Is Your Dog Stubborn or Just Trying to Tell You Something

Is Your Dog Stubborn or Just Trying to Tell You Something

There are a few variations in the definition of stubborn but this is the most concise “difficult to move, remove, or cure.”

When a client tells me their dog is “stubborn”, it always leads me into asking MANY more questions. I will ask about the situations, I will ask about past experiences, I will ask them how they respond to the “stubborn” behavior and I will ask about their dog’s body language. When I ask these questions, I want as much detail as possible. Because dogs do not use verbal language (the language that most humans understand), I really try to get a picture of what is going.

What I have found is that not one of the dogs I have worked with was ever actually being “stubborn.” These dogs exhibited behavior the handlers called “stubborn” but they were actually afraid, anxious, confused or unsure in some way.

For example, I have worked with dogs that stop in the middle of the street when they are on a walk and they will not budge. These dogs are often afraid but I have also met a few that just get tired because the walk is too long for them. I have worked with dogs that won’t come when called. These dogs have either had a negative event happen after being called (in one case it was as simple as she was only called at the dog park when it was time to come home so the dog stopped responding to “come”) or they were not rewarded enough for choosing to come when they left something else desirable (like the fun of chasing a rabbit or bird). I have also worked with dogs that don’t respond to a cue instantly (like “sit”) because they have not had enough practice with the behavior.

When I work with these dogs I often ask the people if they have anything they dislike doing, they don’t do because they are afraid or they don’ have not “mastered” a skill. When someone is being “stubborn” (humans or animals) there is often an underlying reason why. They may be scared due to an unpleasant experience, they can be nervous because they don’t really understand what to do or they may be confused about what is expected. This realization usually leads people to have more empathy for their dogs. Once the humans are more empathetic, they can help their dogs overcome the “stubborn” behaviors.

Identifying the cause of the “stubborn” behavior can be difficult if we don’t pay attention to what our dogs are telling us.

The body language that many people call the “guilty look” is most often actually a sign of fear or anxiety. When we confuse fear for being “stubborn,” our reaction to the behavior (punishing, forcing, ignoring, etc.) can actually make the behaviors worse. Instead, we need to identify why the “stubborn” behavior is happening and address the underlying issue (fear, uncertainty, confusion, etc.). Once the underlying issue is addressed, the “stubborn” behavior usually disappears.

Remember the definition of stubborn is “difficult to move, remove, or cure.” Next time you think your dog is being “stubborn”, consider what else your dog may actually be experiencing that prevents him/her from moving or changing his/her behavior.

Shannon CoynerShannon Coyner

Shannon has been a pet lover all her life and a dog trainer for over 20 years. She has spent her life observing, caring for and training animals of all kinds. She has worked in the Bird Department at Marine World Africa USA, and worked as an handler and trainer for an African Serval Cat at Safari West, a private zoo in Santa Rosa, California. She has participated in behavior studies including observations of bald eagles and addax antelope through the San Francisco Zoo and Safari West.

Her education includes a Biology Degree, specializing in Zoology from Sonoma State. She is a Registered Veterinary Technician, Certified Professional Dog Trainer (Knowledge Assessed), a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

Shannon is currently serving as President for the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians.

Shannon’s dog training philosophy revolves around force free, positive reinforcement, however, her ultimate goal is for healthy happy relationship between pets and their people. Diet, exercise, environment and training all play a significant role in achieving this goal.

Shannon is currently the owner of Ventura Pet Wellness and Dog Training Center in Ventura, CA where she works with anxious and fearful dogs privately as well as teaching agility classes ( Shannon has also started a training website called Truly Force Free Animal Training (