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How to Train Stubborn Dogs and Strong-Willed Puppies

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Learn some strategies for training the strong-willed dog.

Learn some strategies for training the strong-willed dog.

Training Tips for Stubborn Dogs That Just Won't Listen

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.

Basic Dog Obedience Techniques

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
  • Refraining from barking
Does your hardheaded dog seem impossible to train? Be patient, and try some of these techniques.

Does your hardheaded dog seem impossible to train? Be patient, and try some of these techniques.

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.

How to Use the Jackpot Method

  1. 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.
  2. 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."
  3. Let your dog see and smell this handful of treats.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Create a Feeding and Watering Schedule to Anticipate Potty Needs

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.

Continue Using the Jackpot

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. Sitting (and Staying)

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.

The "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.

The "Sit" Command

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. Walking on a Leash

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.


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.

4. Refraining From Barking

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.

The "Hush" Command

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.

More Tips

  • 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.

Further Advice on Dog Training

  • Using Jackpots of Treats in Dog Training
    Using jackpots in dog training: good idea or useless? We'll take a critical look at different definitions, their efficacy and their effects on behavior through studies and what experts say.
  • 6 Basic Commands All Dogs Should Know
    These are not the tricks that will impress your friends and neighbors, such as rolling over or giving kisses on request. Rather, what we'll cover here are vital everyday commands that may even turn out to be lifesavers, given the right circumstances.
  • How to Manage Barking by Training Your Dog to Bark on Command
    This article will give you instructions on how to teach your dog to bark on command, which is the best way to train him to stop barking excessively. Find out why teaching a dog when to bark also teaches him when to stop.

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.

What Was the Toughest Part About Training Your Dog?

Mervin Suamy on February 28, 2019:

No matter what i do my 3 months puppy still poop in house, even after a long walk n he wont either?

Jean on October 03, 2018:

My puppy is is about 18 weeks old, has no concentration to potty. She can be outside for an hour and still pee in the house,right after she comes in.


BrookieNO on June 16, 2017:

She's 11 and she pulls a lot.... I can't get her to stop I used the method searched up others but SHE WONT STOP PULLING, I feel like she is walking me all the time because she goes in front of me and acts like she's in charge... WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Charle Ts on August 26, 2016:

Thanks! We have tried it all and the EZHarness by DEXDOG has been great help also!

Jeroen van Broekhoven on June 19, 2016:

I will try the Tree method!! My 8 month old Aussie/Keeshond mix pulls every frickin time when we go for a walk. She doesn't bark at noises, only when the door opens and after that she's all happy and welcoming.

Ashley Isham on April 14, 2016:

I have 2 dogs so this might help a lot for me. My two dogs keep chewing on stuff in my house.

Why We Wag on December 30, 2015:

These are very helpful tips. Thanks for sharing.

Zachrichardson on July 01, 2015:

I've used this method for training my service dog. Positive has always worked better for me than negative reenforcing behavior. Great article. I hope to see more like it.

Thomas C on May 12, 2015:

Its really nice having this article with great content and really download this as it will be helpful to my friends as well.

More Great and Related samples at:

Gloria on December 27, 2014:

mine is a very high strung schnauzer, she's very head strong and don't like to mind. Back in the summer we walked every day, she's a service dog protects my husband and I , but I'm worn out from her pulling and seems to want to get there first. I'll try the tree I've tried everything even took her to classes. Thanks for any help!!!

anonymous on July 27, 2013:

When my dog doesn't want to do something, she digs in and won't even take a hot dog. She has shown aggressive tendencies and bit me recently so now I am afraid to grab her lead.

anonymous on January 23, 2013:

@anonymous: but how do you train the dog only bark at the strangers? i want my dog to bark at danger but not at the horses next door!!

Masterdevin123 on January 03, 2013:

Great lens! You should compare it to my dog training lens...

JenniferDCo on January 02, 2013:

These are great tips for my pound pup, thanks

Englishmastiffe on January 01, 2013:

I like the Martingale collars. They tend to work best for my dogs and like you mentioned they are a lot safer then the choke collars. The hardest part for me is the sheer size of my dogs.

anonymous on November 09, 2012:

Adopted from the pound with the intent to be a form of therapy and 4 legged friend. At 5 months old, we sit and are working on "down" (lay). Potty training with a crate has been frustrating. I will work on being more scheduled. Wish me luck. Stay strong guys... ;-)

Knuckledown LM on November 04, 2012:

Great lens...come and see my called Bulldog Lovers

spids lm on November 01, 2012:

great lens love this!

anonymous on October 23, 2012:

Potty Training has been a nightmare with this pooch! I thought training my pitbull was hard but oooohhhh no. He does really good than he just decides my living room is a toilet. He will go potty outside and then come in and go some more! I have no idea what to do. He is getting neutered soon, hopefully that helps.

anonymous on September 13, 2012:

the hardest part i knew was teaching her how to sit.... i followed the intructions on some websites but she doesn't sit... she stands inteads even the treat is just right above her nose, not too high..... she doesn't even sit naturally, i don't know why... she only knows one trick, stand.... hope this can help, haven't tried to do the instructions, maybe i'll try tomorrow...

anonymous on September 04, 2012:

EmmaLee Rose walks and walks and walks, even in the morning after a "dry" night before she pees. When I give her a treat after doing "potty outside," she drops it and goes on her way. When she gets her treat in the house, she eats it immediately. We have her in diapers in the house until she has us trained !!

anonymous on August 08, 2012:

Sarah loves to go for walks,as she brings us our runner's and even her leash, but once we get out she starts pulling. She can walk proper when she wants to. Sarah is now over 50 pounds and getting a lot stronger, i would love for her to not pull as will make our outing more fun. any comments i would appreciate.

BowWowBear on June 20, 2012:

Some good positive reinforcement techniques here. thanks.

vdanker on April 23, 2012:

I adopted a dog from the Humane Society. She was used to being free to roam outside and is still getting used to a walking leash. She is making progress, and the tips offered here will help.

anonymous on April 15, 2012:

Thank you so much for the leash training tips! Just what I was looking for! :)

dbrichards94 on March 30, 2012:

Great lens, will be putting some of these tips into action tomorrow to sort my petulant pup out!

aquarian_insight on March 28, 2012:

I think the toughest part with our German Shepherd was that he pulled when he walked. A great lens, with great advice and tips.

parmaggie on March 28, 2012:

thanks, great lens. My Makenna always pulls. I've tried the "gentle leader" leash and now have a harness, but she still pulls. She is high energy!!!! I love her dearly but I wish she'd be a good walker. We walk every day.

knit1tat2 on March 26, 2012:

The time when I first got him, I work and am living alone, so no one to help with the early training!

VeseliDan on March 25, 2012:

Thanks for these advices! I think that toughest part is potty training!

Barkely on March 23, 2012:

Great tips! I get soooo aggravated with my dog when she won't stop barking at the neighbors!

anonymous on March 22, 2012:

I haven't started, but I need too!

anonymous on March 22, 2012:

When I get a dog I will remember this help, thanks!

anonymous on March 22, 2012:

The insaine barking drives me nuts. Every time my dogs hear someone outside the house they bark which i guess should be a good thing incase it ever were an emergency but 90% of the time its over nothing.

DianeNassy on March 22, 2012:

I don't have any dogs, but these all sound like great tips!

anonymous on March 22, 2012:

The hardest part for us was the barking. She wanted to bark at every opossum, raccoon and stray cat that walked past. It took a few days, but eventually she didn't bark unless they came into our yard.