Why Your Dog Doesn’t Listen to You

THE DOG BLOG--Dog problems are almost always the result of a lack of communication between the dog and the Pet Parent. 

When Pet Parents come to me I’ll watch their behavior while they talk about their concerns.  “Foxie! How many times do I have to tell you not to jump on me! I don’t like it!” “Princess!! Ssssh! Stop barking! Shhhh!” “Fido sit! I said Sit! Sit! Sit!!” When they are finished I quietly say, “The dog doesn’t speak human ”. They look confused and ask “but how do I let him know what I want?” 

Dogs recognize sounds not words. In training we attach a sound to an action and repeat it. We can even use a sentence “I’ll be right back. Wait here” as long as we use it for the same thing over and over. The dog does not understand what any of those words mean, you could easily say “oozy, boozy, piggle, wiggle” but when you repetitively attach the same sound to a specific action, the dog will soon associate that sound with the action. A firm “Off!” and turning your back to the dog when he jumps up, often stops a dog from jumping up on you every time you walk in the door. Eventually all you have to say is “Off!” before he jumps up on you or your visitor and the jumping ends.  

Learning how to communicate effectively with your dog is the simple secret to getting a dog to listen to you. Communication is not just a matter of words used properly but also involves tone, attitude, body posture, timing, all of these communicating information to your dog. You can say “I love you” over and over but if you use a harsh, disapproving or demanding tone, that is what is communicated. I have seen Pet Parents change their tone from hard to soft and friendly and watch as the dogs’ tail starts wagging and they actually look at the owner. 

Because your dog doesn’t understand human language your dog is highly alert to the cues you give her (physical, emotional and voice tone cues you may not even be aware of) telling her who you are and what you are going to do. 

The following behaviors, developed by Virginia Satir a pioneer in the field of family therapy, describe the different communication styles people use. They are a pretty good description of the way people relate to their dog. Can you find yourself in any of these descriptions? 


You really want your dog to like you and will do whatever it takes to make sure the dog doesn’t get angry or perceive you as unfair. You are often confused when the dog behaves in ways that indicate he doesn’t appreciate your loving and fair behavior. Dogs don’t understand concepts of fairness. And they often see your lovingness as the sign of a good follower under their leadership. “Pet me Now!” “Yes master.”

Dog’s need more than friendship… they need leadership, someone to tell them what to do. If you refuse to be the leader, the dog will start to lead you because somebody’s got to be responsible for the pack. 


Common quotes from the blamer - “It’s the dog fault!” “He knows what he is doing is wrong. He’s just trying to annoy me.” “She does it for revenge.” The blamer often has a hard time listening to advice because it might indicate that perhaps, the blamer is to blame. They tend to argue more than listen. But contrary to the blamers belief, I have found that if the Pet Parent does it right, the dog will do it right as well. If you are not acting like a consistent leader and then suddenly demand the dog do as you say, he probably won’t. He isn’t being stubborn, he just doesn’t trust your leadership. 


These Pet Parents often overthink why the dog is behaving a certain way. They tend to try to use reason and logic in their behavior towards the dog. Their downfall is mistaking the way dogs think to the way humans think and get frustrated when the dog just doesn’t get it. In dog training I often have to adjust my training techniques not only to the dog but to the Pet Parent as well. There are certain principles good dog trainers start with but after that, the training has to be adjusted to different factors. What works for one dog doesn’t logically work for another. Intuition, sensitivity to the dog and creativity in training options are what work in training. Not rigid formulas or rules. 


I have seen Pet Parents completely ignore a dog’s bad behavior. They will be talking to someone while their dog is constantly pulling the leash, or starts barking at something without stopping. Meanwhile the Pet Parent ignores the bad behavior and pretends it isn’t there. “Oh she is just excitable.” “Isn’t she adorable. We don’t mind her little faults”. “He just does what all dogs do.” I’ve had huge off leash dogs run up to me and my dog on the beach. When I shout them away the owner gets peeved. “My dogs are friendly!” I have to respond that mine isn’t (very few dogs like to have strange dogs run up into their space) and I ask them to keep their dogs at bay. Annoyed, they call their dogs while the dogs ignore them and keep running down the beach. Distracters won’t acknowledge a problem because something will then have to be done. 

Leveler (Assertive)

The Leveler has an appropriate attitude toward the dog. They offer appropriate friendship and affection as well as clear and firm leadership. They don’t take the dogs bad behavior personally. They understand the dog lacks training and they are willing to learn and train in order to strengthen the relationship. They really like the dog and work to allow the dog to become a respected member of their household. Their voice is controlled, reasonable, friendly and firm. The commands are clear, not confusing. The dog learns to trust the Pet Parent whose behavior is consistent, loving, clear, firm and predictable.  

One of the great joys of having a relationship with a dog is the bond that results from an appropriate, loving relationship and the resulting deep level of connection between the Pet Parent and the dog. Ask any dog. 


Illustration by Angeli Rafer 

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(Dianne Lawrence has been rescuing and training dogs for over 20 years. She was responsible for getting a law passed making it illegal to tie up dogs in backyards. CLICK HERE )