What to do about a stubborn dog?
If you peeked into the average trainer’s inbox, or took a look at dog training forums and message boards, you’ll see the word “stubborn” a LOT.
💬“This breed is so stubborn”
💬“He’s just a stubborn guy!”
💬“My dog is being stubborn and not coming when called!”
Part of being a good trainer is reading between the lines and asking good questions to ascertain just what the owner believes about their dog.
Stubborn, like “soft”, “obedient” and “trainable” are all subjective labels, and they can mean very different things to different people. So let's clarify terms.
A quick google search gives us these definitions:
🗯“having or showing dogged determination not to change one's attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so.”
🗯“difficult to handle, manage, or treat.”
🗯“tenaciously unwilling or marked by tenacious unwillingness to yield”
The first thing that jumps out at me is this: “especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so”
⁉️What is more likely; that your dog fully understands why you want him to come when he’s called, and is choosing not to come because “screw you you’re not my real mom”, or that he doesn’t have the skills and history of reinforcement to choose to leave the wonderful world of squirrel smells?
You didn’t sit down and have a reasoned discussion with your dog about why coming when you’re called is important for his safety. I mean I think my dog is pretty darn smart, but he’s not THAT smart.
The other part that jumps out is “tenacious unwillingness to yield”.
Yield to what? Their owner’s will?
What kind of relationship is that?
I don’t want my dogs to yield to me! I want them to enjoy working with me and I want to help them build strong patterns of behaviour that are safe and rewarding for them.
All behaviour is driven by reinforcement. This means that behaviours are repeated because they were reinforced. In the dog training world, this most frequently means food, but it can be a lot more nuanced than that.
Have you ever been ghosted? Pretty soon you stop texting that person, because the reinforcement of a reply has stopped. The behaviour has extinguished.
Some dogs have been bred for hundreds of years to work closely and cooperatively with their people. This is why goldens are so… well, goldeny. They find that working relationship rewarding. They find treats rewarding. They find head scritches rewarding. They like games that we like, like fetch.
Other breeds were not. Maybe they were bred to guard, or hunt independently. Maybe exploring the outside world and accessing smells and hunting opportunities are more valuable to them than a cookie.
Maybe the puppy wasn’t lucky enough to be born into the home of a responsible breeder who utilizes a science based puppy raising program like Puppy Culture, and hasn’t yet built strong positive associations with interacting with people.
Maybe the dog is scared and really needs to keep an eye on the environment right now!
Again, all behaviour is driven by reinforcement. So if I call my dog, and he just stands there sniffing the tree, what is driving THAT behaviour? Maybe someone dropped a french fry there, or maybe a pretty girl peed there recently.
Maybe I haven’t let him sniff enough lately and he really needs to get some sniffy time in.
Almost always, so-called stubborn dogs are dogs who are simply more less motivated to access treats and praise than the average pet golden. Frequently they are overwhelmed by their environment or have other mitigating factors like fear of being handled.
The good news is that while “stubborn” is a character flaw, the rest is just behaviour and learning history.
We can’t fix character flaws, but we can change behaviour.
If you have a hard to motivate dog, you don’t have to go it alone!
Contact us for a free consult, and take the first step to a cooperative, enjoyable relationship with your dog!!