I love to meet a stubborn dog.
Too many people think that “stubborn” is a negative trait in a dog, and it certainly can be, especially if you employ traditional training methods that pit you and your dog into a battle of wills against each other.
If you tell your Shiba Inu, “get in here, or else!” you can guarantee the dog will be asking “or else… what?”
However, when harnessed correctly, stubbornness is a fantastic trait, because it makes it really easy to train a dog to REFUSE to be bad.
What Is Stubbornness?
Stubbornness can be defined as “fixed in purpose or opinion – resolute.”
Does that sound so bad?
Stubbornness is only bad when the dog is refusing to do what the owner wants him to do, and even then, that is assuming that the owner wants him to be good.
…What if the owner was trying to get him to be bad?
The real secret to training stubborn dogs is to constantly try to get them to misbehave, and reward them for resisting your bad example.
It’s Called Proofing
“Proofing” is the act of trying to get the dog to mess up so you can catch them in the act and correct the behaviour.
For example, say you are teaching your dog to hold a down-stay.
Once your dog understands the basic concept (hold the down position until the release command is given), you need to start making it harder for the dog:
You start walking further away, to see if that will make her break the stay.
When your dog does break, you say “No!” and your dog doesn’t get a reward. Instead, the dog has to start all over again. Dogs learn fast. They start to hold the stay, and you have to make it harder.
So, you try running away. You try walking in circles around the dog. You try hopping over the dog. You try bouncing balls past her nose. You end up doing a flamenco dance while juggling hot dogs, just trying to get your dog to break the stay.
Now, a non-stubborn dog will break a LOT during this process.
“Soft” dogs are so focused on trying to please you that they fall for the bait every time – when you lean over as if you’re about to call them, when you hold a treat out invitingly, when you bounce a ball, when you say their name…
Stubborn dogs don’t tend to make as many mistakes.
A stubborn dog will think,
“Oh HELL no, you aren’t cheating me out of that cookie! I’m staying put, no matter what kind of trick you try and pull!”
Stubborn dogs are also great in situations that require the dog to think for herself.
Take street safety.
If you want to train a dog to stop automatically at curbs, hope your dog has a stubborn streak.
In order to be properly street trained, a dog needs to stop at curbs without the owner giving a command, and without the owner giving any sign that a curb is approaching.
The whole point is for the dog to recognize a curb and stop despite anything else that may be happening – even if a ball has run right into the road, or a squirrel, the dog needs to stop.
Now, if you take a soft, eager-to-please dog and put him at the edge of a curb, and then try to encourage him off the edge so you can scold him and order him back, that poor dog is going to hop off the curb again and again, and get scolded again and again before he finally develops the courage to resist your temptation and refuse to cross.
A stubborn dog doesn’t have that crisis of faith.
A stubborn dog learns quickly that stepping off the curb gets him corrected, but that resisting your tugs on the leash gets him treats.
Stubborn dogs eat that up.
Pretty soon you can be hauling on your dog’s neck for all you’re worth and he’ll be sitting impassively at the edge of the curb, refusing to cross until he hears the magic word which tells him that he has earned his reward.
If You Have A Stubborn Dog
Change your way of thinking a little.
Instead of constantly trying to convince your dog to be good, try to trick him into being naughty. When he resists you and insists on being good despite your shenanigans, reward him heavily. When he falls for it, step in with a quick correction!
Consider elaborate sting operations. Those are good for a laugh, and great for training.
Eventually, your stubborn dog will come downstairs on Christmas Day, and see an entire turkey dinner laid out on the table with no one around to guard it…
…and she will think,
“Ha! I’m not falling for THAT one! They want me to eat that food so they can get me into trouble. I’ll show them! I’m going to curl up right here on my bed and not touch that delicious food at all!”
I love a stubborn dog.
–-Carol Millman has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a diploma in Animal Health Technology. You can read her bio here.