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What To Do When Your Dog Won't Obey You (Without Shouting Or Being Mean)

Updated on January 5, 2013

So you’ve told your dog to get down off the bed, or get down off the settee, or to drop your slippers, or to drop your wife, or to stop savaging your leg (if it’s the last one, you have bigger problems than this article can solve. Look elsewhere.) Either way, the dog isn’t doing as he/she’s been told; it’s time to take action.

Warning: dog may also take action.
Warning: dog may also take action.

It all comes to down to one thing: Status.

The reason your dog isn’t obeying you is because he doesn’t see you as the leader of the pack. In the hierarchical world of the canine, pack status regulates everything, including who he takes orders from. So if he’s ignoring you, it’s because he thinks you’re either equal or worse, inferior.

...and while you're in there, you can grab me some smokes. And don't be all day doin' it either, ya hear me?!
...and while you're in there, you can grab me some smokes. And don't be all day doin' it either, ya hear me?!

So to fix that point of view, you’ve got to explain to him-NICELY-that you’re actually running the show, but in a way that he will understand. It’s all about consistency, and a little thing we call NILIF (Nothing In Life Is Free) training. In principle, to humans, this is a concept that sounds a little bullying, but it’s actually the opposite. A dog who knows his place in the pack-and what his boundaries are-is a happier dog. Be prepared for a few surprised looks at first-and even a few reproachful stares-but stick with it, and not only will you and your dog’s relationship massively improve, your dog’s temperament will too. Think about it: are you being cruel when you give your kids vegetables they don’t like, and give them curfews, and make them give you lengthy foot rubs when you come home from the gym without showering? Of course not (apart from maybe that last one) you’re doing it for their own good and to make them behave correctly. And it’s exactly the same with dogs.

So the idea of NILIF, as the name suggests, is that you stop the dog from doing what he wants, and make him work for it. By doing so, you establish that he needs your permission to do things, and that therefore you are above him in the pack. So how do you do that?

Make them sit before they are allowed to do anything that they want to.

Now, that may sound like a contradiction in terms, because if the dog doesn’t obey you, how can you get him to sit, right? Well, that’s the first thing to fix before we go any further, and before you say you don’t have the time, you’re wrong; I can get your dog to sit in under half an hour. Go read this article, and come back:

And with their education, too.
And with their education, too.

Right, the rest of you whose dogs sit on command but ignore everything else-and those of you who left to read the article, and have now trained their dogs and come back-let’s continue. As dogs can’t talk, they have no way to say ‘Please’, and thus to ask for permission. So the way a dog says ‘Please’ is by sitting…once you’ve established that they sit before they get what they want. (They also don’t know how to say ‘Get the %$*£ off my property’ but I think you can guess how they express that one.)

The Technique:

So here are a few key ways to implement NILIF training. Obviously there are more than these, but these are the major and most effective ones that will help establish your rank and therefore get your dog to listen generally. I’m sure you can get the idea from these on how to use NILIF training in all aspects of your dog’s behaviour.

  • Sitting before getting a treat: This is obvious, as you probably trained your dog to sit this way.
  • Sitting before being allowed up on a settee or the bed: If you allow your dogs on the furniture, they probably jump right up without thinking. Gently push or lift them down, and make them sit. If they do it again, repeat it. If they do it again, scold them, and then make them sit. Once they’ve sat nicely for a few seconds, pat the settee and tell them they can get up.
  • Sitting before you put the leash/lead on them: Other than food, the thing that gets a dog as excited as Elvis seeing an overturned Twinkie lorry is going for a walk. If you’re holding that up until they sit, that’s a MAJOR ‘Please’ for them. This will really help them get it.
  • Sitting before you throw a ball or toy: If they don’t sit, and keep pestering, turn your back on them. When they walk round to the front of you (they will) tell them to sit. If they don’t, turn your back again and repeat.
  • If your dog is demanding attention or affection: It’s not cute, it’s your dog thinking you’re their personal amusement toy. There’s a difference between cuddling into you, or being excited to see you, and coming over and clambering all over your face as they’ve decided they want to be stroked. Push them off gently but firmly, then make them sit and ignore them for a few seconds. If they stay sitting, praise them and cuddle their furry little heads to bits. If they move, make them sit again, ignore, and repeat until they stay there. Then show them affection.
  • Anything your dog likes: Use your judgement. You’re not denying the dog the things it likes, you’re just asking for courtesy first. It’s that simple.

They'll soon learn how to behave correctly, and more importantly, how to dress to match the season.
They'll soon learn how to behave correctly, and more importantly, how to dress to match the season.

Good luck; for more of my dog training articles, check out the links below. And if you just fancy a laugh...well check out my general articles below!

Or if you REALLY fancy reading a lot more of my stuff, check out my eBook novels on the Kindle store, readable on Kindle Devices or the Kindle App for smartphone and tablet PCs!

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