What causes stubbornness in the dog?

What causes stubbornness in the dog?

Education & Training

Some dogs appear to be naturally more stubborn and wilful than others, and every dog trainer can tell you tales of owners who simply despair of ever getting their dog to comply with their commands or to listen and display appropriate behaviours. Stubbornness can be caused by a lot of different factors, and is sometimes associated with specific breeds, and may in some instances be connected to dominance.

However, there are a great many different factors and reasons behind potential stubbornness in the dog, or thinking that your dog is being stubborn, and not all of these can be written off as immutable breed-specific personality traits.

In this article, we will look at some of the common causes of stubbornness in the dog, when stubborn behaviour might manifest itself, and how to tackle the issue. Read on to learn more!

Poorly trained dogs

A great deal of the time, what you may potentially write off as stubbornness is actually due to a lack of training and not a wilful and conscious decision to disobey on your dog’s part. If your dog simply does not understand the command that you are giving them, they are not going to be able to obey, and you may find yourself faced with a blank look from your dog that can easily be confused with non-compliance.

As well as teaching your dog to respond to a given command in a set situation, it is also important to ensure that you expose your dog to lots of other different situations too, while still gaining their compliance with the command once they have mastered the basics. If your dog perceives the need for compliance to be related to just one narrow environment and situation, you will likely find them wilful and unresponsive in other environments!

Highly independent dogs

The breed of your dog and what their historical role in the life of humans was will go a long way towards dictating how your dog is likely to respond to commands and stimulus. Some breeds were selectively chosen for working very closely with people and taking commands from close quarters and looking to their handlers for direction, while others were prized for their independence and ability to work alone.

If you own one of the very independent dog breeds that were bred to work alone, such as in herding, long range hunting, coursing or guarding livestock, you might find that they can be more challenging to bring into close quarters training and respond to regular commands.

Juvenile dogs

While puppies learn things quickly but can also find it hard to concentrate for long periods of time, perceived stubbornness in the dog steps up a notch once your dog reaches adolescence.

As their hormone levels increase and they begin to feel and display sexual behaviour, your dog may become exponentially harder to train until they are either neutered or outgrow the adolescent stage of development. During adolescence, you are likely to see a range of different signs and manifestations of stubbornness, selective deafness and poor attention span, and it can at times feel as if your dog’s training is moving backwards rather than progressing.

The timescale for this adolescent stubbornness usually kicks in at around six months old, peaks at nine months to one year, and may go on as long as 18 months old or until your dog is neutered, if this is sooner.

Too much stimulation and distraction

If your dog is hyperactive, full of energy and just bursting to get going, they are likely to be very hard to command and control! Let your dog work off their excess energy levels with long walks and plenty of time playing and socialising, and do not expect a dog that has been inside all day and is dying to go for a walk to make for a very responsive pupil!

High energy levels can pose a significant distraction to your dog, as can external stimulation and distractions such as other dogs around that want to play, or a lot going on outside that is captivating your dog’s attention. Ensure that your dog receives enough exercise, and if your dog is exhibiting stubbornness in a certain place or situation, do not use this as the platform for your training or commands.


While stubbornness and refusing to obey commands that your dog definitely understands can usually be explained by one of the causes outlined above, if you really cannot get to the bottom of the problem, ask yourself if it is possible that your dog is suffering from pain or discomfort.

For instance, a dog that is in the process of developing hip dysplasia may find it uncomfortable or even painful to sit on command, leading to a reluctance to comply with a command that they expect to cause them pain.

If you have any concerns about your dog’s wellbeing, or suspect that they may be failing to comply due to an underlying physical or health reason, speak to your vet before you go any further.

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