Is my dog stubborn?

Is my dog stubborn?

Is a question I get asked regularly and my answer is always the same.


Not at all.

I know some people will find this hard to believe but “stubborn” is a human trait and a label that we use to describe our dogs.


Stubborn is defined as, “Having or showing dogged determination to do what one wants, and being unwilling to change one’s mind even in spite of good reasons to do so." So in dog owner terms, the dog is not behaving in a way that we desire or want. This can cause embarrassment, anger, and frustration.

Now labels can be dangerous because when we label something we don’t see everything else that may be causing them to behave in this way. It may look like stubbornness but we need to actually understand the why and look at the bigger picture.


A dog that is coming off as stubborn could actually be

1. Unmotivated, the reward is not high enough

2. There has not been enough training or practice

3. The environment is too overwhelming or too distracting

Some other influencing factors could be lack of sleep and rest, if they are in pain, stressed, fearful, anxious, lack of reinforcement history, previous traumatic experience, genetics, or instinct.


As you can see there are many underlying factors that can be causing your dogs “stubbornness”

All dogs learn via consequences. If something is good they will continue to do that, if something is bad they will stop doing that. Also, like any animal, they need the motivation to do behaviors, whether this is praise, a treat, a toy, etc.

As humans, we can sometimes have the mentality that the dog has done it before so it should do it again, or that the dog should do it because they said so. Neither of these will lead to the results that you want. In fact, what it will lead often to is frustration.


Let look at an example

How about when my dog doesn’t come when called, and the reasons why?

  • They may have practiced being off lead when there are more valuable things
  • Waiting to get chased by the pet parents or another dog
  • Previously learned behaviours of running off at that park
  • The reward you hold is not valuable enough
  • The environment is more valuable to the dog than you
  • You don’t have enough engagement/reinforcement history with the dog
  • The environment is too distracting/overstimulating


If this is something you are struggling with think of these questions, then go back to basics.

If you get on board and stay very consistent with rewarding behaviors, your dog will appear to be “stubborn” less and less. This will lead to less of a power struggle and embarrassment.

Next time you think to label your dog as being “stubborn” rephrase it, and ask how can you help your dog in that situation.

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