We have a… joke? saying?… for this mode Cooper gets in. He totally blacks out. He won’t listen. He won’t calm down. He won’t stop. He won’t come or sit or stay.
He. just. won’t.
We say (in his voice, of course), “Cooper isn’t here right now. Please leave a message, and he’ll get back to you when his brain returns.”
We joke, we have to joke, because it is so incredibly frustrating.
Like, when another dog has the audacity to stop to go to the bathroom in our yard. Or when our friend’s kid comes over who he loves more than anyone and they start playing chase and all of a sudden nothing in the world exists except this kiddo. Or when the neighbors tie up their giant hound dog in the front yard and he barks and barks and barks and barks and barks…
Wait. I agree with that last one, actually.
Anyway, when Coop is blacked-out-not-listening, there’s literally nothing to do except clip his leash and remove him from the situation.
Truly, I think that’s a good rule for any dog who’s just gonzo. Clip on the leash and walk away.
But what about those other times? The times when you’re working on something or out and about and your dog looks at you and then… decides to ignore you? You know he knows the cue. You know he’s physically capable of hearing you. And yet.
So, what do you do when your dog won’t listen?
- Assess whether he really, honestly, wholly knows how to do what you’re asking him to do. This is super-duper important. Sometimes we make assumptions about skills or knowledge. “Why won’t he jump up on this bench? We practice it all the time at the bus stop, and he KNOWS it!” Are you in a new park? A different street? Is one bench concrete and another wood? Since dogs don’t generalize well and people do, we sometimes assume they’re more knowledgeable than they are. So, step 1: Does your dog really know what you’re asking him?
- If the answer to 1 is YES, then the next step is to, first, take a big, deep, calming breath because it’s really annoying when your pup won’t listen, I know! Then, redirect. Your dog is refusing to sit? Ask for a down, and reward when he does it. Ask for a shake, and reward. Refocus your pup into work + reward mode and away from the refusal. Then, after a few distracting behaviors, ask again for what you initially wanted.
- If he STILL won’t sit/up/whatever, time to acknowledge that everyone has their limits, and your dog might’ve reached his. End the session. Toss a ball. Do something fun. Or clip on his leash and walk away. Just like among elementary school students, the reasons for ceasing to listen can vary but are usually specific: don’t understand, bored, frustrated, distracted, tired, hungry… etc. As the human end of the leash, it’s up to us to acknowledge that and to stop pushing. Move on. Tomorrow’s another day.
All that said, there’s one big caveat to this: if your dog’s safety is in danger.
If your dog is barreling toward a busy street and refusing to come when called, or if he’s heading toward a pup you can tell is itching for a fight, or picking up a chicken bone or used condom (true stories, Emmett did all those and more at our park in DC!), you might have to shout. Flail your arms. Fall to the ground. Whatever it takes to distract and disengage your pup from the danger. The advice above is more for general around-the-house or training-session assholery.
By the way, I have a TON to share about Ripley and how all that’s going, and this post ties into that directly because for a while Cooper was so fixated on Rip that he would. not. listen. Not to a single word. So, I took my own advice, starting with clipping his leash to his collar. More on that another day…
I’d LOVE to hear what you do when your dog stops listening? I mean, other than quietly seethe about what a jerk he’s being… or is that just me? What are your tips and tricks to regaining focus?