Trainer reveals why your dog won’t listen to you, and it’s not because they’re stubborn

Playful dog among torn pieces of a pillow on the floor
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Do you feel like your dog just won't listen to you? If so, you're not alone. 

Many pet parents spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to deal with a badly behaved dog, but often, what we think is disobedience is actually something else.

In a post shared to Instagram, Jill Hassevoort, a trainer certified through the prestigious Karen Pryor Academy, says that a dog that refuses to do what you ask isn't trying to be difficult.

Instead, a failure to follow a command or instruction may have many underlying reasons. Keep reading as Hassevoort reveals five of the most common...

1. Pain: "If you’re seeing reluctance to do certain actions, pain is likely a factor," explains Hassevoort. Other signs a dog is in pain include restlessness, crying, anxiety, and aggression, so if you suspect pain may be the driving factor behind your dog's refusal to listen to you, we recommend taking them to see a vet as soon as possible. 

2. Fear or stress: "Those emotions can override the thinking part of our dogs brains and make them unable to respond," says Hassevoort. Check out this guide to 'How do I know if I have a scared dog?' for tips on managing a fearful pup. 

3. Lack of generalization: "Just because your dog can do something at home in your kitchen doesn’t mean they know how to do it on a walk with countless distractions around," explains Hassevoort. If you want your dog to be quiet when you're having lunch in your favorite cafe, for example, it's important that you practice training them in that setting and not just at home.

4. They don't understand what you're asking of them: "It’s easy for us humans to think we’ve taught one thing when we’ve actually taught something very different. The learner is always right."

5. Lack of reinforcement history: "The definition of stubborn is determination not to change *in spite of* good reason," Hasservoort says. "Dogs do what works. If we want them to do what we want, we have to make that option even more reinforcing than what they’re already choosing to do."

So, next time it feels like your canine companion isn't listening to you, run through Hassevoort's tips above and see if there could be a reason driving their refusal to do what you ask them to do.

And if you're at all concerned about your pup, we recommend reaching out to your vet or a qualified trainer for advice and guidance. 

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.