When your dog doesn’t do what you’ve asked him to do, what do you think is behind it? Reasons I often hear from owners include, “He’s being stubborn” or “He doesn’t listen to me”.
He doesn’t fully understand the cue.
He hasn’t been reinforced for responding to the cue enough.
He hasn’t been asked to perform the behavior under these circumstances before (by this person, in this place, with these distractions present).
These reasons could be the subject of a whole other blog, but here I want to address one additional reason that a dog may ignore your request. I think of it as the “I just can’t…” reason.
A great example of this is playing fetch with my dog, Tucker. He’s a two-year old lab who loves nothing more than to fetch a tennis ball. However, he’s not quite as indefatigable as he used to be. When he was younger, he would bring the tennis ball back and drop it at our feet a seemingly endless number of times for us to throw again. Now, often he brings the ball back but simply will not drop it, even when asked, although he has a very well trained “drop it” cue. He holds the ball in his mouth and circles around me while panting. I eventually realized he wasn’t being stubborn or disobedient. It also wasn’t that he didn’t understand what I was asking, it was just that he was pooped! In this circumstance, I imagine him thinking “I just can’t drop it and go chase it one more time. I’m exhausted!”
I’ve seen similar behavior in other dogs. Nervous dogs in group classes often do not want to go into a down. They don’t feel safe going into such a vulnerable position. Whippets are not particularly fond of sitting, especially on hard surfaces like the sidewalk. A dog with bad hips or a sore back will often balk at jumping into the car. So before you assume that your dog is simply being stubborn, ask yourself, is there a reason that your dog could be thinking “I just can’t!”