Is there really such a thing as a stubborn dog?

Every day of every week I have a person tell me their dog is stubborn and won’t do ‘this or that’.

And just so we are clear, this is the formal definition of STUBBORN – ‘having or showing dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so’.

I’ll be honest, going by this definition alone, and some others I found on line, I have never met a stubborn dog in my life. Ever.

When I meet puppies or dogs that have been given the label of ‘stubborn’, I generally see a living being that is unwilling with their owner because they have been misunderstood.

Training, teaching, and learning can only occur when there is willingness. Fact. And a lack of willingness happens for a variety of reasons –

A dog over the skill level of the owner.

Too much social pressure.

Too much physical pressure.

Dogs that really don’t think humans are all that.

The wrong breed for the wrong person.

Expectations that exceed reality.

Rushing developmental stages.

Unwarranted attention.

An owner with a lack of knowledge.

A sexually mature dog with an owner who doesn’t understand what sexual maturity brings to the table.


The goals of the owner not matching the genetics they just purchased, and the reality within that spectrum.

So here are some things I do, try, and look for when I meet a dog with this unfortunate label.

I have the owner sit down and watch. The first step to take the frustration out of the equation.

I allow the dog to meet me, all of me. My thoughts, emotions, intentions, and body language all match. I stay intentional in the moment, which makes me an open book. Everything else in the room becomes scenery. The dog can choose to interact with me or not, this is our opening, our understanding.

I have zero expectations for our meeting. There is no pressure from me to perform. Come as you are, this is all good with me.

I have a ton of options for rewards, and I let the dog choose what they are most interested in. This is our agreement, and it is up to the dog to show me.

Interaction happens at various levels. Some dogs can handle social pressure, other dogs melt under it. So it is learning how to gauge each dog and what they can handle, on a spectrum of social pressure.

Then we start with super easy stuff. I call it the ‘If you can do this, can you do that?’. I will have objects on the floor to go on, in, around, over, under, and through. One paw of engagement, all paws, tentative, fast, explosive, or cautious, I take it all as the dog is trying.

If the dog puts a paw on an object, YES, and I toss the reward they chose a few feet away. This way they can leave me, and then choose to come back and reengage. And we repeat this pattern around the room. The dogs that light up with finally being understood take to this exercise with gusto, and its like seeing a diamond in the rough start to shine, a budding genius. And with the dogs who have had to live with their invisibility cloak up at all times, for self-preservation, well, a little effort shows willingness, and that is something that can be built upon over time.

This part of my interaction with the dog generally sends the owner over the edge, (I can most of the time predict it) “I don’t NEED my dog to do these things, I NEED him to do xyz”. And in that little short sentence comes the most honest and truthful moment. The needs of the owner do not count if the foundations of the relationship have never been met. And if there was never a healthy relationship, there is for sure going to be a truck load of unwillingness. This is usually a very revealing moment, and hopefully the pivotal moment where the relationship has the possibility of change.

And my hope is that realistic understanding happens.

Too much of anything is not a good thing. So keep this in mind for starters, if you are honest, intentional, and have removed expectations, then there will be open communication. With open communication you have the opportunity to be kind and purposeful, and willingness, a little or a lot, will start to appear.

So, is their really such a thing as a stubborn dog?

No. No there is not.

Nancy ~



9 Comments Add yours

  1. tippysmom2 says:

    Love the puppy in the picture. Agree with your post. Most issues with dogs start with the humans.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      that is my Rhumb Line in the photo at 4 weeks of age ❤

      Some issues start with humans for sure, Nancy

  2. mtwaggin says:

    Heehee, I wonder too how that works with their kids when they say “I NEEEED you to do xyz”. Probably doesn’t motivate a teenager any better than it does their dog in most cases. Sorry my bit of sarcasm for the day.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      true though .. ❤

  3. Jean Brown says:

    What do you mean by cheer leading and unwarranted attention? Just checking your definitions?

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      HI Jean,
      cheerleading is trying to get your dogs attention by being overly positive, high pitched voice, jumping around to look exciting, clapping. Basically looking like a cheerleader. ANd this generally happens when a dog has checked out from his owner for whatever reason, a bunny under a bush, another dog across the street, etc.

      Unwarrented attention is giving your dog too much of a good thing and attending every need all of the time, and giving your dog very little space or freedom outside of your kindness, cloying would be another word. Too much of a good thing isn’t necessarily a good thing.

      1. Jean Brown says:

        That is what I thought. Both of those often turn into pleading, which then turns into anger “if nice doesn’t work, then….”

  4. Dave Cugno says:

    How do you define stubborn ? People say hounds are stubborn which makes sense. Hounds are breed to lock on to a sent and let nothing distract them form staying on it. You have to be stubborn to do that. People spent years breeding them to be the way they are. Most times when people say they have a stubborn dog the reality is less about being stubborn and more about being confused.

  5. Nikki Brown says:

    Such a great explanation! It reminded me of when I first started caring for my horse, Tesoro, who I later adopted. When he realized that he suddenly had a say, that I was listening to him, that I actually saw him as a being of value, I so remember and treasure the look that came into his eyes. He was around 33 we think at this time, and I have no idea what his life had been like for most of that time. I do know that he was looked down on by the person who “owned” him at the time I met him. And Tesoro absolutely did not like him, either. He wasn’t mean, or “fiesty” , he just wouldn’t make it look like John knew as much as he thought he did. He was labeled as stubborn, useless, etc. He was anything but these. I am so grateful that for his last 5 years I was able to give him a choice, and a voice in his life. I think this goes for our dogs, as well.

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