Let’s stop calling our dogs stubborn all the time. They very well might be stubborn and I know that is a word we trainers use probably too often as well, but the reasons behind the stubborn-ness are SO important.
A main reason we see that creates stubbornness in dogs is no history of accountability or learning to learn how to do things by following instructions from man.
That was a bit of a mouthful. Let me unpack that. If there is little to no guidance given to a dog from a person and no accountability to back up that guidance, then the dog is simply not used to following instructions from people. That’s it. It’s simple. If they aren’t used to it, it can be very hard for them at first and maybe always will be. There was no early imprint of teaching the dog to learn how to do new things and follow basic commands from humans, so imagine the dog struggling with changing that mindset. It’s as if you take a 15 year old kid and they have never been to school and you put them in school. It’s going to take them a minute to catch up and they will really struggle in some areas, reverting to past things that have worked for them, shutting down, lashing out, etc.
Here are a few scenarios that would fit the above explanation.
- A dog is solely a back yard dog. He was crazy as a puppy and deemed “too much”, so he stays outside. He gets fed every day and a few pats on the head some days. The occasional playing with a toy happens a couple times a week. He might have to sit for his food bowl and that’s about it. That is a dog that would really struggle taking instruction from a person on how to handle another dog out on a walk or even something simple, like not pulling your arm out of socket to smell bushes.
- Another example is the good dog trap. You have an easy puppy or rescue dog. As they settle in they seem to have an easy temperament so you don’t do much with them. They pull a little on leash, but not too bad. They get excited easily, but eventually calm down. Nothing to major to worry about so you mostly teach them to sit and they get lots of pets every day. Then something happens. Maybe they get barked at a lot by the neighbor dog. You can see their excitement growing and after 3-4 months of that, the neighbor dog gets out of their yard and rushes your dog. After that you dog is now barking at every dog he sees. When you try to get his attention, he’s not listening and is being “stubborn”. The real cause is that you don’t have that type of relationship with him, so why would he pay attention to you. He’s not used to taking instruction from you. His life has been full of freedom because he’s a good dog genetically and has a naturally balanced temperament.
- The final main example we see is this pup in the photo, Nacho. He is really a sweet dog. He was a street dog in another country, found with other dogs that were picked up and taken to a rescue. So imagine his life doing a lot of what he pleases, even if it was just for a short time. Then he gets taken to a new country with new smells and people. Rescue volunteers that are kind and well meaning are constantly petting him and rubbing his belly and they love it when he runs around. Now this dog is in a home and they love him, but he doesn’t really listen. He can come across as very stubborn, but let’s look at the why. He has had a period of his life of complete independence mixed with a complete upheaval in his life causing stress and confusion and then showered with softness and love. That is definitely not a recipe for listening to humans or learning healthy coping skills in a new situation. Naturally he is going to try some tactics he knows humans like in order to get what he wants or has just become accustomed to, what he is used to getting. For instance, showing his belly rather than listening, zooming around, giving the pouty face (yes this is a learned response to get affection sometimes). He will take some time, extra guidance and repetition to learn anything new that he isn’t choosing himself. He may still have stubborn moments, but you must look at how far he has come and what he has come from. He will need a patience and strong minded owner. That might be your rescue dog at home that you think is just stubborn.
Here are some other quick reasons your dog may seem stubborn.
- Learned stubbornness that is accidentally taught to a dog by letting him get away with things. For instance, you teach your dog to get off the couch on command while you are eating. During a short period of time you just let him be up there while having lunch, essentially giving in or just letting him for a change. After all, he’s laying on the end of the couch not bothering you. A few days of this and you really need him to get off for something else and he won’t. He might even grumble at you, mouth you, etc. He is pushing back because the rules were relaxed. That can cause confusion for a dog and then some dogs jump right back to what you originally taught, where as others will push back seeming stubborn, but really they learned to do that from you. An easier example is calling a dog from the back yard. Usually he does really good and then on a tough day you let him chase the squirrel around the fence line because he won’t listen and you don’t feel like going and getting him that day. You re-enforce that bad behavior just once or twice. After a few times over a month, he now doesn’t listen often on walks when seeing a squirrel. It all bleeds together and the dog seems stubborn and won’t listen.
- Willful dogs can really come across as stubborn. This is where I see a dogs true stubborn nature. Dogs often do what they can to get what they want, even if that means a pet on the head, not just chasing a squirrel. They require more leadership, consistency and structure than other softer dogs. Without that they come across as very stubborn because they are so willful all the time, even relenting at the idea of listening on the first ask. These can be fun, but tough dogs to own. You have to be disciplined in your own nature and consistent as a personality trait of your own to enjoy these dogs sometimes.
- Lastly there is the just plain old spoiled dogs category. Some dogs if you spoil them, they won’t listen or they’ll need to be told many times. Simple as that :)
So hopefully I’ve given everyone a lot to think about when it comes to your dog and how stubborn they are. Patterns are learned quickly with dogs and your patterns are the first thing a dog and puppy learn. So many personalities and genetic traits mixed with your relationship with your dog determines how easy or difficult and stubborn a dog might be. There is no easy quick fix. It’s just hard work and understanding.