Updated: May 9, 2022
What do I do when my dog blows me off?
This question is probably the most asked question I get, but it has an extended, complicated response that I often feel I'm not capable of giving in the usually short amount of time I have to respond to it. Honestly, I could spend an entire class on this topic alone.
First off, let's examine the question:
What do I do when my dog ignores me?
What if they don't listen?
What's my response when they blow me off?
These questions are getting at the same thing, and the logic behind questions like this is flawed.
The wording implies that the dog is doing something you have no control over or are not responsible for. The "it's them, not me" type mentality. Furthermore, it also assumes the dog "knows" what they are doing.
Let's start with mindset. By shifting our perspective and taking a little more responsibility within the relationship between the human (you) & the dog, we will discover that our dog is indeed behaving accordingly. Unfortunately, it's a breakdown in understanding and communication that creates problems.
"My dog knows what they are supposed to do."
If your dog does not perform a requested behavior immediately when asked, my first word of advice is you need more training in that particular environment. Your dog does not "know" what they are supposed to be doing if they are not doing it. Your dog is simply doing what is reinforcing and what history, training, and genetics have primed them to do.
Next time your dog blows you off, I want you to take a deep breath and tell yourself it's not personal. Then you can go and recover your dog calmly and with understanding. I promise you, your dog is not ignoring you intentionally, even though it can feel that way.
It takes hours of deliberate practice and slowly rising the criteria as they master easy stages to accurately and successfully train a dog. This idea is well known but rarely taken to heart by pet parents who want immediate satisfaction. My best guess is that many doggy moms and dads have been subjected to fluffy ideals and promises of obedient, loyal, and unquestioning well-behaved dogs.
I find balanced and traditional dog trainers the bud of this marketing scheme that sells false results at the dog's expense.
If your dog ignores you, follow these steps:
Make a note about the environment. How far away was the dog when you made your request? Were they distracted, and by what? Were you outside or inside? What other things were going on in the environment? (noises, animals, children playing, etc.)
Go back to training at a level your dog is successful at and slowly introduce small pieces of the original failure back into the training.
While undergoing training, or if you cannot manage the reinforcer in that environment, use equipment to prevent your dog from rehearsing this "blow-off" behavior.
Troubleshooting: Find and use the most potent available reinforcer. This might not be food! In most situations, clients report that their dogs ignore them when stronger reinforcement is available. Getting to continue playing with their dog friends will be more reinforcing than going home with you. So use playing with dog friends as the reinforcement for loading up in the car!
If you want your dog to perform the behavior genuinely and willingly, don't use aversive tools or techniques. Tools such as prong collars, slip leads, and e-collars do not teach your dog behavior; they shut down behavior, causing a slue of other problems.
In conclusion, if your dog is ignoring you, they haven't been given the tools to respond appropriately in the situation. Take some time to build their education around the cue (command) and reintroduce the situation/environment in stages.
If you continue to struggle with a particular problem of your dog blowing off your commands, please get in touch with Kind Animal Services and work with a trainer to figure out an appropriate solution.