Here’s what to do if your puppy has stopped listening to you, according to an expert

Puppy running across a vast area of grass
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Unless specifically stated, any expert comments quoted in this news piece have been taken directly from the Instagram post cited below.

Have you ever been in the position where you think you’re making clear progress when it comes to training your new puppy, but then they hit a stage where it’s like they’ve suddenly stopped listening to you?

Even if you’re offering them some of the best dog treats, a refusal to pay you any attention is a common problem that many new owners face when they're bringing home a puppy for the first time.

It’s frustrating, and it’s easy to feel as if you’re failing in some way, but it’s actually fairly normal for puppies to go through a stage like this when they hit around four to eight months of age. And Jamie Huggett, or Jamie the Dog Trainer, of Southern Cross K9, has explained why – and what you can do – in a new Instagram post. 

“They are likely going through what’s called flight instinct,” he explains. “This is a critical development period in all puppies and thankfully only lasts a couple of weeks. However, you need to be really, really careful during this period so that your dog doesn’t form some really bad habits.”

The period of flight instinct involves puppies becoming a little more independent as they get older – they perhaps aren’t relying on you as their parent quite as much, and they’re exploring the world around them. In nature, it’s the time when they’d begin to leave their mother.

Your puppy, previously, would likely have seen you as a sort of security blanket. “They’re not going to stray too far because they’re not quite confident in their surroundings yet,” continues Huggett. “Your puppy then gets a little bit older and starts to explore, and then suddenly they stop listening to you.”

Where some pet parents go wrong during this stage is in letting their puppies ignore them, perhaps letting them off due to their young age. 

Huggett explains that it’s vital to have some training techniques in place, with some management principles so that your pup can’t make mistakes that have longer-term consequences, setting them up for lifelong bad habits. Here are 25 practical tips for training your dog on your own, which might come in handy.

“A long line is going to be your most important tool,” he says. “A ten to 15-meter line, where if your dog does decide to blow off your recall, you’re able to prevent that from happening.” You can physically stop them from reinforcing that behavior because you’ve got them on a leash. 

And he also recommends doing plenty of reinforcing recall. Use treats and make recall as fun as possible, so that your dog will come out of this period of flight instinct and actually enjoy recall. 

You don’t want to find yourself in a position where your dog comes out of flight instinct and still doesn’t listen to you, perhaps because they’ve formed quite negative associations with recall.

This is particularly true if you’ve been frustrated with them, perhaps yelling at them – as much as you might feel annoyed during this stage, it’s best to stay calm and make recall fun. After all, you’ll both be happier further down the line! You may have some trouble for a couple of weeks, but after that, it should be much more plain sailing. 

If you have an older dog and you’re finding recall tricky, you might find this article useful: Three reasons why your dog’s recall isn’t reliable (and what you can do about it).

Adam England
Freelance Writer

Adam is a freelance journalist covering lifestyle, health, culture, and pets, and he has five years' experience in journalism. He's also spent the last few years studying towards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in journalism. While a cat person at heart, he's often visiting his parents' Golden Retriever, and when he's not writing about everything pets he's probably drinking coffee, visiting a cat cafe, or listening to live music.