a short while before saying "Release" and rewarding her with a treat.

Refrain from barking: The ‘Hush’ command

For dogs that aren’t that stubborn and can still listen, simple commands like "Hush!" in a low voice will stop excessive barking. Remember to say your dog’s name before each command.

Use positive reinforcement instead of punishments. Don't shout at your dog or lose patience when training. It has to be a rewarding experience for them. When your dog misbehaves, do not laugh.

Walking on a leash: The ‘Tree” method

When your dog pulls on the leash, stop walking. Stand there like a tree and do not move. Your dog will calm down and quit pulling eventually.

Once they do, give them a treat, praise them, and continue walking. The tree method only works if you're more stubborn than your dog. Don’t give in after 5 minutes because then your dog will think that after standing for five minutes, they may start pulling again. 

General training tips

The training techniques mentioned above are all effective ways to instil basic obedience in your dog, but they wouldn’t work if you don’t possess the right attitude and use the basic steps. 

Here are some tips to establish leadership with your stubborn dog and to improve your dog training sessions.

Set a routine

When training a stubborn dog, it’s important to stick to a routine to start breaking bad habits and reinforcing good ones. 

Be consistent

You want to follow your routine now that you've established it. Consistency builds reliability and helps develop the right habits. Always be consistent while training your dog to see reliable, consistent obedience as a result.

Also, training starts with the whole family. You can assign one family member that initially teaches the command and have the others reinforce them, or if you prefer, you can all take turns in leading a training session so your dog responds equally to all of you.

Just make sure that everyone in the family uses the same cues, gestures, timing, and tones. If certain family members allow your dog on the sofa or bed and others don't, it will never work. 

Gather around and discuss everyone's ideas so that everyone is aware of the training rules. This helps build clear communication with your dog and prevents them from getting confused.

Start slow

When training a stubborn dog, always start out slowly and never go right into the most difficult task before your dog is ready.

When you start teaching your puppy, you should go at their current pace, not  not at the pace you want your dog to be.

Be clear on your commands

This one is both for you and other family members. 

The reason most dogs are confused is that people are not clear about the behaviours they want from them. Before bringing a dog home, decide on your house rules. Then, work together to reinforce  the behaviour wanted.

Give them rewards

Use rewards to your advantage. If the only way your dog listens to you is when you’re holding a treat, then use it for the meantime, but be careful not to overdo it. 

Be patient

Stay patient. You won't get anything from being irritated, instead, stay consistent.

You need to understand that it takes time to break poor habits that are already there for weeks, months, or even years.

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