Why do I have such a disobedient dog!?

Many of the enquiries I receive come from owners wanting to stop their dog from being disobedient – and why wouldn’t they!?  Who wants to put up with any of this:

  • Dog running off with things they shouldn’t have
  • Repeatedly jumping up on the bed or sofa
  • Dogs stealing food
  • Dogs not coming in from the garden when they are asked
  • Dogs repeatly jumping up at you (especially, big heavy dogs)
  • Dogs humping your guests
  • Dogs toiletting in the house
  • Dogs refusing to come back when called on the walk

This list could go on and on as there are so many behaviours we could describe as disobedience… but the question is “Why do they do it?”

disobedient dogs on table

Why are dogs disobedient?

The simple answer is because they don’t think that there is anything wrong with what they are doing, and – even worse – they don’t consider you to be someone that they need to take instructions from (sorry to be the bearer of this news).  In fact, they can think of a good reason for doing each of the behaviours I’ve listed above. They aren’t just “being naughty”! Here goes…

Dogs running off with things they shouldn’t have

Your dog is trying to engage you in a game on their terms.  The thing they’ve picked up is the trophy, so they are using the game to prove to themselves and you that they are the smartest member of the pack.

You deal with this simply by not getting drawn into it.  Either ignore it, or very calmly approach your dog to slowly retrieve it.  Do not follow if they run off.  A Benny Hill style chase will not give you much kudos in their eyes.

Repeatedly jumping on the bed or sofa

If your dog is jumping up on the bed or sofa on their terms, then they are intentionally raising their height, and therefore their status (think “I’m the King of the Castle!“).  They may also be doing this to seek attention on their terms (if your response is to tell them to get down). Either way, it’s to prove their leadership.  You must just calmly put them back down again every time they do it, without making eye contact.  Don’t tell them “off” or “no”, as they get the attention they want if you do, and the behaviour will always continue.

Some, like clever Wally (pictured) like to wait until no one is looking – only to be “busted” later!

disobedient dog on bed

Stealing food

Dogs are opportunist eaters, and food left unguarded is fair game to even the best behaved dog.  However if your dog is whipping food out of people’s hands or taking it from the counter when you are in the same room, then he or she thinks that they are in charge of the pack, and therefore they should “own” the food, and they will want to eat on their terms.  So they are stealing food from you to make this point.

To deal with this disobedience in the short term, try to avoid situations where your dog is able to do this, e.g. have them out of the room if a child is eating.  Long term you will need to work on them understanding that you are the boss, not them!  More on this later.

Bin raiding is just another type of food stealing!

disobedient dog bin raider

Not coming in from the garden when called

There could be 2 forces at play here.  One is that your dog may think that the garden is under threat, so wants to stay out there to protect the pack – (as a leader would do). And/Or he/she may have noticed that this is quite a good way to get you to lose some status – if they don’t do what you ask, and then you end up asking them again and again and then chasing them around the garden.  Think rebellious teenager trying to get a rise out of their teacher.  You need to be the teacher that commands respect, not the one that crumbles at the first hurdle.

This disobedient dog needs its bluff calling.  So just call your dog once, and if they don’t come in, shut the door and leave it shut for a good 10 minutes before trying again.

Jumping up at you

Again this is about raising height and raising status.  Just like with the sofa or bed, just very calmly push your dog back down without giving them any attention.  If you want an obedient dog, your dog needs to earn your attention by behaving well (i.e. relaxing and waiting to be called over for fuss, rather than demanding it by jumping up.)

Humping your guests (cringe)

“Humping” is a dominant gesture. Only the Alpha of the pack would breed, so this is your dogs way of saying “I’m the Alpha, if anyone was doing the breeding around here, it would be me, before you go getting any ideas above your station”.  A dog may hump whether they are male or female, neutered or not – so a quick visit to the vet is not the answer to resolve this behaviour.  Calmly push your dog away, if they don’t get the message and come back for more, then gently remove them from the room without saying anything, and give them a “time out” for a couple of minutes. Repeat for slightly longer if they do exactly the same when they return.

Toileting in the house

There are lots of different types of toileting, and I’ve got a blog which goes into detail about why your dog may be doing this.

Article about toileting in the house

It is more often than not a behaviour linked to them thinking that they are in charge (are you noticing the theme yet?), so this is resolved by teaching them that they are not.

Poor recall on the walk

Finally, if your dog won’t come back to you on the walk is not because they are thinking “Ha ha, this will really wind you up!” – though I appreciate that having a disobdient dog can very much feel like that!  The reality is that (once again) they feel like they are in charge and responsible, and whatever they are doing (following a scent, getting to know another dog, cooling down in some water) is important to them, so they feel it makes more sense to get on with that, rather than return to you.  After all, they know where you are, they can hear your voice!

good recall for your dog
Dog exercising through recall training.

How to improve this, is to call once whilst moving away from them – forcing them to realise that the pack are going a different direction.  However, I would do a lot more work at a foundation level than this, helping them to understand that they aren’t in charge, as recall is a real safety issue.  You can buy yourself a long lunge lead to help with your recall training.

The moral of the story

Hopefully I’m pointing out the blindingly obvious by now: Dog disobedience is directly related to your dog thinking that it might be in charge/responsible/the Alpha/the leader or however else you can explain being at the top of the pack.  To improve their behaviour, you can follow the advice I’ve given above, but this is only treating one symptom at a time, really you need to address the root cause.  To do that you can read “the Dog Listener” by Jan Fennell, or give me a call.  I am based in Leigh on Sea and cover Essex, including Southend, Basildon, Chelmsford, Brentwood, Colchester etc.  And I can help with any dog behaviour problem and the vast majority of dog training needs (I don’t do any of that really fancy stuff; dancing, agility and that).  All my help is 121, done in home, and comes with back up support for life!

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