How do I get my dog to listen to me?

You are at the dog park with your teenage dog who is happily socialising with their doggy friends. When it is time for you to go home, you call your dog, and they happily continue playing with their friends. In this situation, we often get frustrated and question why my dog doesn’t “listen” to me.

When we say, that a dog doesn’t “listen”, in most cases, we are not saying that the dog has a hearing impairment. What we really mean is that our dog is not able to respond to our cues (spoken or not), in that moment.

Why don’t dogs listen?

There are two key reasons that the dog may not respond (but they are not the only ones!)

1. Skills

2. Environment


For you to reasonably expect your dog to respond to a verbal cue like “Sit” or a hand signal, then the dog must have had many, many highly rewarded repetitions of performing the skill. If the dog is not clear what your cues means, then they can’t be expected to respond to them with confidence. Rewarding the dog for successful performance of a skill like “sit” or “come” in response to your cue builds a valuable reinforcement history. A strong reinforcement history, increases the likelihood of the dog successfully performing the skill in the future.

Skills training is not all about the dog. As handlers, it is our responsibility to deliver the verbal cue or a hand signal the same way EVERY time. If sometimes we say “Sit” and sometimes we say “Sit down” or “Sit Sit Sit Sit”, then it is unreasonable to expect the dog to know what is required of them.

When teaching skills, it is advisable to limit any environmental factors, as much as possible. When starting out, train in a quiet, small and relatively sterile space – like the bathroom or laundry. In these spaces, there is very little for the dog to look at, smell or hear, so they can devote their energy to learning a skill.


The second reason that dogs may not respond to us is that we have not trained them to perform a skill in a particular environment. If we return to the dog park example above, how many successful repetitions has the young dog had of coming when called around many other dogs and people in the dog park?
When we start teaching a skill, we limit distractions. Once the dog is proficient in the skill, then we need to slowly and methodically introduce distractions so the dog learns to perform the skill in the presence of mild distractions initially. As the dog’s understanding of the skill increases, we increase the level of distraction.

In the case of the young dog coming when called at the dog park, some initial training progressions may include:

  • In the house where they can see you
  • In the house where they can’t see you (cover your face or hide in another room)
  • In the yard where they can see you
  • In the yard where they can’t see you
  • In the yard past their toys
  • In the yard past an empty food bowl
  • In the yard past a food bowl with a few treats in it

And so on until your dog is proficient with a recall under more intense distractions.

How can Teamwork Dogs help me get my dog to listen?

Teamwork Dogs’ Puppy 2 and Foundation courses are designed to teach dogs and handlers basic skills. These courses guide handlers on using consistent verbal cues and hand signals for skills like sit, drop, come, stay, and walking on lead. Handlers are encouraged to take the class exercises and continue skills training at home in a distraction free setting.

Over the duration of these courses, with many highly rewarded repetitions, dogs become proficient at successfully performing with some distractions like other dogs in class and training outdoors.

After completing the Foundation course, some people want a dog that can respond to them under greater distractions. For these people, Teamwork Dogs offers a Reliability & Stability class. In this class, handlers can test their dog’s understanding and ability to perform with increased distractions including:

  • Larger groups of dogs often moving quickly, erratically and in closer proximity than in the Foundation course.
  • Continually changing group of dogs and people. This class is offered on a casual basis, so there are different people and dogs every week.
  • Introduction of “props” that can change the “picture” of a skill for the dog. For example, can the dog go around a cone and then come when you call? Can the dog go to their mat after going over a jump?
  • Introduction of novel sounds, surfaces, objects and obstacles. For example, can the dog hold a sit stay while a ball is rolled past or when there is a squeaky toy? Can the dog still do loose lead walking past another dog, food on the ground or over a different surface?
  • Working off lead. Dogs work differently when they are not on lead, so in this class, dogs that are ready, have the opportunity to build to off lead reliability.

Here are more reasons to join in the Reliability and Stability class.

Teamwork Dogs offers group classes for puppies, adolescent and adult dogs at Taigum on Saturday mornings and Caboolture on Sunday mornings. For course intakes please see:

Happy training!

Image by Steve Lancaster from Pixabay