Why Dogs Don't Listen



When you drop a piece of fragrant human food on the floor—let’s say that it is a slice of perfectly prepared red meat—you can bet that your dog will come running into the room like it just won the lottery. No matter how many times you command your dog to “leave it!” your dog might keep going for the food until you’ve run out of breath. Sometimes it can feel like your dog is intentionally ignoring you, but this is almost never the case. There are several reasons why your dog might fail to listen to you, and in less obvious situations than a slice of meat falling on the ground. If you are wondering how to really get through to your dog, here are some ways to make sure that your dog is really picking up what you’re laying down.

The Root of the Behavior

Dogs don’t speak English, or any other human language, but they do speak a universal canine language. Contrary to popular belief, this language has little to do with barks and whines. Dogs communicate primarily through body language. When you give verbal commands to your dog, they may or may not register what you are commanding them to do. What will register is your body language, along with the tone with which you give the command. Consistency in these two crucial areas is critical for establishing in your dog’s mind which behavior to associate with which commands. 

Large fluctuations in your tone and body language might confuse your dog. If you feel like your dog isn’t listening to you, it is possible that they are associating your verbal command with body language that is telling them something different. Unlike humans, dogs do not problem solve when they cannot immediately figure out what you want. They genuinely want to listen and obey, and will try their best to carry out whatever command they think you are giving them. If it turns out that he problem is a behavioral issue, you might consider taking your dog to see a trainer. There are intelligence, maturity, and relationship factors that determine how a dog responds to its owner, and if the problem is your dog, then professional dog training can help.

That being said, there are many areas of your own leadership that could affect the way your dog responds to you. Dogs operate under a pack mentality. Whether you own one dog, or a whole pack, it is your responsibility to be the alpha dog. One of the largest reasons that your dog will fail to listen to you is if you are frantic or uncertain when you give them a command. Dogs respond best when you are calm and assertive, so be sure of yourself and remember that you are the alpha dog. Always praise and reward good behavior. By being sure of yourself, praising your dog for listening, and being aware of your body language, you can at least determine that the problem of listening is coming from your dog, and not from you. 

Encouraging the Behavior

You obviously want your dog to listen to you, but there are too many different factors to consider when trying to isolate a single reason why your dog might not be listening to you. Rather than trying to pin your dog’s failure to listen on one issue, start working with your dog from the ground up, trying everything you can until the command sticks. Remember to be the alpha dog, give consistent commands with body language cues, and make sure that your dog understands what you are asking it to do before assuming that your dog simply doesn’t want to listen to you. Work under the assumption that your dog wants to listen, and is trying its best to obey. 

It is possible that your dog isn’t listening simply because they are more interested in their surroundings than they are in your commands. In the case of food falling on the ground, it may be that the reward of eating the food outweighs their fear of being punished. Dogs are not perfectly obedient creatures, and there will be times when your dog simply fails to listen. It is only when the occasional slip becomes a frequent habit that you have a problem. If all else fails, take your dog in for a few private training lessons. A professional trainer may be able to identify the root of the issue, and give you solutions for fixing the problem at home. 

Other Solutions and Considerations

Sometimes, dogs who are generally good listeners go through a period of time where they seem to stop listening. This may be due to a shift in their emotional state, including trauma or significant change that they might be facing. Most dogs are overwhelmed and terrified by fireworks, earthquakes, thunder, and similar environmental events. If a new dog moves in across the street, your dog may be focused on establishing its territory instead of focused on listening to you. If your dog’s listening seems on and off, consider that your dog may sometimes have too much energy to listen to you. Try tiring your dog out before giving commands, and see if this helps in making your dog more responsive.


Now that you know a little more about the universal dog language, try communicating with your dog in a way that it will better understand. With just a little practice and positive reinforcement, your dog can be the good listener that it wants to be. Instead of barking orders at your dog, focus on associating a consistent tone and body language with your commands. Once you master your alpha presence and command style, your dog will be sitting, shaking, and rolling over in no time.