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  • Kristyn Frohock

Why Won't My Pet Listen To Me?

Does it seem like your pet has selective hearing? They only respond to your cues when they feel like it? Here are some steps you can take to help with your training progress.

Motivating Factors

Think about when you have a job to do. You are more likely to work harder if the pay is $100 compared to $10. You also may be willing to work longer for overtime pay. The same concept applies to our pets.

Knowing what your pets find reinforcing is key for a successful training session. Just like humans, each pet has their own preferences as to what is highly reinforcing and what isn't. For example, one dog may work for milk bones but another may not lift a paw unless string cheese is present.

Food tends to be the most commonly used reinforcer in training but there are pets that prefer play. If your dog or cat is more motivated to chase after a ball or play with a wand toy than eat a treat, use play to reinforce the behavior you are training. Many owners make a list of treats or toys that their pets like and rank them from highest to lowest value.


Keep in mind that the environment in which you are training makes a huge difference in the results you get. In some aspects, dogs and cats generalize poorly and you see this most commonly when you start training outside of the home.

You always want to start training in a quiet and low distracting environment until your pet learns the behavior. It's much easier to learn in a library rather than a restaurant. However, when you begin the transition of training outside, you may see a decrease in the behavior. Your dog, for example, may have learned his name so well in the house that you can call him from another room. Yet, when you take him to your backyard it may appear that your dog never knew his name.

When the environment changes, the picture in our pets' minds change. Up until this point, your pets see the training session as something that takes place in a certain room, you look a certain way and you ask for certain behaviors. When you go outside there are new sights, smells, and sounds. Not only are there more distractions but your pet has never practiced training in this situation.

So what can you do? Your pet still knows the training but there are too many motivating factors in the new environment. So take a few steps back in your training process and make it easy for your pet to be successful. For example, if your dog is not responding to his name outside, stand close to him and ask for recall at a shorter distance and gradually increase the distance over time.

Don't forget that since the environment has become more distracting, we need reinforcers or treats that are able to compete against these new sights, smells, and sounds. This is where you will want to refer to the list of treats your dog or cat likes and see which ones are of higher value.

You'll see much more success when you remember to be the most interesting thing in the room or outside.

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