It’s a fairly common occurrence to be standing in the dog park, calling your dog’s name
over and over again only to have her run the opposite direction. Perhaps at home, your four
legged friend enjoys stealing items and parading proudly around with them. Inevitably, he ducks
out of reach just when you are close enough to retrieve the coveted, slobber covered prize. Are
you the victim of your dog stretching your arm to capacity to get to her favourite sniffing tree? If
any of this sounds familiar, pull up a chair and keep reading. Today we’re talking about how to
improve your dog’s listening skills.
There is no one way to achieve doggie listening skills, but one of the key ingredients is
the amount of quality time you and your pup spend together. Does that sound strange? Think
about it. Who are the people in your life that you feel closest to? Why is that? Most likely it’s
because you’ve, consciously or subconsciously, built a bond through shared experiences and
time spent together. Why would the social rules of connectedness be any different when it
comes to your relationship with your dog? Below are three ways to help you and your dog work
on your relationship which ultimately will improve your dog’s listening skills.
The first of these ways is quite obvious and perhaps the easiest to understand and
implement. Engaging in dog-specific activities is a great way to build your bond with your dog.
Obedience training with a Positive Reinforcement based trainer is a structured way to provide
your dog with guidelines for good manners while also strengthening your relationship. But, dog-specific activities don’t have to be so structured in order for them to serve as relationship
builders. What does your dog like to do? Hiking, running or playing fetch are some activities you
can do together. Dog parks or dog-friendly spaces are another good option. Remember, if the
experience is intended to improve your relationship, make sure it’s something you are both
enjoying; otherwise, it can cause the opposite effect. If your dog associates you with fun times,
your bond is strengthened and your dog will naturally be inclined to unclog its ears and listen to
Another way to improve your dog’s listening skills is to be present. What does that even
mean? More and more we hear about people who are rushing from one thing to another and/or
multitasking. It’s important, not only for our dogs, but for ourselves too, to learn how to be
present in the moment. Walking your dog and being on your cell phone is not present.
How can you possibly connect if you are otherwise engaged? Going on a hike with your dog
and acknowledging her when she checks in not only tells her “hey, you’re important”, but it
reinforces the behaviour of coming back to you. Acknowledgement can be something as simple
as making eye contact with him and smiling. You can use treats if you’d like, but human
acknowledgement, especially a favourite human, is quite powerful for our dogs.
It may seem counter intuitive, but when you give your dog freedom, it strengthens your
bond and your dog’s desire to hang out with you. If you and your dog frequent dog parks or off-leash areas, it is recommended that you don’t recall your dog for the first ten minutes. I would
go even further and suggest not calling your dog to you unless necessary. If your dog has been
rewarded for checking in, it’s very likely she will come to you on her own. Also, if your dog finds
dog friends and they are playing appropriately, let them play. Most dogs require doggie only time
to fulfill them physically, emotionally and mentally. Providing built-in freedom, although possibly
counterintuitive, works as a catalyst for trust and respect; both imperative elements for doggie
listening skills. Your dog is going to be more interested in listening to you when he can trust you
to let him be a dog at times.
Bottom line, our dogs generally like us and want to spend quality time with us. Providing
them with dog-free time is one way we can build trust and respect between dog and human.
Activities where we are active participants together also strengthen our bond and the likelihood
of your dog listening to you increases. Ultimately, being present with your dog, whether you are
snuggling on the couch or in an agility ring, is the most potent weapon you can wield in battling
stone ears. When we invest quality time in our dogs, they invest in us right back.