Knowing how to get your dog to listen to you is more than a convenience — it’s a safety measure. Should your dog escape or slip from its harness or collar, you need a reliable way to call your runaway back to you.
If your dog is chewing something it’s not supposed to — especially if the item could be dangerous to ingest — you need a way to get it to stop.
Training a dog that doesn’t listen is tough, but it’s usually more about what you have to know versus what the dog isn’t doing, or the problem is reflective of a possible underlying health issue.
How to train a dog that doesn’t listen
If your dog doesn’t listen, don’t worry — you’re facing a common problem. There are many reasons for this, but usually, a dog prefers another activity, like eating grass or sniffing.
Through positive reinforcement with treats, your job is to offer your dog a “better payday” than whatever it might be doing that you don’t want it to do.
Is your dog running around the house with your socks in its mouth? It probably just wants to play, and the only way to dissuade your dog might be with a better payoff, also known as a premium treat like a small piece of chicken.
If you consistently say something like “drop it” when this exchange happens, your dog will learn to leave the item (best for safety reasons in most cases), even when you don’t offer a bribe.
Additionally, some breeds are more prone to paying attention than others.
Hounds, for example, will want to run after prey, so if they see a rabbit or a squirrel, they’re going to do what they’re bred to do: chase.
When this kind of thing happens, your dog simply isn’t thinking on the same level as you — it’s all about instinct. Reinforcing body language and posture can help your dog respond appropriately. Be encouraging, not angry.
Understand why your dog doesn’t listen
Breed-specific behavior is all connected to what we call the dog’s interference threshold.
For example, getting your dog to sit quietly when you’re alone is more accessible than in the dog park, where other dogs are around. That only makes sense — your pup is distracted.
The best way to teach dogs what you want is to reward them consistently and in progressively more challenging situations. Start at home, work your way up to your backyard, then eventually to the dog park.
Just like people, angry or scared dogs act unpredictably. Suppose your dog lashes out on the leash or doesn’t listen in certain situations.
In that case, it’s time to engage a dog behavior specialist or expert dog trainer to tackle the problem more specifically. In other words, figure out what your dog is doing when it’s not listening, then call for help.
The young ones: My puppy isn’t listening to me
If your puppy doesn’t listen, you have some work to do. That’s because a puppy’s first instinct isn’t to learn voice commands but to interact with the world by nipping, exploring, smelling, and playing.
The easiest way to begin is to associate your puppy’s name with a tasty, tempting treat, as most dogs are incredibly food motivated.
After that, you can teach your little one to sit, stay, and come to you for a treat. Make sure you say its name kindly and provide affection, too.
Generally, “Fido, come!” should be enough to get your puppy to listen and come to you when it isn’t preoccupied with something else.
But it’s another story about chewing on your shoes or running away. That’s why getting your dog to listen with recall training is crucial at a young age.
A standard puppy training class with a private, positive-reinforcement-minded trainer or at your local pet store is the way to go here. Working with a trainer is crucial. Some new dog owners struggle when they discover my dog doesn’t listen to me but listens to others.
Don’t worry, that’s natural. Dogs, like people, go through phases and if your dog is in a toddler or teenager phase, getting them to listen and pay attention is challenging.
A puppy or beginner class will teach you what you need to know to get your dog to listen. Come armed with treats, patience, and a willingness to bond with your dog during training.
What to do if your older dog doesn’t listen
Particularly in older dogs, you’ll want to ensure your dog isn’t experiencing any pain or confusion. Just like in people, health issues can increase with age.
If your older dog isn’t listening and isn’t eating as much, limps, or acts confused, it’s best to head straight to the veterinarian: There may be a health issue.
In this case, your dog may have trouble focusing because of a medical problem. On the other hand, they might be exhausted and want to be left alone. After all, older dogs can sleep up to 20 hours per day.
Signs of deafness in dogs
As in humans, deafness and partial hearing loss can occur at any age in a dog. However, senior dogs are more prone to hearing loss (and blindness).
If a dog starts to disobey, doesn’t come when called, or seems confused and barks too often, this could be a sign that your dog is losing its hearing.
If your dog is hard to wake up, it could be another sign that its hearing is gone. Speak to your veterinarian about a hearing test, as health is a convenient reason you can’t get your dog to listen.
Bottom line: How to get your dog to listen
Getting your dog to listen requires patience, regular training, and a consistent routine.
By using the correct body language, projecting calm and encouraging energy, and leading with kindness (and a little food bribery), you can get your dog to listen when you call.
Remember: If you put your dog in a crate or otherwise punish it whenever you call it away from doing something you don’t want it to do, your dog has no incentive to listen.
Avoid training your dog if you’re in a bad mood or don’t have the patience.
Instead, make training a positive experience with food rewards so you have a greater chance of getting your dog to listen every time.