Is Your Dog Stubborn? Or Misunderstood?

Do you ever feel that your dog is being stubborn? I hear it all the time – ‘My dog is stubborn on walks,’ ‘my dog knows this, they’re just being stubborn,’ or ‘my dog is stubborn and won’t listen.’

But here’s the truth…. Your dog isn’t being stubborn. 

They either don’t understand what is being asked of them OR they’re swamped with all the feels and aren’t cognitively capable of learning or responding to a cue in that state.


5 steps to discovering what’s beneath your dog’s stubborn behaviour


In this blog, we’re going to explore how you can make sense of your ‘stubborn’ dog’s behaviour, and understand why they’re really struggling to do as they’re asked.


1. Does your dog understand what you’re asking? 

The first thing to establish is whether your dog truly understands what’s being asked of them. Often we teach a dog a new behaviour and we stop our training way before the dog has truly processed and refined their understanding of the cue. 

For example, perhaps your dog can sit instantly on cue in a quiet environment, with you standing directly in front of them with a treat in your hand. 

But have you progressed your training so that your dog has developed the ability to do this with distractions around them? Or with you standing a little farther away from them? 

The proof is in the pudding! Or rather the proofing is!

Proofing in dog training relates to practising and slowly increasing the difficulty level of what you’re teaching your dog. You introduce either distractions, distance or train your dog to hold the behaviour for a longer duration. 

For example, if you’re training your dog to come when called, you start in an easy quiet environment with no distractions. But you can’t stop there! Once your dog has mastered their recall away from distractions, you slowly progress to trickier situations so your dog eventually has a fantastic recall in any situation. 

2. Is your dog overexcited, scared or frustrated?  

Ok, so once you’ve evaluated that your dog DOES understand what you’re asking, we need to consider their emotional state. 

If your dog is unable to listen, then it may be that they’re in a state of excitement, fear, or frustration.

A dog cannot learn when they’re in a heightened state of arousal. It’s cognitively not possible. Your dog isn’t being stubborn, they’re struggling. 

Distance is your friend here. Give your dog space from whatever is getting them worked up, so you can begin to help them decompress. Then, they will be ready to learn. 

3. Become fluent in dog body language

Learning the subtle signs that your dog is becoming stressed, fearful or overexcited can help you prevent your dog from tipping over into a heightened state of arousal. 

In my reactive dog training programme, we not only explore dog body language in detail but I equip you with games and techniques you can use to keep your dog calm even around things that might get them in a spin. 

If you’d like to learn more, sign up for my 3 day training for reactive dogs here. It’s free! 

4. Check your own emotions

Dogs are often very in tune with their humans. So if you’re feeling stressed, frustrated in the moment, your dog’s emotional state may become heightened too. 

A good tip here is to keep your training sessions short and pressure free, so that neither you or your dog is getting frustrated or stressed when training together. You’ll enjoy your time spent training so much more and see much faster results when you take the pressure off. 

5. Is your dog misbehaving for attention?

Another thing I hear a lot from dog guardians is that they feel their dog may be misbehaving for attention. 

Now, I’m not entirely ruling this out. Your dog could potentially be misbehaving for attention or because they’re bored. But the crucial things to consider here are:

  1. Has your dog had adequate mental and physical stimulation?
  2. Has your dog been trained and reinforced for settling and calm behaviour? 
  3. Is your dog in a heightened state of arousal? 

Behaviour is information… even behaviour that may frustrate us humans. If your dog is ‘misbehaving’ then we need to understand why. 

Have they been given a lot of attention for this behaviour? Have you taught them and rewarded them for what you’d like them to do instead?

Telling your dog off or ignoring them won’t fix this behaviour, they need your support and guidance to learn what to do instead.  

Get help from a professional dog trainer

Has that helped? Or are you still struggling to make sense of your dog’s seemingly stubborn behaviour? 

Working with a professional dog trainer can help get you unstuck, so that you can get to the root of what’s driving your dog’s behaviour. 

I offer private dog training and can help you not only make sense of your dog’s confusing behaviour, but transform it. 

Breathe a deep sigh of relief – things are about to get A LOT better

Learn more about private training with me


Tasha Shaw-Verbic

Hi, I’m Tasha! I’m the owner here at Fearless Tails, and I have the pleasure of helping dedicated dog guardians transform challenges with their dogs into behaviour they can be proud of. I have a soft spot for the misunderstood, anxious, fearlful dogs. 

Certifications include Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP) and certified Separation Anxiety Professional (SAPT), with a background in adult education.

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