On the information form I give each client, I have a box that asks them what they’d like their dog to START or KEEP doing. A frequent answer is "To listen better." When I flesh this question out with the client, I get a variation along this theme: "I want the dog to listen all the time, not just when he wants to."
When I ask the client what cues (words) the dog already knows, I often get a blank stare and this question "What do you mean, what words does the dog know?! He knows it all, he just won’t do it when I need him to!"
Usually, what this means is the dog can do what the owner asks if there’s nothing else going on, but if there are any distractions (visitors coming into the house, for example) the dog loses all concentration and doesn’t do what he’s asked.
This is really a case of the dog not really knowing what’s expected. Want proof? Try this at home:
- Ask your dog to sit. Just once, don’t repeat it. If he can sit, move on to the next one.
- Raise your arms straight above your head and ask your dog to sit. Again, only one request. Move on if he can sit with just that one request.
- Turn around with your back to your dog and ask him to sit.
- Put sunglasses on and ask him to sit.
- Jump up and down while saying the word "Sit."
- Say the word "sit" as if it’s a question.
- Have someone keep your dog in the room while you go out of the room. From another room, ask your dog to sit (you remain out of sight). The dog should sit where he is, not come to you.
How many did your dog get right? If he missed any of them, he doesn’t really know what sit means. You can believe that he’s being stubborn or that he’s just not listening, but that won’t help you — or your dog. Your dog only knows sit under regular, every day non-distracting circumstances. He doesn’t know what sit means if there’s anything odd or out of place going on.
So save yourself some frustration — teach your dog how to sit during all those distractions. Practice in short sessions every day changing only ONE variable. Maybe you’re facing sideways instead of turned all the way around. Get lots of successes at that easier level before you turn all the way around.
Make it easy for your dog to get these new requests right by dialing back the "oddness" of them when you start. For #4, maybe you’ll start with the sunglasses on your head, not down on your eyes. For #5, maybe you just bend your knees a little instead of jumping up and down. (Nemo, for the record, doesn’t know sit — he can’t get it right when I’m jumping. But we’re working on it; he’ll have it in no time!)
So before you complain that your dog just doesn’t listen, make sure he really knows what you’re asking!