How To Make Your Dog Listen To You?
[The Training Guide]

Aaron Rice Expert Dog Trainer
Written: January 17, 2022

Imagine this scenario:

You’ve invited a new friend over to your house. When they arrive, your 50+ pound dog (and best friend) jumps all over them, and no matter how much you call his name or try to dissuade him away, he simply won’t listen! 

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. When your dog was a puppy, it might have been cute, but now he’s fully grown, and it’s getting harder to bury that embarrassing feeling you get when people witness how ineffective your commands are. 

As the owner of a thriving dog-training and pet care business, I’ve seen it all. From the most well-behaved dogs who obey every command to that one lovable but rambunctious Malinese who just won’t listen. And I’ve seen the stress in the eyes of the dog parents who come to me at their wit’s end, the break in their hearts when they wonder whether they’ll ever be able to truly enjoy their dog without having to apologize for its behavior. 

Not only that, but it can be dangerous, too. Your dog’s ability to listen to you could mean the difference between life and death. Should your furbaby decide to run into a busy street, you need to make sure he listens to you and listens well! 

So now that we’ve got the preamble out the way, what to do when your pup won’t listen? Keep reading to discover the top 7 things you can do to get your dog to finally hear you and obey. 

A word to the wise…

Before we get started, it’s important to remember that positive reinforcement has been proven to be vastly more effective than negative, i.e., punishment. Never use your dog’s name in a negative way or punish him for not obeying a command. If you’re having behavioral issues with your pup, teach him the positive behaviors you’d like him to exhibit and reinforce his good behavior with extra love and treats. 

Give a Doggy Workout

The number one cause of poor listening is excess energy. Just like a hyper toddler who can’t sit still, your dog needs to run it out! 

When your dog has pent up energy, it makes it extra challenging for him to listen to you. Therefore, your first priority should be to give him a good long walk that gets out all his energy, or better yet, take him to a dog park and throw a ball or frisbee around. Let him play with the other dogs. Depending on his breed and temperament, he may need more or less daily exercise. 

Exercising your dog on a daily and even weekly basis is essential for his health, and yours too! Studies show that people who get outside more, move around more, and are generally more active produce higher levels of dopamine, the happy chemical your brain produces. The same is true for Fido. He needs to get out and explore, so grab a ball, find a safe place to let him off-leash, and let those paws run wild!

If you live in a cold climate, you may feel reticent about stepping out into the winter chill to toss a frisbee. But your dog has a fur coat, especially if he’s a Husky or another type of cold weather breed, so you’ll need to find ways around the icy nip. Why not pack a thermos filled with hot coffee, tea, or chocolate? Layer on those undergarments, tie the hood on tight, and take him to the dog park. You can keep warm with your hot beverage while your furbaby frolics in the snow. 

Regardless of the climate, don’t let a little inclimate weather deter you from ensuring your best buddy’s health and happiness. 

Make Eye Contact

Be present

Is your dog looking at you when you give a command? If not, it could be contributing to his persistent lack of listening skills. If you’ve got five different things calling your attention and you’re trying to give your dog a command, but neither of you is fully present, it’s not going to go well. 

Either way, your dog follows your cues, so when you’re trying to get him to listen, stop everything you’re doing and pay attention. Get him to look at you. If your dog won’t readily look you in the eye, you can train him to by placing a delicious treat (a.k.a. a high-value treat) between your eyes and calling his (or her) name. Repeat this exercise several times for days or even weeks on end. Eventually, you can replace the treat with a hand signal. 

Personally, I call my dog’s name and slap my knee (if we’re playing) or snap and point my finger toward the ground (if it’s serious). When she hears her name, she looks in my direction and comes. This is an easy way to get your dog to listen and come towards you. 

Another helpful command is to say, “Look” or “Watch” to your dog after saying his name. This is especially useful during training sessions where you’re trying to teach a new behavior or when you’re trying to divert your dog’s attention away from something that makes him or her aggressive. 

My dog is not the most social of pups, and she can get aggressive with certain dogs (all 15lbs of her). To work with her on curbing this behavior, I use positive reinforcement. Your go-to instinct may be to tell your dog, “No!” but praise has been proven to be far more effective. Therefore, I take a proactive approach when we find ourselves nearing another dog on a walk by getting her to first look at me and then telling her she’s a very good girl and to be nice to the other doggy. This, combined with careful surveillance of her posture and demeanor, has vastly improved her sociability.

Finally, remember to be patient. Training your dog is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time, encouragement, and diligence, but with a little effort and a lot of love, your dog will be looking at you and, most importantly, listening to you in no time!

Be Consistent

Discipline is key

Your ability to be consistent is a key component to success in life, and it’s never more crucial than when you’re raising a child or a dog. In fact, studies have shown that dogs have about the same cognitive range as a toddler and a similar ability to retain vocabulary, so treating your dog like you’d treat your toddler can be of great assistance to you. 

Moreover, unlike your unruly toddler who just entered the terrible twos, your dog wants to listen to you. But if your commands are always changing, or other family members aren’t reinforcing the behaviors you’re teaching, then your dog will only grow confused and his behavior more erratic. 

I recommend sitting down to write out a list of the rules and commands you’d like your dog to learn. If you live with family, get them on board by making it a family affair. Post the rules somewhere prominent like the refrigerator so that everyone has a daily reminder of which behaviors to encourage and reinforce. 

When you change your perspective around dog training and make your expectations realistic, you set yourself (and your pup) up for success. 

Be Masterful

Your energy matters

Your dog’s behavior is not the only one that needs to be checked. You must master yourself if you want your dog to listen to you. 

In our fast-paced world, it’s easy to get distracted, and as busy individuals, we’re often trying to do too many things at once. If you’re in a hurry or have other things on your mind, it’s not the right time to train your pup. Your dog will pick up on your harried energy and think something is wrong. 

This is because dogs speak the language of energy. They mostly know what you’re saying not because they understand the words (though they certainly learn some of them) but because of how you say them and what energy you charge behind them. If your energy is panicked and frantic, your dog’s will be too. 

As the leader of the pack, you need to assert Alpha energy. Be calm and assertive. Command your dog’s attention by asserting dominance the way a good leader should, with care and respect. Pay attention to your tone of voice. You want it to be like your energy, calm, reassuring, and assertive. 

If this sounds hard, don’t worry. Noticing what kind of energy you’re giving off is a learned trait like any other. Ask a friend or family member for help, or better yet, record yourself with your dog to see where and how your energy may be off. 

The added benefit of mastering your energy is that this is a skill you can bring into the rest of your life. When you’re calmer in stressful situations, not only will your body thank you with reduced cortisol levels, thereby lowering stress in the body and your risk of potential health issues, but your loved ones will also be grateful, and you may just see your relationships improve!

So pay attention. Notice how you react when your dog isn’t listening and adopt a calm, collected yet assertive demeanor to command not only his attention but everyone else’s. 

Return to Your Dog’s Roots

Peeling back the layers

Revisit training basics 101 to ensure your dog has properly learned a command. If he hasn’t, it could be a key reason why he’s not listening.

In fact, it can take a dog much longer than you think to truly learn a command. Not only that, but different breeds have different training variants. Some pups need hundreds, even thousands of repetitions. Peeling back the layers of training to revisit your foundation can be highly beneficial for both you and your dog.  

You can begin by making a list of the commands your dog never follows as well as the ones he sometimes obeys. Notice what you’re doing when he listens and when he doesn’t. Is your dog hungry? Has he had enough exercise? Are you overshadowing the command with a hand signal but not being consistent in its use? Your dog may have learned the hand signal but not the verbal command or vice versa. 

Hit the reset button by breaking out those training treats and giving your dog an old-fashioned review session. Verbal praise and belly rubs are also very effective rewards. I recommend using a combination of all three as they incorporate your dog’s favorite things: time with you and food!

At the end of the day, tuning into your behavior as well as your dog’s by ensuring you’re being present and giving him the time and attention he needs will significantly increase your furry friend’s ability (and likelihood) to listen to you. 

Don’t Rely on Verbal Cues

Hand signals all the way

Dogs are not typically verbose (except when the doorbell rings). On the contrary, they use energy and body language to communicate with one another, and that’s exactly how you want to approach your communication as well. If you think about all the talking you do in a day (that your dog overhears) and then factor in the time spent talking to your pup, it’s no wonder he’s having trouble keeping up! 

Instead of relying on verbal commands, use hand signals. Or, if you prefer, a combination of the two. Just know that your dog is more likely to associate the command with the non-verbal cue. For example, when I hold my hand up, snap my fingers, and say, “Sit,” my dog knows what to do. If I remove the vocal command and simply snap my fingers, it’s the same outcome. She responds to the movement my hand makes more than the sound of my voice. 

If you’re not familiar with hand signal training, it’s fairly easy to get started. In fact, it may even be easier as dogs are expert body language interpreters. The key is to first get your dog to look at you. As mentioned above, this is a crucial first step to all things training.

A common hand signal to teach your dog to sit is for you to hold your hand down next to your body, then slowly bring your palm up until it’s parallel with the floor.  

Remember not to use the verbal command at the same time and in the same training session. It’s important to only focus on the hand signal you’re aiming for your dog to learn. This is especially true if your dog is already familiar with the verbal command. 

Be Conscious of Your Dog’s Emotional State

Dogs have feelings, too

Your dog’s ability to listen to you could have more to do with their current emotional state than with pent-up energy. If you’re trying to train your dog during a frightening thunderstorm or when the neighbor’s puppy is running around, his attention will be more focused on them than on you. Being in tune with your dog and his or her emotional needs is a vital part of not only getting your dog to listen to you but of creating a healthy and lasting bond. So slow down and check-in. 

What’s going on in your immediate surroundings? Is he hungry? A little hunger is good for training, but too much is a distraction. 

Another thing to note is whether your dog is feeling the need to protect you. Remember, no matter the size or breed, protecting the pack leader, i.e., you, is innate to a dog’s inner nature. 

If your dog is picking up on any perceived threats, his number one priority will be to come between you and the danger. So pay attention to what visible or seemingly invisible cues your dog is picking up on and have compassion. Remember, their senses are far more heightened than ours. Respect what he sees, hears, smells, and feels. 

What’s Most Essential

At the end of the day, the most essential element to remember is that your dog is an individual with a unique personality and character traits. Dogs become part of our families, so treat them like you would a beloved child. Raise them to have good manners, feed them healthy food and treats, spend lots of quality time with them, and above all, love them unconditionally. 

The bond you create with your dog will last a lifetime, and long after they’re gone, it’s the good times you’ll cherish most, so relish every moment and make the most of your time with your furry four-legged pup. The more in tune you are with one another, the more he’ll listen to you, and the more he listens to you, the happier you both will be. 

So good luck and don’t give up; even the most stubborn breeds are trainable. It’s all about learning your particular dog’s quirks and personality and adapting to meet his or her needs. 

And if it’s too overwhelming, consider hiring a professional to see you through. Even a handful of sessions with a trainer can make a vast improvement in how you communicate with your dog. Because in the end, as in life and dogs, clear communication is the key to every healthy relationship.