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Most dog owners have experienced those frustrating moments when, despite all the training and practice, their dog simply doesn’t listen to them. As you and your puppy get to know each other, it’s important to remember that listening is a two-way-street: he’s learning what you expect just as you’re learning to tune into his signals. Don’t give up! We have some guidelines to help you and your pup communicate effectively.

Practice With Your Puppy

It’s possible that he hasn’t completely mastered a skill or command. Get back to basics and practice, practice, practice. If you’re teaching him to stay, for example, train in different environments such as the house, the yard, at the park. Be patient and consistent until you think he really gets it. Some commands, like “come,” can be life-saving if, for instance, he’s about to chase a squirrel onto a busy road. Reward him lavishly every time he gets it right.

Alternatives to Punishment

Punitive or harsh training will damage the bond you’re building with your puppy. Remember that you’re teaching him cues for the puppy behavior you want. Correct him gently and appropriately, when needed, and reward him for responding correctly with praise and/or treats.

cocker spaniel
Photo courtesy of Diane Donnelly, AKC Breeder of Merit


Know the Breed

Teaching a sight hound or terrier, for example, to sit-stay as a rabbit runs across the yard will take extra practice and patience. Learning about your dog’s breed will help make things easier.

Pay Attention to What Your Puppy Is Feeling

Strong emotions can get in the way of training and practice. For instance, if your dog is fearful of something in the environment, like loud noises or another dog, self-preservation instincts kick in, and he’s less capable of more complex thinking.

For a dog, listening has more to do with reading your body language and understanding physical cues than it does with verbal language. He’s hearing words and human speech all day long, and it may be hard to separate out the command from the rest of it. Think of how the parents and other adults sound in the “Peanuts” movies — like an indistinguishable yammering. That’s similar to what your dog hears. Dogs communicate with each other by reading posture and body language, and your dog is adept at reading yours, as well. So use very clear cues, not only a word, but also a specific tone of voice and a physical gesture.
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