3 Ways to Train Stubborn Dogs


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Do you have a stubborn dog? Before you read any further, ask yourself that question, and answer it honestly. Sometimes, dogs aren’t really stubborn, they’re just under the control of people who don’t bother much with training. Then, they blame the dog for “bad” behavior, when really, it’s that they haven’t done much in the way of helping their dog to become a good canine citizen.

Most dogs are very trainable, and most want to make their owners happy; training is easy! However, there can be some breeds of dogs that are stubborn, and can be difficult to train. If you’re trying to train stubborn dogs, the most important things are to keep a good, positive attitude, and keep the training sessions short.

In the material that follows, I’m going to offer you three ways to train stubborn dogs.

Method #1: Positive Reinforcement

I’m a big believer in positive reinforcement. It’s so much more effective than being forceful with your dog. With positive reinforcement, you don’t punish bad behavior; you reward good behavior! Sometimes, this might even mean waiting until you “catch” your dog doing something right, and then you reward him so that he knows the next time he displays the same behavior, something good will happen.

Rewarding good behavior most of the time involves offering a treat. It really doesn’t matter what it is, so long as it’s something the dog likes. You could use commercial dog treats, a bit of cooked carrot or a cooked bean, a blueberry, or something else.

My friend Neila swears that her Rottweiler, Dallas, would rather have a scrap of toilet paper as a reward than a bit of chicken or beef, or a commercial treat. Now, I’m not all that sure how good toilet paper is for Dallas’s digestive system, but it seems to be what he wants. I suppose a little bit offered from time to time probably won’t cause him much harm.

The point I’m making here is that for positive reinforcement to work in the best possible way with stubborn dogs, the reward has to be something that the dog really, really wants. For Dallas, it’s toilet paper.

I pretty much roll about on the floor laughing when Neila is trying to get Dallas to behave and she’s saying, “Come on here, sweetie, Mommy has bum waddings for you!”

Okay, I guess you have to be there.

Of course, in order for the positive reinforcement using treats to work, you have to have them on hand. When I was training Janice and Leroy, I kept treats everywhere – in the kitchen, the living room the bedroom, the bathroom, the porch, in my pockets – literally everywhere.

With Dallas, all Neila had to do was head for the bathroom! (Can I use an “LOL” here?).

Of course, you can use other methods besides treats. Most dogs love treats, but consider your dog’s personality, and ask yourself what he really loves. Is it treats, or is it snuggles? Is it play time? Think about what makes your dog happy, and then you’ll know what to offer as a reward.

Praise is always a good reward. Use an excited, happy voice, and touch your dog. Tell him what an amazing, remarkable dog he is. Then, you might follow that with a treat, or a bit of time spent with a favorite toy. Tummy rubs also make great rewards.

The other thing you need to do if you’re going with the positive reinforcement method (which I really believe is the best way of training stubborn dogs) is to repeat your commands and exercises several times throughout the course of a day. Some trainers actually suggest that it can take a couple of years to get your dog properly trained, so repeat, repeat, repeat, and also ensure that everyone else in your household is following the same method.

Yes, I know that it can be tedious. But if you give up and let your dog “do his own thing,” all your initial work will have been for nothing.

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Method # 2: Show the Dog That You’re in Charge

Stubborn dogs are often trying to test you. They’re not 100% sure that they trust you to be the alpha, and they might think that they would be a better leader. If this sounds like your dog, then you’re going to have to let him know that you’re in control. This doesn’t mean that you should be overbearing with the dog, and it most definitely does not mean that you should use force.

What it does mean is showing your dog that you will always be number one. If you’re heading toward the door to go out, then you will go first. If he has a toy and you want it, you have the right to take it. You will play with your dog when it suits you, not when your dog demands it, and when you want to stop playing, that’s when the game will end.

When you’re using this method, you will need to use words that your dog is familiar with, but you’ll also have to watch your tone. If you sound overly emotional, your dog will pick up on that, so try to sound light-hearted when you’re playing, and firm (but not angry) when your dog isn’t doing what you want him to do. Praise is important but so is correction.

It’s usually best to work on training stubborn dogs when you’re walking them. This is because when your dog is on a leash, you have control. Take your dog for a long walk, and don’t ever let him pull on the leash. Keep the leash short, too. A dog on a long leash is training you; you’re not training him. Once your dog is tired out from his long walk, you can go home and work on other training issues. He’ll be considerably more compliant.

When you are home, work on easy commands. One of the easiest to teach is “sit,” and once your dog learns that command, the others will fall into place. “Sit” is the easiest thing for a dog to learn.

To start out, though, reward your dog even if he doesn’t quite get his bum on the floor. He’s trying, and as you progress, he’ll get to the point where he can do a complete sit. Once he learns the “full” sit don’t reward him for a half-hearted one.

You can also think of ways to switch up the commands. Change your wording, for example. “Sit’ might be replaced with “Down on your bottom.” Any time you’re teaching your dog something new, be it a phrase, or a trick, or another way of doing something, that’s a good thing.

One of the most important things I can tell you here, too, is that training stubborn dogs can be frustrating, and you’re going to have to display a bit of self-control. You need to be patient. If you’re overreacting every time your dog doesn’t do what you want, he’s going to perceive you as unstable, and he’s not going to respect you. In the worst case scenario, he might even try to dominate you.

Method #3: Other Techniques

Okay, this isn’t really another training method. It’s more along the lines of tips and tricks that you can use if positive reinforcement and being in charge aren’t working all that well.

First off, when you’re training, choose a place that is relatively free of distractions. I was never able to train Janice and Leroy in my own yard because of squirrels. I live out in the boonies, and the damn squirrels were just too distracting. I ended up taking Janice and Leroy to a parking lot in a nearby town.

The idea is that you don’t want to have anything that’s competing with you for your dog’s attention. Even something like your compost pile could be a distraction. After all, wouldn’t your dog just love to roll in it?

The other thing that I found when training Janice and Leroy is that it was best to do it “one on one.” Janice distracted Leroy, and vice versa. If you’re dealing with young dogs, too, it’s always likely that they’ll be more focused on playing with each other than they are on paying attention to you.

When it comes to other ways of training stubborn dogs, I can’t say enough good things about obedience classes. You’ll have access to a trainer who will probably have a lot more expertise than you do. Additionally, it’s a great way to get your dog socialized to other animals and humans.

Another option would be to have a dog trainer come to your house to work with your stubborn dogs. I’d consider this to be a last resort, though. First of all, it is, as I’ve said, a last resort – hardly ever really necessary.

Related Content:

An Essential Guide to Dog Commands and Dog Training (Video)
16 Least Trainable Dog Breeds
Clicker Training 101 (Video)

The Final Word

You’re better off trying to figure out, on your own, why your dog is being stubborn. It might be that you’re not assertive enough. It might be that there’s something in his background that’s causing the stubbornness. Work with your dog and try to figure out why he’s stubborn. Was he bullied and ended up sort of shutting down because of it? This is actually quite common in sensitive breeds.

Does he just not “get it” for some reason? If that’s the case, then show him what he can gain by doing what you want him to do.

It’s also possible that your dog just isn’t all that bright. They’re no different from humans in that regard. Some are smarter than others, and might need a lot more work and a lot more positive reinforcement.

The other thing you should consider is that your dog might be ill, and therefore unresponsive. See a vet to rule out any physical causes that might be contributing to your dog’s stubbornness.

There can be any number of reasons why a dog might be stubborn, and any number of ways of dealing with stubborn dogs. If he simply doesn’t “get” what you want, that’s one thing. If he’s been abused, that’s another. Most stubborn dogs, though, can be brought around. It just takes time, patience and love.

Have you ever had to deal with a stubborn dog? What did you do? Leave a comment. Other people can learn from your experience.