7 Strategies for Training a Stubborn Dog
Training a stubborn dog can be frustrating — I’ve worked with dozens of pet owners who feel like they’re on the losing end of a battle of wills with their canines, and I’ve had several difficult-to-train dogs of my own over the years.
When bad habits refuse to budge, pet owners can wind up feeling frustrated, exhausted and defeated. If you’re struggling to train your dog, don’t give up! There’s hope for even the most challenging dogs. The solution may be as simple as changing your approach to training.
When a dog doesn’t listen to or follow commands, it’s not typically because he is hardheaded or untrainable. The problem is often that normal dog behaviors simply don’t conform to human standards of good manners, and changing behavior that comes naturally to a dog can take time and effort.
This doesn’t necessarily mean a complete revision of your training program though. For some dogs, even the smallest shift in the training process can make a big difference in your success.
Seven Strategies for Training Stubborn Dogs
A few simple tweaks can make all the difference in your challenging dog’s behavior. Here are seven of my favorite strategies for stubborn dogs.
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Go slowly. Start by working with your dog on favorite or familiar behaviors. Create a positive association with training by rewarding even minor successes. Once your dog understands that training is a good thing, take small steps: Change only one variable at a time. Once your dog has mastered sit, for example, add a slight distraction, like the television or another person in the room. Take your time though — if training becomes too hard, your dog is likely to give up (and so are you).
Control the environment. During training sessions, take precautions to help your dog stay focused. Choose a distraction-free area like your kitchen or living room. Put away toys or other items that he may be tempted to chew on or play with. If you are training outside, add an extra layer of safety by keeping your dog on a leash or longline or inside a fenced area. Even a well-trained dog can be tempted by a cat or squirrel or startled by a loud noise.
Be consistent. You or other members of your family may unintentionally be asking for the same behavior in different ways or rewarding different behaviors. As a result, your dog may seem stubborn when he’s really just confused. Having everyone who spends time with your dog use a consistent set of cues or commands and offer consistent rewards makes it more likely that your dog will do what he’s asked to do. So if you are trying to teach your dog to sit when greeting people, make sure your kids aren’t allowing or encouraging him to jump up on them when they come through the door.
Avoid punishment. Punishment increases anxiety and undermines your dog’s trust in you. In the long term, punishment can lead to a higher risk of aggression. Instead, opt for reward-based training tactics that focus on giving the dog things he desires, like treats, petting and play, when he responds to a command in the desired manner. And rather than punishing him for unwanted behavior, redirect him to a more acceptable behavior and offer him a reward for that.
Choose the right rewards. Ensure training is relevant by making desired behaviors highly rewarding for your dog. If rewards are infrequent or of low value to your dog, his response is likely to suffer. Increasing the value and frequency of rewards can often improve your dog’s response — and his behavior — dramatically. Different dogs value different things; figure out what your dog loves most and offer that in return for good behavior. Rewards can include special treats, petting or play time with a favorite toy. Pay attention to how many treats your dog is receiving, as calories can add up quickly. Consider a low-calorie, low-fat treat such as Covetrus NutriSential Lean Treats for Dogs. At only seven calories per piece, dogs love these chewy chicken snacks.
Make training a habit. Don’t think about training as a once-a-day event — make it part of your daily routine. To reinforce wanted behavior, engage your dog in short training sessions throughout the day. This can be as simple as asking your dog for a specific desired behavior, such as a sit or down, and rewarding his success with treats, play, petting or walks.
Get help. Finally, if training just isn’t working or if your dog is showing signs of aggression or excessive fear, an expert’s opinion and guidance can be invaluable. Talk to your veterinarian for help finding a reward-based trainer or a veterinary behaviorist in your area.
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