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How to Train a Stubborn Dog or Puppy

Haley Young photo

Haley Young

June 29, 2024

Dog Training

How to Train a Stubborn Dog or Puppy thumbnail

You feel like you’ve tried everything... but you just can’t get your dog to listen. They still pee on the carpet or bark out the windows or run away when you call them at the park. It’s not this hard for your neighbor and his new puppy, right? Why is your dog so stubborn? Are you a bad pet parent? Are you doing something wrong?

We’ve been there, and we understand.

Dog training can be especially overwhelming when it feels like you and your companion just aren’t on the same page. That’s why we’ve put together a complete guide on how to train your "stubborn" dog. Read on for important background context, definitions, and training tips.

What does it mean for a dog to be stubborn?

The word “stubborn” can be used to describe a wide range of canine behavior. While some dogs were selectively bred to be more independent, most pets aren’t "disobedient" on purpose.

In reality: When a dog appears to be stubborn, it actually means they are under motivated—or have no idea what is being asked of them.

Common reasons your dog might seem stubborn

Your dog doesn’t understand what you’re asking

Many dogs want to please their owners but just don’t know how. Living in a modern human world can be confusing for a canine! We sometimes forget that they don’t naturally understand verbal language or societal norms the way we do.

Your puppy isn’t old enough to focus

Puppies often have trouble focusing, especially in new environments. Young puppies take in overwhelming amounts of new information every day and are often distracted by things we may not even notice.

In adolescence, dogs (just like human teenagers) are going through growth spurts, hormonal changes, and awkward phases. They may seem stubborn—but really they’re dealing with many emotional and physical adjustments that can make it really hard for them to complete behaviors that they otherwise might know well.  

Your dog has not generalized their cues to new environments

Dogs often struggle to generalize behaviors. It’s not uncommon for them to enthusiastically follow basic cues in a familiar environment but stare at us owners blankly when we ask in a busier place.

This doesn’t mean your puppy is disobeying you on purpose. It just indicates a lack of training generalization. They need more help understanding that your verbal cue or hand signal means the same thing in every location! Plus new environments often come with new competing motivators that compete to capture your dog’s attention. Training is an ongoing process.

dog pulling leash

Your dog isn’t sufficiently motivated to work for you

Just like us people, dogs like to know there’s something in it for them! If your dog doesn’t listen—especially if they used to follow training cues but have recently started blowing you off—it might be because they feel you’re not “paying” them enough for their behavior.

Your dog is scared or overwhelmed

Nervous dogs can seem stubborn, but they’re really just having a hard time coping with their environments. They might be too overwhelmed to be able to pay attention to you at all, let alone follow your cues—but not necessarily for lack of trying.

If your dog freezes on walks or has a hard time listening, consider whether they might be scared.

Your dog is expressing natural breed traits

We bred certain traits into dog breeds over generations and generations. For example: Hounds are notorious for walking with their noses to the ground, herders are hyper-aware of their surroundings, terriers frantically chase prey, and so on.

If your dog seems stubborn because they won’t walk calmly on a loose leash or stop digging through your sock drawer, it’s worth thinking about what jobs we developed their ancestors to do. Your four-legged friend might simply be following their instincts! We can't blame them for that.

Your dog is in physical pain

Canines are great at hiding discomfort. If your dog seems reluctant to perform certain cues (like lying down) you should consider whether they might be in pain. It could be that Fido is just feeling hurt, not disobedient.

How to build a more cooperative relationship with your stubborn dog

Living with a dog who doesn’t seem to listen is frustrating. After you’ve thought through the above section to see if a label other than “stubborn” might be more appropriate to describe your pet, it’s a good idea to step back and think about your dog-owner relationship as a whole.

Spend time engaging together, especially in play

When you’re struggling with your dog, it’s easy to forget the reasons that you got a puppy in the first place.

But we bet one of them was to have fun together, wasn’t it?

If you and your dog are struggling to connect, try spending more time engaging in activities you both love. A good game of fetch or tug will put you in a better mindset to work together during a formal training session.

Provide opportunities for your dog to express natural behaviors

As mentioned previously, some stubborn dogs simply have not had their needs met, and will naturally find it harder to focus on what you are asking them. Giving them safe opportunities to express natural behavior can make a world of difference!

A few examples:


  • Instead of asking your terrier to ignore their prey drive completely, consider enrolling in a barn hunt class together.
  • Try out some nosework with your hound.
  • Get your herding breed a herding ball or let them engage in stalky behavior during play with you.
  • Take your husky out on regular runs, or consider biologically appropriate activities like skijoring or bikejoring.
  • And more: Ask yourself what your dog was bred to do and how you can help them tap into those instincts.

The more we fulfill our dogs, the better they’re able to listen to what we ask!

How to increase your stubborn dog’s training motivation

Pay attention to what your dog finds rewarding

Just because we think our dogs should like something doesn’t mean they actually will. 

A common reason your dog might seem stubborn is because they’d rather work for a different reward than what you’ve been using. Some pets are highly food motivated for training treats (or even their own kibble) while others prefer toys. Some love verbal praise and hearing your happy voice while others don’t pay it as much mind. Every dog is an individual!

Take some time to observe the things your dog loves best outside of training sessions. Are they always sniffing for a new smell? Do they gobble their food the instant you set it down? Can they never get enough of their favorite ball? Use that information to your advantage by picking the reward that will motivate them most.

Vary your rewards—and add in randomized "jackpots"

Variety is the spice of life! Even if your dog is working for their favorite reward in the world, they might become bored of it over time.

Maintain your dog’s interest by switching up your rewards between training sessions (or even within the same lesson). Vary the ways that you are delivering treats or how long your play breaks are—and once in a while, toss in a big jackpot (like giving them a whole handful of treats or a longer burst of toy play) when they’re least expecting it.

If they start to think “any time now I might get a whole bucketful of treats!” they’ll be more likely to stay engaged than if you give them the exact same cookie on every repetition.

Start in familiar, low-distraction environments

If multiple things are competing for your dog’s attention at once, they’ll have a harder time learning from you. Have your sessions in a quiet spot (like your own home’s living room or backyard) before asking them to perform in more distracting environments (like a private Sniffspot with space to roam).

Over time, start working on cues around more and more distractions in a range of environments, and allow your dog to be successful at each stage before moving on to the next.

Focus on having fun in training sessions

Dogs are masters at reading our emotions. Over the years we’ve bred this sensitivity into them even more. Today some pet canines are better at interpreting human body language—even as puppies—than that of their own species! (That's a big deal in the animal kingdom.)

What does this mean for your training? In short, it’s hard to fool a dog. If you’re not having fun working with your companion, chances are they’ll pick up on that—and it will only discourage you both more.

Try keeping frequent training sessions short, simple, and upbeat. Set yourselves up for success! Try to make the skills, behaviors, and tricks you’re asking for relatively easy for your dog. This way you can praise and reward them heavily for getting things right.

And remember: Dog training isn’t a race. It can be difficult not to compare your dog’s progress to others, but dogs are individuals. Working at your puppy’s own pace is important!

Common skills your dog might struggle with if they seem stubborn

We have separate blogs detailing how to work on each of these behaviors:

dog sitting

How to stay consistent with your stubborn dog

Using the right rewards, having fun....that all sounds well and good. But how do you get through the difficult moments with your dog? What do you do when you’re at the end of your rope and feel like you’ll never make progress?

Here are two important ways to stay on track in your training.

Use management to prevent your dog from practicing unwanted behaviors

We don’t always have the energy or opportunity for a structured training session. And that’s okay! As you work on increasing your dog’s motivation to work with you, consider implementing some management protocols to prevent problem behaviors from getting worse.

This might look like:


  • Keeping a leash on your dog inside the house so you can gently guide them away from things like counter surfing.
  • Investing in some pee pads to minimize damage to your carpet or hard floors while your dog continues to work through house training.
  • Putting opaque film on your windows to keep your dog from seeing—and barking at—people or other pets walking by.
  • Having your dog wear a long line at the park instead of letting them fully off leash.
  • And so on.

Make sure your entire household is on the same page about your dog’s training

It takes a village! Your dog’s training will progress more slowly if your family members have different expectations for them.

Take some time to sit down with everyone who lives with your dog and talk about what verbal cues, hand signals, and rules you’ll all use. If you’re a social butterfly, you might want to consider chatting with friends who regularly visit or see your dog out and about, too.

An added bonus of these conversations? When you’re feeling low, your support network will have your back.

Next steps if your stubborn dog still isn’t learning

Take your companion for a full vet check up

If your dog still isn’t making training progress, it’s a good idea to make sure they have a clean bill of health. A thorough veterinary exam can identify problems we might miss at first glance—like arthritis or hearing loss—that can keep our pets from performing at their best.

Reach out to a professional trainer

Sometimes all we need is a little extra guidance from someone we can trust. If your dog still seems stubborn, get in touch with a certified force-free trainer! They’ll be able to understand your unique situation and provide personalized guidance to better enjoy your companion moving forward.

Trainer that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Beth Berkobien, MS - Animal Behavior, Cert. SAPT
Behavior Consultant/Trainer - Rehab Your Rescue Behavior Services - Masters degree in animal behavior, certified in separation anxiety

Haley Young photo

Haley Young

June 29, 2024

Dog Training

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