Why Dogs Don’t Listen: Improving a dog’s responsiveness to commands

By: Brittney Frazier

dog313One of the number one complaints we receive as a dog training facility from owners about their dogs is that they do not “listen” to them or that they want to improve their dog’s “listening” skills. Without ever meeting their dogs, I can assure them immediately that their dog is plenty capable of “listening” and can hear everything they say. The main concern should always be improving what the dog’s response is after hearing a command and creating a more positive association with the expectation at hand.

There are several reasons why a dog does not adhere to a command. At Found Chicago Boarding and Training Center, we focus on the relationship between a dog and its handler. I use the word “handler” rather than “owner” because any person can build the type of relationship with a dog that elicits a more positive response than the caretaker. As a dog trainer, my job is to have as close to a “perfect” relationship with the dogs I am training as possible; one that encourages a dog to follow commands quickly and create a structured environment solely dedicated to the dog’s training progress.

dog 1I reassure owners early on that their job in training their dog is much more difficult than mine in the sense that they are required to balance the caretaker role with the trainer role. Maintaining this balance is difficult even for a professional, especially when witnessing an adorable pair of eyes and a wagging tail pushing boundaries at home. This article is dedicated to describing the ways a person can improve upon the trainer role they must play for their dog until it has mastered desired commands in useful environment. When looking to improve your dog’s responsiveness to commands, take the following into consideration:

  • Motivation and Reward: Very few employees would work for free, and dogs are no different. Find what your dog loves most and use that to build their focus and positive association with commands. Whether it’s a treat, tennis ball, or pat on the head, choose a reward that you are willing to use in multiple scenarios that does not create too much excitement and learn how to utilize that reward effectively. For example, one of the biggest motivators for an animal that has adapted to living alongside humans is affection and praise, which dogs have learned to crave. Remember that it is difficult to use this as an effective reward for training if it is something the dog receives regularly at its own will. Be aware of what you are rewarding so that you are not unconsciously reinforcing a behavior you do not want your dog to learn.
  • dog 2Clarity and Consistency: Like a person learning a new language, dogs will not generalize commands well until they have mastered them fully. If anything is different about how, when, or where a command is being used, understand that the dog will need to taught how to adhere to the command in the new situation. The best way to help a dog understand what is expected of them is by being as clear as you can by keeping as many variables consistent as possible. For example, saying your commands loud, clear, and void of emotion will give them a habitual feel that causes the dog’s brain to obey out of routine. If you change how you say a command at any given moment, know that your dog may actually misunderstand what you are asking. This will cause it to treat generalize what you say and learn to ignore you overall.
  • Enforcement and Strategy: In providing clarity for the dog, you may want to add hand and leash cues to your verbal cues. This aids your communication to the dog by “speaking” to other senses which may be more responsive in a given circumstance. It is in this way that you will be able to strategize your communication with your dog when a situation of high distraction arises. If you have three ways of communicating “sit,” which includes what the dog hears, feels, and sees, you are more likely to get the response you are looking for. In an area of low distraction, your verbal cue may be all that is needed, but a high distraction area may need all three cues. Knowing when and how to use your cues effectively helps create a situation where you are both successful as a team, creating more balance, and making it more likely that the positive outcome reoccurs. The more positive outcomes you have with your dog, the more your dog will respond to less cues, due to the fact that your dog finds that you are determined to get your point across and that you’ll enforce your commands regardless of the scenario.
  • dogpet32Constructive Time Spent: In balancing your caretaker and trainer roles with your dog, work to spend more constructive time with your dog when in a training stage. Although couch cuddling and dog park rendezvous is time we all may enjoy most in dog ownership, it is only after an equal amount of time is spent training and exercising that you should spend unstructured time with your dog. Constructive time spent improving your trainer relationship with your dog can include anything from obedience when playing fetch, “agility” and obedience at the local park, or asking for a “down/stay” before releasing the dog to its food bowl. If you are able to take the time needed to work on obedience, your everyday routine will cause the dog to follow commands as a part of its life versus viewing training as something the dog is forced to do when excited and “misbehaving.”

There is no way to disguise how much time and energy having well-trained dog can take when first starting out with a new dog. But, focusing on making every interaction a training session and improving on the skills your dog already has will build the kind of experience your dog needs to succeed. The more positive a view your dog has to taking direction, the easier it will be to continue advancing their adherence to commands in new situations.


Found Chicago, NFP is a 501(c)3 no-kill, all-breed rescue that serves to rescue, rehabilitate and re-home the most medically and behaviorally challenged dogs that would otherwise be euthanized. Found Chicago Boarding & Training Center is a subsidiary of Found Chicago, NFP that provides services to the public to give dog owners the knowledge they need to better handle their dogs and improve the quality of the dog-human relationship.

4108 N. Rockwell

Chicago, IL 60618

Phone: 773.539.3880

Email: info@foundchicago.org


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