Why Don’t Dogs Listen? by Katelyn Schutz, CPDT
Ever wonder if there's a reason your dog seems to constantly ignore your commands? Curious why your pooch never seems to be listening to you? Wondering how to better get your pup's attention?
This is a very loaded topic, as many dogs do not listen because of the training style (or lack thereof) implemented by the human. However, this blog is not about training particularly, but rather about WHY dogs tend not to listen to us, as much as they may watch or smell us.
Dogs and humans communicate very differently. We have a developed and complex language of words. More commonly, a human will rely on the conversation of words to gather how someone is feeling, rather than paying attention to facial expressions and body language. Therefore, we tend to talk talk talk to our dogs (despite them not listening), because it's how WE communicate.
Dogs, conversely, are much more in tune with other forms of communication, such as body language and movement, scent and touch. It is estimated that less than 10% of a dog's communication involves vocalization. This is not to discredit the importance of that vocalization, but rather to understand that "voicing" their opinion is not as common in dogs as it is in humans. In fact, we prefer this vocalization so much, it is proven that domesticated dogs are more vocal than their wolf ancestors, primarily because we the humans selected for the advantageous "alarm bark" during breeding.
Dogs are born blind and deaf, so the first thing they know is scent, touch, and taste. Around 2 weeks of age, their eyes open. Another two weeks after that, their ears open. So the first thing a dog is going to do is smell you. The second thing they're going to do is watch you. And the last thing... is listen to you!
This may explain why our dogs have habituated to our speech so much. Not only do we incessantly talk to our pooches, desensitizing them to the importance of our voice, but they as a species tend to be more interested in communicating using visual body language or scent.
I take advantage of this knowledge in my professional dog training, and utilize scent and visual commands much more than auditory cues. Next time you ask your dog to "sit", implement a hand cue, such as pointing at the dog, or crossing your arms across your chest. Something simple and easy to do, and be consistent about it. My experience shows that the dogs typically pick up on the visual cues MUCH SOONER than auditory cues. This is especially true in my puppy classes, or when teaching a dog a brand new command.
When I'm training a dog with a jumping habit, I suggest to teach them that crossed arms = sit. Then when guests come over, all the owner has to do is tell them to cross their arms, and vuala! The guest has no clue that their visual cue is what is creating this perfectly well-mannered sitting dog. Everyone in the neighborhood will think you have the best trained dog on the block!
When a dog is intensely distracted by something, such as playing with another dog, or sniffing out the trail of that squirrel, I use scent -- not my voice -- to capture their attention. Sometimes it may require placing a stinky treat directly in front of their nose and luring them back to me, but it beats hollering at a dog who is no longer listening to you anyway.
If you are going to use your voice to grab your pup's attention, make sure your pitch and tone are working FOR you, and not against you. Dogs have about twice as good of hearing as us, and they can hear high-pitched sounds much better than humans. This enables them to hunt better, hearing the high-pitched sounds of small vermin. With that being said, peppy high-pitched rapidly repeated tones help get your dog's attention! I get sing-songy and happily say "Puppy puppy puppy!" Try clicking or smooching at your dog, and watch how their natural instinct is to pay attention to it, making your job as the human much easier!
Hears, er um, HERE'S to you as you embark on this new training technique!
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