Tag Archives: stubborn dogs

Picture of a brindle French Bulldog sitting in the sun to illustrate Your Dog's Not Stubborn

Dogs Are Not Stubborn

When people describe their dogs, almost all will include the word “stubborn” in their dog’s story. We hear it all the time. But when we ask for an example, most people will tell us a story where the dog is either uncertain, or unmotivated. Your dog’s not stubborn. It’s really not a dog thing. 

If your dog isn’t doing what you want them to do when you want them to do it, that’s not stubborn. Your dog is telling you either they don’t understand what you want, or you haven’t given them a good reason to do it.

The most rewarding thing

Dogs always do the thing that’s most rewarding to them. The tricky part for people is figuring out what that is. Because you don’t get to decide how valuable anything is to your dog. Just like people, dogs have their own opinions, tastes, and preferences.

Picture of a brindle French Bulldog sitting in the sun to illustrate Dogs Aren't Stubborn

Two of our dogs scour the yard searching for rabbit poop to consume. We hate that. It’s completely disgusting. But to get them to stop, we have to offer something better. Fortunately, Chicken Heart Treats are better than bunny pellets. So when we know there’s a rabbit spending time in our yard, our treat pouches are full of high-value treats. There are times when our usual Cheerios and Kibble mix won’t do.

That’s an instance where the fix is pretty easy. Could we have said our dogs were being “stubborn” about not coming inside? Or “stubbornly” doing something we’ve told them not to? Sure. But they’re not actually being stubborn. They’re being dogs.

Just don’t get it

The other situation we hear about is when the dog either “ignores” a command, or disengages and walks away. Most people describe these as being stubborn.

But it’s not. Both of those are clear indicators that your dog doesn’t understand what it’s supposed to do. And it happens to everybody. You think your dog knows something, but they’re either not sure, or the situation is different.

We see this most often in our beginner classes. People think their dogs know something, like “Sit!”, and yet when they’re asked to do it, they don’t. 

One of the quirks in the way dogs think is that they don’t generalize. That means they can’t easily transition learning to different circumstances. People are wired to generalize. For example – when a person learns how to use a fork, they can use any fork. No matter what it looks like, what it’s made of, or where they are. Dogs can’t naturally do that. If you teach your dog to “Sit!” in the kitchen, with a treat in your hand, standing in front of the dog, that’s how your dog knows sit. To have your dog broaden their understanding of “Sit!” you have to teach it in other places, standing beside the dog, without a treat, etc. Dogs can be taught to generalize, but it’s not part of their default settings. 

Dogs are not stubborn

Putting a label like “stubborn” on your dog colors how you treat them. And what you expect from them. 

Try looking at the situation from your dog’s perspective and see how it changes things. If your dog is doing something they find incredibly fun, what can you do to make your choice more attractive? If your dog isn’t doing something you ask, take a couple of minutes and a handful of treats to reinforce the behavior you want. 

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Labeling your dog

Just like attaching a sad backstory is limiting, so is labeling your dog. Do you call your dog a “jerk?” Or any other negative label; idiot, bully, stinker, a**hole? Even labels like “stubborn” or “spiteful” can hurt your relationship with your dog. 

Labeling dogs limits them. French Bulldog Torque clearly is enjoying obedience training.

Even a little puppy, slapped with a label, will live up, or down, to your expectations. For example, dogs like Bulldogs, including French Bulldogs like Hope’s Torque, are often labeled “difficult to train,” “stubborn,” or even “lazy” and/or “stupid.”

While Torque doesn’t love doing “drills,” he does love training and his skill at different training games is pretty amazing. He learns quickly and loves playing. He doesn’t love doing the same thing over and over.

Dog labels that matter

We’re suckers for “Top 10” lists and as click-bait, it pretty much works every time. Even when we know the list is going to be nonsense. Like the lists of “10 Smartest Dog Breeds.” It all depends on your definition of “smart.” 

If smart means “obedient” you are probably looking at Golden Retrievers and Border Collies.

If smart means able to solve problems – those aren’t the first dogs that come to mind. Those breeds would include most terriers (including Yorkies), and even Dachshunds. These are dogs whose original job was to figure out how to find and eliminate the pests plaguing their environment.

Smart could also include dogs who know how to manipulate their people to fulfill their every desire. This would probably include every companion dog sharing our homes. Dogs are excellent at learning how to get what they want – whether that’s physical comforts or psychological support.

Don’t call them names

If you think your dog is “spiteful” because he/she eliminated in your space, or stole your shoe when you left, you’re wrong. That’s labeling your dog. It’s much more likely your dog was distressed and suffering pangs of anxiety. When you address the dog’s separation anxiety, the behavior will go away.

Most “naughty” behaviors don’t happen for the reasons people think. People think dogs are “sneaky” when they poop behind the couch where you can’t see it. Not true. The dog has learned that when it’s found, they get in trouble. It’s the finding that gets them in trouble, not the act itself. That dog doesn’t understand potty training and needs to go back to step one.

Dogs who raid the garbage can don’t do it to aggravate you. They know that yummy things are in there. The act of raiding the garbage is self-rewarding, so it happens again. A fundamental of dog training is “What gets rewarded, gets repeated.” Whether the reward comes from you or circumstances, it’s still what the dog wants.

Think about the why

Rather than call your dog a name, adjust how you think about the behavior. Why do you suppose the dog acted as they did? And what can you do about it? Labels don’t help. Unless, of course, the label is “good dog!”