I am not stubborn

How many times have you heard it, or thought it…

”my dog is so stubborn”


-won’t come in when it’s time

-won’t stop barking at other dogs

-doesn’t want to get up to go pee before bed when he’s sleeping on the couch and comfortable

-doesn’t want to stop playing ball 

-doesn’t like to be groomed 

Stubbornness is a human trait that we project onto our dogs to explain, what is usually a lack of communication, training, or understanding of how they learn, or their emotional state. 

Instead of calling your dog stubborn ask yourself the following questions:

-Have you and your dog ever practiced the behavior you are asking for? Keep in mind that added distractions all need to be practiced around. 

-What’s your reinforcement history? Does calling him in often result in him chasing a deer or squirrel instead (reinforcement for not coming to you) or always end his fun? What’s the ratio of you practicing, and reinforcing successful recalls in the yard vs. environmental reinforcement for not coming to you or the recall ending fun? 

-Are you communicating clearly? How many times are you saying your cue? Have you been using your marker and release words while training? Have you been reinforcing the behavior? If your dog doesn’t understand your method of communication should that be labeled “stubborn”?

-What’s your dog’s emotional state? Are they stressed, anxious, uncomfortable, overstimulated? Can we expect “perfect” behavior from any dog, or human, under these circumstances?

A dog who won’t come inside, to the fun ending, but chooses to stay in the yard to sniff, chase, roll, play, etc., is no less stubborn than the human who takes the job that pays them $250 an hour instead of the one that pays $75 an hour. 

A dog who won’t stop barking at other dogs may  feel stressed/anxious or even overstimulated around other dogs and is no different than a person who is spread a little thin and gets a little snippy with someone who asks them a simple question. 

-A dog who doesn’t want to get up to pee when they are comfy on the couch is no different than a person hitting the snooze button in the morning. 

-A dog who doesn’t want to stop playing ball is no different than a human who stays up late to finish their Netflix binge even though they should get some sleep. It’s more fun to Netflix. 

-A dog who doesn’t like to be groomed is no different that a human who hates going to the dentist. Oh wait, that’s me 😁

So, here’s your challenge…change your perspective. 

Instead of labelling your dog stubborn:

-immerse yourself in learning theory so that you understand behavior, reinforcement, and how your dog learns. Take a training class to teach and solidify those behaviors. 

-become a dog body language expert so you can understand your dogs emotional state. 

-practice recalling and then letting your dog go back to what they were doing so that 99% if your recalls are for practice instead of just to end fun and be aware of environmental reinforcers that can hinder your progress.

-work on changing your dog’s emotional response when seeing other dogs. 

-have compassion that everyone deserves the right to not want to get up when they are comfy.

-make sure that your dog is getting enough mental stimulation so that their needs are met and that game of fetch ending makes some fun enrichment happen.

-learn about cooperative care techniques to make grooming a wonderful experience for your dog. 

Once you shift your mindset from one of placing blame on the dog and labeling them as stubborn to one where you understand and empathize with your dog, and help them do better, the pieces will fall into place and the relationship that you have with your dog will become something even more amazing. 

Sara Sokol is owner of Mr. Dog Training in Maine; A positive reinforcement dog training facility, offering both virtual and in person classes, that has been voted best training in Maine for 8 years in a row.

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