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Your Dog is Not Stubborn

This is a pet hate of mine! Your dog is not stubborn! They're physically not capable of it!


The Oxford Dictionary definition of being stubborn is 'having or showing dogged determination not to change one's attitude or position on something, especially despite good arguments or reasons to do so.' Not being willing to change one's attitude doesn't sound like something a dog is capable of doing. I mean, they're clever but I wouldn't say they were clever! When was the last time you had a discussion based on arguments and reasoning with your dog? Never.


Our dogs are not capable of this level of cognitive ability. They live very much in the moment; behaviour + consequence. They don't gain any innate satisfaction for being insistent on their opinion. They're not trying to manipulate or control you just because they can. If they're not changing their behaviour then it is likely because the consequence isn't worth it.


When we perceive a person's behaviour as stubborn we see it as they are determined to do what they want and refuse to do anything else. Now as a description of behaviours, of course, our dogs do this. How many times do they refuse to come in from being outside or keep digging that hole even when asked not to? However, this isn't your dog being stubborn. This is your dog finding one thing more motivating than something else.


Now, of course, you will just say that whether or not we label it as stubborn, our dog is still not doing as asked and is deceiving us. Yes...but I think the minute we label this as 'stubborn' our whole ability to think and train disappears. We create a sort of conflict where it’s us vs them. When in fact the likely reason why our dog is continuing that behaviour is because they either don't understand what is being asked of them or we aren't offering them something motivating enough in return.


Lets look at a few examples...


Your dog pulls on the lead


You have tried training with a few treats, you've tried lead corrections, various equipment designed to make pulling uncomfortable but your dog is still adamant about pulling. He's stubborn. He's untrainable. Your dog’s motivation to go for a walk, meet new people and dogs, sniff the bushes and build endorphins through exercise is so incredibly high. Your attempts at feeding treats every 10 steps or using punishment is nowhere near motivating enough to stop your dog from wanting to go for their walk. He pulls hard enough for long enough, you give up and just carry on the walk. Thus pulling = walkies! So really it isn't your dog being stubborn, it is your dog finding walks more reinforcing than what you offer them in return. The solution? Build a high value in playing and interacting with you and make training with you better than anything else in the world.


Counter Surfing


Your dog jumps up at the kitchen sides...a lot. You feel you're forever telling your dog to get down but it doesn't seem to have an effect. They're stubborn. So let's think about why your dog is jumping up at the sides. Do you remember when they managed to steal that pack of bacon that time? Or they ran off with the tea towel and created a great game of chase for 10 minutes? Thats why.

So when you ask your dog to get down, what do they get in return? A 'good boy' and a pat on the head? Would you go to work just to get a pat on the head? I didn't think so.

Your dog isn't being stubborn they just remember how rewarding taking something off the kitchen side is and want to see if they can do it again! Opportunistic not stubborn.


My dog won't recall


Your dog is happily engaging in sniffs and running around off the lead on a walk. You recall them. They look up, stare at you then go back to sniffing on the floor as if you don't exist. Stubborn dog? But how well have you taught your dogs to recall? Did you keep them on a long line until your dog had a 100% success rate for coming back? Do you offer a substantial enough reward? Does your dog understand what your recall cue means? If any of these are a no then that might be why your dog is choosing to ignore you, not that they're stubborn. You can read more about building a drive for recall in one of my other blog posts here.


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