How to Train Stubborn Dogs
At your wit's end with your stubborn pup? Sick of soggy carpet and being woken up at 2 AM by constant barking? Tired of being dragged around at the park and embarrassed at the pet store? Controlling your dog can seem like an overwhelming job, but if you break it down into tasks you can succeed.
Here are some very basic dog obedience techniques that should only take a few weeks for your dog to learn: potty training, sitting (and staying), walking on a leash, and refraining from barking.
1. Potty Training
Consistency is key when potty-training your canine friend. Here is the "jackpot" method I learned in a dog obedience class a while back. It has worked for every dog I've tried it on. Give it a shot—don't give up for two whole weeks—and you will be so glad you did.
Get some small treats. It's fun to reward our dogs with big treats, but for this exercise, we are using small, semi-soft treats that you can break in half. Take two to four treats (two for small dogs, four for big dogs) and break them in half (so you now have 4–8 pieces in your hand). This is your "Jackpot." Let your dog see and smell this handful of treats. Tell your dog "Potty potty potty" and take her outside to go. Use your leash for this training exercise, and lead your dog into a small part of the yard that you want her to use every single time. If she goes potty, WHILE she is going, tell her how awesome she is doing! "Good dog go potty!" Then give her the treats RIGHT AWAY, praise her, and play with her for a few minutes.
If she doesn't go potty, take her back in and try again in 10–15 minutes. Keep trying until she goes, and when she does, act like it's the best thing in the entire world. Let your dog know she is doing something right.
Feeding and Watering Schedule
Set your dog up on a feeding/watering schedule. Feed her at the same time every day. Put the food bowl down for 10 minutes. When the 10 minutes is up, put the food up. Your dog may be hungry for the first day if she is usually a grazer and eats all day, but she will get it very quickly and will start eating within the 10 minutes.
For the first week, write down how long it takes her to go potty after eating. For example, if she eats at 8 AM, and then you take her out at 8:30 and she doesn't go, but she goes at 8:45, it took 45 minutes. Write the time down every day and average it at the end of the week. This is when you should take your dog out after she eats. Water should be given with both meals, and also if your dog has been playing or been outside for any amount of time. Don't just leave the water and food bowls all day for her to eat and drink out of, or you will never get her potty trained.
Every time your dog goes potty outside, give her the "jackpot" of treats. As she gets used to going, continue praising her but decrease the amount of treats you're giving her. Some dogs will do well without the treats, others will need at least one treat for a while, plus lots of praise! Keep at this for a week and you will see a dramatic improvement—but remember to pay attention to your dog and take her out frequently, or this will not work.
- If your dog pees in the house while learning this method, simply take her outside and say "Potty outside" and continue with the training. Do not get frustrated, do not yell. This is temporary and should only happen once or twice before your dog is completely potty trained if you are paying attention to your dog and taking her out frequently enough.
- Be patient. This phase is only temporary and it will pass.
- Do not use ammonia-based cleaners to clean up your dog's potty messes. That makes them want to go in the same spot again.
- Keep the potty area small, but not too small that your dog can't move around. The size of two parking spaces is perfect for a big dog, half that for a small dog.
2. Teach Your Dog to Sit
Sit. Such a simple word. Such a simple task. So why isn't she getting it? Why won't my dog sit?! It's frustrating when you have a dog that just doesn't "get" it. Chances are, she's distracted or confused, so first, you need to get her attention.
"Watch Me" Command
Start with taking a small treat and holding it up to your face, in between your eyes. If she isn't paying attention at this point, hold the treat in between your thumb and finger and let her smell it. Then slowly take it up towards your eyes, saying your dog's name, and then "Watch me" in a stern voice. The object of this exercise is to get her to focus on you (or the treat, for now) for at least five seconds at a time. If you can get your dog's attention this way, it's much easier to get her to sit. Practice this exercise for at least a few days before moving on to "sit". Be sure to offer lots of praise when your dog does what you tell her to do.
Example: you say "Watch me." The dog watches you for five seconds. You say "Release" (to let her know it's okay to look away), "Good girl!" and give her the treat and praise.
With "sit," you need to be standing upright in front of your dog. Get her attention and then say your dog's name, followed by "Sit." Hold a treat by her nose and slowly lift it up and back. This should cause your dog to sit, naturally. Sometimes this doesn't work and you will need to gently guide her to sit. Do not push or bully your dog into sitting. Be patient and she will get it because she wants those treats! After she is sitting, make her stay for a few seconds, then say "Release" and give her a treat.
Use a hand motion to go with the word "Sit." I use two fingers and point them up, almost in a flicking motion. It doesn't really matter which hand motion you use as long as you (and everyone else who works with the dog) is consistent. Be sure to reward her when she sits.
- I have noticed that using a stern or lower-pitched voice works best. Always use your dog's name: "Fido, sit." "Good girl, Fido!"
- If your dog doesn't want to sit, work on a different trick for a while. Try for up to ten minutes at a time. Dogs tend to get frustrated after that, at first.
3. Are You Walking Your Dog or Is She Walking You?
Time to switch it up, Fido! I'm in charge here.
Here are two different methods I've successfully used when training dogs to walk on a leash. The first method is the "tree" method. The second I call the "circle" method, only because my dog is so stubborn it felt like we were walking in circles when I was training her!
The Tree Method
When your dog pulls on the leash, simply stop. Make like a tree, and stand there. Do. Not. Move. Eventually, your dog will chill out and stop pulling. Give her a treat. Praise her. Start walking again. The tree method only works well if you're more stubborn than your dog. If you give in after five minutes because you have something else you need to be doing, your dog will realize that after standing for five minutes she can start pulling again. You will be reinforcing bad behavior. Don't do that! Remember, you are a tree and trees don't move!
The Circle Method
Say your dog's name, followed by "Let's walk." While your dog is walking alongside you like she should, praise her! Give her a treat, even. If she starts pulling, say your negative word/sound (I use "Eh Eh"; do not use "NO"), and turn around and start walking the other way.
So basically you take a few steps, she pulls, you say "Eh Eh", and turn back around to go the other way, and say "Fido, let's walk". She pulls. You turn around again. She takes a few steps like she should, and you praise her. She pulls, again. You say "Eh Eh " and turn around to walk the other way. If your dog is as stubborn as mine, you will feel like you're walking in circles. Be firm with her, let her know that walking is a reward in itself and you are not going to be tugged around.
Tip: Be consistent, do not let your dog out-stubborn you. You can use an Easy Walker leash or harness to reinforce what you are teaching. A regular collar and leash are not going to help you much.
It can be cute when a dog barks, but not when it's 2 AM.
When your dog barks, pay attention. Is she hungry? Scared? Does she have to potty? If everything is okay with your dog but she is still barking excessively as if she just likes to hear herself bark, try this tip.
For dogs that listen well or aren't too stubborn, a simple "Hush!" in a deep voice will stop excessive barking. This works well with my pit bull.
- Use positive reinforcement instead of focusing on the negative.
- Do not yell at your dog; do not get frustrated when training. It needs to be a positive experience. Do not laugh when your dog misbehaves.
- Do not use a choke collar. Try a leash or harness like the one above.
- Say your dog's name before each command.
- Demand your dog's attention, do not just ask for it—or you won't make it very far. Remember you are the boss. Your dog is not your equal.
- Almost completing a task is not good enough. Your dog needs to sit until you say "release," or she is not actually following your command.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.