How to Train a Stubborn Dog: Positive Solutions That Work

You’re calling your dog’s name, waving at their favorite treat and… nothing. They stare at you blankly, as if deciding whether you’re worth wagging their tail or not. Sound familiar? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! How to train a stubborn dog is an extremely common label for dogs, but let’s be honest, our furry friends aren’t always trying to give us a hard time.

Shedding light on “stubbornness”

Often, what we call “stubborn” is just a big misunderstanding. The problem is that dogs cannot speak any human language. They’re trying their best to figure out what we want, but sometimes our signal gets lost in translation. It could be a few different things:

  • Confusing commands: We may not be consistent with our words or hand signals, leaving them completely confused.
  • Health check: Maybe their hearing is not good or an ear infection is making it difficult for them to concentrate.
  • Breed Background: Could their breed instincts be playing a role? Some pups were literally born to be independent thinkers.
  • Lack of Motivation: Are those boring kibble pieces really worth getting excited about?

The Power of Positive Reinforcement

The best way to get through to your “stubborn” pup is understanding how they learn. That’s where positive reinforcement comes in! Think of it like a superpower for dog training. Instead of focusing on what they do wrong, we reward the behaviors we do want. This builds a strong bond and actually makes your dog eager to please you.

Your Dog Training Translator

Before we dive in, let me introduce myself. I’m Alex, and I’m a total dog enthusiast! I’ve worked with pups of all shapes and sizes, including some who’ve earned the “stubborn” title. My passion is helping people and their dogs build better communication through positive training.

Funny photo of a dog with a slightly confused expression, facing away from its owner.
Illustration images: Funny photo of a dog with a slightly confused expression, facing away from its owner.

Understanding Your Dog

Decoding Your Dog’s “Stubbornness”

Before we dive into specific training techniques, let’s play detective! There are a few key reasons why dogs might do things that seem stubborn, and figuring out the “why” behind your pup’s behavior is the first step towards making a positive change.

  • Check-up Time: If your dog’s stubbornness is a sudden change, it’s always a good idea to schedule a vet visit. Sometimes, health issues like ear infections or pain can make your dog irritable and less likely to listen. Your vet can rule out any medical causes and give you the green light to focus on training.
  • Boredom Buster: Does your dog get tons of physical exercise and mental stimulation? A bored dog is more likely to act out or become distracted. Make sure you’re tiring them out with walks, games of fetch, and interesting puzzle toys!
  • Breed Basics: While every dog is an individual, some breeds have traits that can make training a bit more, shall we say…interesting! Let’s explore this a bit.
An adorable dog at the vet's office, getting a checkup
Illustration images: An adorable dog at the vet’s office, getting a checkup

What’s Your Dog’s Breed?

Knowing your dog’s breed background helps you set realistic expectations and tailor training to their personality. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • The Eager Beagles: Beagles are super friendly, but those powerful noses can lead them astray! If you ask your Beagle to “sit” in the middle of your neighborhood sniffing out last week’s squirrel trails..well, good luck! Training a scent hound requires extra focus on rewards and practicing in less distracting places first.
  • The Independent Thinkers: Some breeds, like Shiba Inus or Chow Chows, are known for their independent streaks. They need extra motivation and might benefit from training techniques that incorporate choices to help them feel a sense of control.
  • The Working Wonders: Smart, high-energy breeds like Border Collies or German Shepherds need mental exercise just as much as they need physical exercise. Training sessions that involve learning tricks and problem-solving will help them feel fulfilled and less likely to get into mischief.

Effective Training Strategies

The Power of Positive Reinforcement

Think of positive reinforcement as a superpower. Here’s why it’s the most effective way to train:

  • Clear Communication: When you reward your dog the second they do something right, they’ll start to understand exactly what you want them to do!
  • Happy Learning: Positive reinforcement makes training fun for both of you. No fear or frustration, just a strong bond and a dog that’s excited to learn.
  • Trust Booster: Your dog will learn to trust that you’re their source of good stuff! This makes them more eager to please you, even when it’s hard.

Treats, Toys, and Tail Wags. Finding the Right Reward

Taming the Untamed: Positive Dog Training Solutions

Not all dogs are motivated by the same thing. Here’s how to find what makes your dog tick:

  • Tasty Temptations: Start with small, super yummy treats. These are your high-value rewards for when you’re teaching something new or working in a distracting environment.
  • Variety is Key: Don’t rely on just one treat all the time! Switch it up with different flavors and textures to keep things exciting.
  • Time it Right: When you’re training, reward your dog immediately after they do the right behavior. This helps them link the reward with the action.
  • Beyond Food: If your dog isn’t super food-driven, get creative! Use toys, playtime, walks, or access to their favorite sniffing spot as a reward.

Mastering the Basics

We’ll start with the building blocks of a well-behaved pup:

  • “Sit”: The gateway to good manners! Start by holding a treat in front of your dog’s nose and lure them into a sitting position. Immediately say “sit” and reward!
  • “Stay”: Teach your dog to wait patiently. Once they know “sit,” gradually increase the distance and the time you ask them to hold the position before rewarding.
  • “Come”: This one is super important! Make it a party every time your dog comes to you. Use a happy voice, enthusiastic praise, and their favorite rewards.

Tackling Distractions

The real world is full of squirrels, yummy smells, and other dogs to say hi to! Here’s how to conquer distractions:

  • Start Simple: Practice in a quiet place at home first. Once your dog has the commands down, slowly add distractions, a family member walking by, the TV at low volume.
  • Gradual Exposure: Don’t jump straight to training in the middle of a dog park! Increase the level of distraction little by little.
  • Patience is your Friend: If your dog gets distracted, don’t get frustrated. Just go back to a less distracting environment and try again.
A dog looking longingly at a squirrel while its owner, holding a treat, tries to get its attention
Illustration images: A dog looking longingly at a squirrel while its owner, holding a treat, tries to get its attention

Real World Applications

Stubborn Dog Scenarios and How to Fix Them!

You’re not alone if you’re facing one or more of these scenarios. Let’s break them down:

  • The Selective Listener: Your dog knows “sit,” but only sometimes. Try upping the value of your treats or training in a less distracting location. Be consistent with your commands, and reward even the tiniest bit of progress!
  • Leash-Pulling Pup: This can be frustrating! Start in a low-distraction area. Reward your dog for walking next to you with loose leash. If they pull, stop walking and wait for them to return to you before continuing. Consider a front-clip harness for more control.
  • The Jumping Greeter: Dogs jump up because they’re excited to see people! Don’t give attention until all four paws are on the ground. Reward calm greetings or teach an alternative behavior like “sit” for pets.
  • The Barking Buddy: First figure out why your dog is barking. Then, work on rewarding quiet behavior and redirecting their attention with a favorite toy or a simple command like “sit.”

Creating a Training Routine

Sticking to a regular training schedule helps your dog learn faster and prevents those stubborn moments from becoming habits.

  • Short and Sweet: Keep sessions to 5-10 minutes several times a day, especially for puppies or easily distracted dogs.
  • Location, Location: Start in quiet areas and build up to more challenging environments.
  • Time It Right: Training sessions just before mealtimes are great when your dog is hungry and extra motivated!
  • Family Affair: Get everyone in the house involved. Use the same commands and reward systems for total consistency.
A dog sitting patiently while a child drops a treat for them during a training session
Illustration images: A dog sitting patiently while a child drops a treat for them during a training session

When to Seek Professional Help

Knowing When to Get a Helping Hand

While positive reinforcement works wonders, sometimes it’s best to get professional guidance. Here are some signs that a certified, positive reinforcement trainer can help:

  • Aggression: If your dog growls, snaps, bites, or displays other aggressive behaviors, seek help immediately. Aggression is a complex issue best addressed by a qualified professional.
  • Severe Fear or Anxiety: If your dog has extreme fears or separation anxiety, a trainer can create a plan to help them cope.
  • Resource Guarding: Does your dog become possessive of their food, toys, or even people? A trainer can help you address this potentially dangerous behavior.
  • You’re Feeling Lost: If you’re trying hard but not seeing progress or feel frustrated, don’t hesitate! A trainer can observe your interactions with your dog and help you adjust your technique.

Finding the Right Trainer

Not all dog trainers are created equal. Look for these credentials:

  • Positive Reinforcement Philosophy: Avoid trainers who use punishment or dominance methods.
  • Certifications: Look for certifications like CPDT-KA, and IAABC.
  • Experience: Ask about the trainer’s experience with your dog’s specific issues.
  • Referrals: Ask your vet or other dog owners for recommendations.


Training a stubborn dog isn’t a quick fix. It takes consistency, patience, and a big dose of understanding. But remember, the rewards are incredible, a well-behaved dog who trusts you, brings you joy, and makes life even more of an adventure.


My dog knows the commands, but deliberately ignores me! What gives?

Many breeds known for being independent, like Huskies or Chow Chows, are simply more motivated by their own desires than by pleasing people. This doesn’t mean they’re untrainable! Focus on high-value rewards, providing choices, and keeping training sessions interesting.

My dog only listens when there’s food. How do I get them to listen without constant treats?

Start by gradually phasing out food treats while introducing other rewards your dog loves. You can also use something called “life rewards”, obeying a command earns them something they want, like going out the door or sniffing a bush on a walk.

My dog is fine at home, but a wild child outside. How can I train for real-life situations?

Practice in less distracting places first. Slowly increase the level of distraction as your dog masters the basics. Reward them heavily for focusing on you in busy environments.

My dog seems to get bored during training sessions. How do I keep things fun?

Keep sessions short (5-10 minutes max), change up your rewards, and make training feel like a game! Learn some new tricks together, or practice commands by hiding treats and having your dog find them.

Is it ever too late to train an older dog with stubborn habits?

Absolutely not! Dogs of any age can learn new things. Positive reinforcement is incredibly effective for older dogs. Just be patient, make adjustments for any physical limitations, and celebrate every success!

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