How to Train a Stubborn Dog: From Unyielding to Obedient

Owner training a a Stubborn Dog
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Dogs are man’s best friend.” How many times have we heard this extremely common phrase and nodded in agreement? Probably more than we can keep track of! This smart and loyal species sure can provide us with immeasurable comfort and joy, and can even be trained to provide all sorts of assistance to us. But not all dogs are created equal. What do you do when your dog just won’t listen? Where can you learn how to train a stubborn dog?

The answer is: right here. To offer some insight, I will share a story about how I rescued an abandoned dog off the street a few months ago. She just would not listen! But after spending a lot of time together, she has learned to respect my commands, which has made us both so much happier.

Close-up of a Stubborn Dog

So, speaking from personal experience, I can assure you that almost all dogs can be trained. Dogs don’t always act stubborn because they are hardheaded; there could be external factors that are affecting them, or perhaps they just haven’t been trained the right way. By incorporating a training method based on mutual respect and understanding, we’re sure your stubborn dog will turn into a loyal companion in no time at all.

Read on to learn the major Do’s and Don’ts of training your stubborn dog. First, we’ll try to analyze the reason behind your dog’s stubbornness, then we’ll see if we can’t work our way around it. Let us walk you through everything you can do to enjoy good company and good manners.

Factors that May Influence the Dog’s Trainability

Why is your dog so stubborn? Some internal and external aspects may have contributed to his stubbornness:

  • Age: Pups are relatively easier to train as compared to adult dogs. But don’t worry—if you have a fully grown stubborn dog on your hands, we can teach you how to train him too!

  • Breed: Some breeds are naturally better people pleasers and are easier to train. If your dog is not included in the list, you may have to put in more time and effort to curb the stubbornness. Therefore, don’t be disheartened if you don’t see immediate results.

  • Severity: Is he being difficult during walk time? Is he not listening to even basic commands like ‘sit’ and ‘stay’? Or is he prone to ignoring every single command you give? Once we have identified the problem areas and the severity of his stubbornness, it’s easier to begin training. Which brings us to our next point.

  • Have you tried training before? If your answer is yes, then the training technique needs to be changed. If your answer is no, then what are you waiting for!

The Do’s of How to Train a Stubborn Dog

Now that we’ve gone over the basics, let’s start on what you actually need to do:

#1: Do Prioritize

If there are multiple habits that are in need of correction, you need to prioritize. Determine what matters the most to you, and get started on that. For example, you might want to master the ‘sit’ command first so that your dog stops whatever he is doing and settles down when instructed to do so.

Owner training his dog on the grass

This is probably also the easiest command to teach, and usually just takes your dog a few tries to get the hang of it. Here’s an article on how to teach your dog some basic commands.

#2: Do Get Rid of Distractions

If your dog gets distracted by toys or other things, it’s best to start the training in a neutral environment, like a mostly empty room. This will maintain your dog’s focus on you as he won’t really have anything else to get excited about. If you want to train your dog outside, we would suggest keeping him in a fenced area without any toys, or on a leash. You can build a safe outside enclosure for your dog by following the instructions in this article.

#3: Do Start Slow

Start with a few minutes of training every day. Spending too much time training your dog will most likely result in impatience and even more stubborn behavior.

Woman training a a Stubborn Dog

This is because your dog isn’t used to behaving how you want him to behave just yet, and might act out in frustration, or lose interest. This will just make things harder for you later on, even when you wish to start over.

#4: Do Focus on One Thing at a Time

Only work on one thing at a time. Like we mentioned before, if you’re working on the ‘sit’ command first, be sure to master that before you move on to any other command. You might even want to change the environment to be sure that your dog will still listen to your command no matter the setting.

Shift to a different room and try again. If your dog is still listening, add a few distractions to the surroundings like some toys or a bowl of food. If he listens despite all of that, then congratulate yourself for a job well done!

#5: Do Pay Attention to What Excites Your Dog

Every dog has a personality of his own, just like humans! Some may love a good chew toy, some may crave a lot of attention from their humans, and some just want to play in the park and enjoy the sun. Cash in on that.

Do note that you will only find the right type of rewards or toys through trial and error. You may have bought that expensive toy at the pet store, but your dog might just prefer an old ball over the new toy.

Image showing an excited dog

Remember that once you have identified what excites your dog, you can effectively use it to make him listen to you. Infrequent rewards or rewards that don’t excite your dog will negatively affect his responsiveness and the overall training. So be sure to give him a fun play session after a minor success, or simply treat him. See the next point on treats below!

#6: Do Treat Them Right

Yes, it works both ways! Treat your dog with love and care so that he or she is more motivated to please you, and also make sure that you keep a bag of treats on you at all times in the beginning. Since your stubborn dog isn’t used to behaving how you want him to, some delicious and healthy treats will definitely get his attention.

#7: Do Maintain a Positive Vibe

It’s a universal fact that dogs are excellent at sensing what you are feeling. If you emit positive emotions and stay calm, your dog will most likely stay calm as well. But if you tend to get frustrated quickly or yell at your dog for not listening, chances are he will rebel even more.

Woman training a Stubborn Dogs

So even if your dog does not listen that very first time, stay positive and keep trying. It will also do you good to keep encouraging your dog so that he ends up actually wanting to please you.

#8: Do Stay Persistent

This point isn’t just for you; it’s for everyone in the family! Whoever interacts with your dog needs to desire the same behavior from him in the same way. This means that whatever cues you use to give commands to your dog need to stay consistent with everybody.

A woman trying to walk with her Stubborn Dog

For example, you might be asking him to sit down by simply saying “sit,” but someone else in the family might be trying to make him sit down by saying “down.” Pay attention to the commands everyone is giving and have a discussion with every member of the household to stay on the same page!

This will help avoid any confusion that might be exacerbating the seemingly stubborn behavior. Maybe your dog isn’t trying to be stubborn; he just doesn’t understand so many different commands that require the same behavior!

#9: Do Try Hand Gestures

Spoken commands are well and good, but adding another cue might help improve the training process. Apart from just sensing emotions, dogs are also good at understanding body language.

You might want to try using your hand or your fingers to gesture when telling your dog to sit down. Likewise, you can hold your hand up and tell him to stay. If your dog hears and sees the command, he might find it easier to follow.

A dog paying attention to his owner

The best part about this is that once your dog has mastered these commands and understands all your chosen hand gestures, you can do away with spoken commands for the most part! For example, if you’re at the park and your dog is somewhat far away from you, you can just gesture at him, and he will know what to do as long as he can see you.

#10: Do Maintain Your Authority

It is very important to remember that dogs behave better when they can recognize authority. Your dog needs to know that you’re the alpha, and therefore, call the shots.

Routine training is the best way to establish your authority. Also, feeding time! Try to be the person in the household who puts food in the bowl. Make your dog sit down before you put the bowl down and teach him to stay in his place until you command him to start eating.

The Don’ts of How to Train a Stubborn Dog

There are a lot of Do’s for training your dog, but there are about as many Don’ts as well. Let’s have a look at them, so you know exactly what to avoid during training sessions.

#1: Don’t Overdo the Treats

We mentioned above that keeping treats on you at all times initially is important because it motivates your dog to listen to you. However, we insist that you don’t overdo the treats.

A French Bulldog lying on the floor

If your dog starts to believe that only treats deserve good behavior, then he will decide to not listen whenever he can’t see or sniff any treats on you. So keep changing the rewards to keep things interesting. A delicious treat, a pat on the head, or even just a few words of encouragement spoken in a happy tone should be motivation enough.

#2: Don’t Punish Your Dog

Negative reinforcement like punishment might seem like it’s getting you the desired result, but be wary of the fact that punishments are hard on your dog. They cause anxiety and also negatively affect the trust and bond you and your dog share.

Instead of becoming obedient, he or she might just end up becoming fearful of you. So, instead of that, choose reward-based strategies that will motivate your dog as well as improve his bond with you.

#3: Don’t Yell At Your Dog

Yelling is almost the same as punishment for some dogs. So don’t yell no matter how stubborn your dog is. Remember that positive reinforcement works much better than yelling and punishments.

A woman yelling at her dog

Again, this might also make your dog fearful of you if your body language or tone is too hostile. So keep your cool because it will really pay off later!

#4: Don’t Stop Practicing

We’re going to state a very common phrase here: “Practice makes perfect!” Make that your motto, and don’t stop practicing commands with your dog even after he has mastered them. This will just maintain his habit of listening to you no matter how much time has passed. You don’t even need to worry about time because training literally only takes a few minutes here and there. Read on below!

#5: Don’t Worry About Time

Do you have a busy job or a busy schedule that keeps you on your toes most days? Don’t worry about time constraints! Training can fit into any time slot at all.

To make your life easier, we suggest you start off by dedicating about five minutes or so to your dog first thing in the morning. Call him to you, and make him sit. You can even practice a few other commands you’ve been working on.

A black puppy playing with a toilet paper

Continue the training for another five minutes before you’re leaving for work, or stepping out, if you’re not too pressed for time. Ask family members to repeat the commands whenever they have time during the day, and to reward obedience with treats, toys, pats, or words of encouragement.

Continue before walks, before food time, during walks, or whenever else you think is possible. See, it just takes a few minutes, and it really is that simple to fit in some training time here and there!

#6: Don’t Stop the Cuddles

It is natural for us to get upset if our beloved pets don’t listen to us. But just like we don’t stop loving them despite the bad behavior, we should not stop cuddling with them either. It might just be that your dog is acting stubborn because he wants your attention, and he thinks he can get it if he doesn’t listen. So don’t change how affectionate you are towards your dog. Maybe spending more time together will bring about the positive change you’re hoping for (along with constant training, of course!).

#7: Don’t Think Every Dog Is the Same

This is something we mentioned at the very beginning: different breeds respond differently to training. If you are a proud owner of multiple dogs, you should remember that the same techniques will not always work on different dogs.

Dog shaking his paw to its owner, a blond haired woman.

This is exactly why you need to try various tactics to see which one works better for which dog. And of course, the time needed to train them will also vary, so hang in there!

#8: Don’t Repeat Commands

New dog owners usually make this very serious mistake while training their dog. They keep repeating the command even when the dog is not listening to them, which makes the dog believe that it’s okay to not listen at all.

Once your dog has developed this habit of ignoring commands or stalling, it will be very hard to break. This usually happens when the command has not yet been mastered.

image showing a Naughty Puppy

To avoid any problems, we suggest you start training with a few treats and then keep reducing the treats and increasing the praise. Once your dog learns that listening to you is what he should do, he will obey the command the very first time.

#9: Don’t Be Afraid To Express Disappointment

We have already shared that yelling and punishments are a big no-no. But disappointment isn’t the same, and it should be expressed every time your dog stalls in obeying a command you have already taught.

Owner showing disappointmen to his dog

For example, if your dog is refusing to sit as expected to and is busy doing something else, make sure you tell him ‘no’ firmly, without losing your cool. Also, maintain eye contact with your dog and move closer so that he knows you mean business. If he has learned a command before, he is more likely to obey it this way. Just be sure to give lots of praise once the command has been obeyed.

#10: Don’t Give Up, but Know When to Take a Step Back

Keep at it until your dog learns what you need from him. Giving up is never an option! Persistence is the most important factor in bringing about the change you want to see in your dog. Persistence goes hand in hand with time. The more time you can dedicate to training, the better and faster results you will enjoy.

A person training a dog

But time doesn’t mean that you continue the training in one long stretch each day. Pay attention to your dog’s body language and focus levels. If he or she starts looking or acting impatient, be sure to take a break. Carry the training in short sessions throughout the day instead of just one long stretch.

Wrap Up

Well, we’re at the end of our article! If you’ve carefully read all the points above and are willing to adopt the techniques mentioned, you will most likely be successful in transforming your stubborn dog into an obedient one.

We suggest you try out all the Do’s and Don’ts we have mentioned above. But if your dog is still not listening, or if he has the tendency to get aggressive or fearful when told to do something, we urge you to consider getting professional help.

A man training his Australian Shepherd with a clicker

Some dogs might need the firm handling of a qualified, professional trainer who can show them what’s right and wrong. Behaviorists and trainers are usually able to get to the root of the problem very quickly and know corrective strategies to change bad habits and instill obedience in dogs. Also, try talking to the veterinarian if you’re unsure about how to find help.

We hope this was helpful. Best of luck with the training! If you have a story on how you changed your dog’s stubborn ways, please share them with us! Did you achieve that by following our tips or do you have some tricks up your sleeve as well? We do hope you will let us in on them.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.