Emotional Support Dog playing in the sand

How to Train a Dog Who Won't Listen

Do you despair that you'll never be able to train your Emotional Support Dog because he just won't listen to you?

Having a well-trained dog is important for every dog owner, but particularly if it's an Emotional Support Animal.

Not only is it annoying and embarrassing when a dog won't listen, it can also be dangerous. And as we take Emotional Support Dogs into places where dogs aren't usually allowed, it's especially important you feel confident he's going to behave.

But many dog owners find that their canine friends can be stubborn. Can you train an Emotional Support Dog that won't listen? You'll be relieved to hear that you can. And here's how.

Why Is It So Important To Have a Well-Trained Emotional Support Animal?

Before we break down the plan to get your Emotional Support Dog listening to you - let's be sure we're clear what it is you're trying to achieve.

The most important outcome you should be striving for when you train your Emotional Support Animal is the confidence to know they will behave in a way that is safe when you're out in public - for you, them and for the general public.

This is true for any dog, but even more so for Emotional Support Animals because you are likely to take them to places where pets generally aren't allowed, such as the cabin of an aircraft. It's not in anyone's interest to have an Emotional Support Dog that doesn't respond to commands in the close environment of an airplane.

It's worth noting, if you are allowed to have your Emotional Support Dog living with you in housing where non-service dogs are not allowed, one of the stipulations of the law is that they behave well.

It's also extremely important to your peace of mind that you are confident your Emotional Support Animal will behave well when you're out and about, otherwise the positive benefits of having him with you will be cancelled out by the anxiety that he might behave badly.

What if Your Dog is Stubborn and Won't Respond to Training?

It's true that some dogs appear to be more stubborn than others. But while you might think your Emotional Support Dog is being difficult or defiant when he doesn't listen to you, it's unlikely to be the case.

Emotional Support Animals might appear to understand a lot of words, but we need to remember that our language isn't their first language. They can only understand what they've been taught.

The problem is unlikely to be that your Emotional Support Dog is stubborn or defiant. It's more likely that he doesn't appear to be listening because he isn't clear what you want. Or it might be the case that his rules aren't enforced consistently, or he doesn't associate behaving well with a reward.

So how do you train an Emotional Support Dog who won't listen? Read on to find out!

Be Patient and Allow Your Emotional Support Animal Time to Learn

Make sure you don't expect too much too soon from your Emotional Support Dog. If a human moved into your house you would expect it to take them some time to learn the rules and customs of your family, and chances are they would speak your language! A dog doesn't have that luxury.

It's important to be as patient with your Emotional Support Dog as you would be a human moving into your home, and make sure you're clear about your expectations so they can learn how to behave.

Agree Your House Rules

When it comes to training animals, consistency is key. If only some members of the family encourage your Emotional Support Dog to stick to the rules, he is likely to get confused about the correct way to behave.

For example, if you decide that your Emotional Support Dog isn't allowed to sit on the sofa but only Mom enforces this rule, he is going to get mixed messages and can't really be blamed for not behaving like Mom wants.

The best way to make sure everyone is consistent about the rules is to agree them in advance and make sure everyone knows how to reinforce them. Some families find it useful to write the rules down and put them somewhere they can be seen easily, such as the fridge door.

The rules you create are totally up to you; what works for one family might not work for another. The only important thing is to make sure everyone sticks to them.

Start Your Training At Home
Service Dog and ESA dog laying on the couch at home

All dogs have very sensitive senses of smell, so as soon as you leave your home, even just to go into the back yard, they are likely to be more interested in sniffing around rather than sitting on command.

Dogs are also generally sociable animals, so if you go somewhere busy with other people or animals, your dog is likely to find them more interesting than you.

Start your training in your home, and once your Emotional Support Dog is producing the desired behavior 9 times out of 10, graduate to the back yard, or a quiet area of the local park. When you go outside your home, allow them time to sniff around before you start training and be patient if they take a step back once they are distracted in the outdoors.

Each time you make the surroundings a little more distracting for you dog, make sure you practice your training until they are producing the desired behavior consistently before you graduate to a new place. Be patient and consistent and you'll be amazed how much your Emotional Support Dog can achieve.

Always remember to keep your Emotional Support Dog on the leash in unfenced areas until you are 100% sure they will stay by your side. A dog running into traffic or behaving antisocially can be dangerous both for them and other people too.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Dogs are simple creatures and there aren't many things on their list of priorities. Food is definitely one thing they really love and their excellent sense of smell means it's easy for them to find it!

The best way to train a dog is through positive reinforcement which is a fancy term for rewarding good behavior. When you're teaching your Emotional Support Dog a skill, rather than punishing them each time they don't do it, reward them with a tasty treat when they do.

If you're training your Emotional Support Dog to come when you call them - this is often called "recall" in dog training circles - start by practicing at home. Call them in the same way every time, perhaps by using their name, saying "come" or with a whistle. When they come to you, back up playfully to make sure they're engaged while holding the treat so they can see it, and reward them with a treat and praise. Practice this around 10 times a day in your home before you graduate to the back yard. Once they're consistently producing the behavior there, move to the park and so on.

Some people use a clicker as well as a treat to reinforce good behaviour. These can be bought in all good pet stores. When your Emotional Support Dog produces the desired behavior, give him a treat and click your clicker once straight away. Eventually your dog will learn that the click means they have been good, and although it seems strange to us, the click will feel like a reward to them. At this point you can start weaning them off the treats.

Put Yourself In Their Shoes (Or Paws!)
Put Yourself in Your Emotional Support Animals Paws

Remember we said that food is likely to be the top of your Emotional Support Dog's list of priorities? If they catch a whiff of some delicious tidbit that you dropped on the kitchen floor, or even a less than desirable one someone else dropped on the pavement days ago, there's a strong chance their desire to eat it will overtake their desire to please you.

Teaching them to "Leave It" can be tricky, but it's an important command to master, unless you want to come home to chewed slippers every night.

Use their desire for food to help rather than hinder. Practice dropping something boring like a piece of kibble on the floor, command them to leave it, and when they do reward them with a "Yes!" and a tastier treat (and a click if you're using a clicker.) Don't reward them with the kibble, otherwise they won't think there's any point "leaving it" next time.

How to Train a Dog Who Won't Listen

So the good news is, it's very unlikely your Emotional Support Animal is stubborn or defiant. If you feel like he won't listen to you:

  • Practice patience and don't expect too much too soon. Take time to train your dog.
  • Make sure everyone in your family is reinforcing the same rules and be consistent in your language
  • Train your dog at home to start with and only move outdoors once he is consistently responding to commands
  • Reward good behavior with tasty treats and a click from a clicker if you use one

Many Emotional Support Animals have set backs in their training. If this happens to you, take a step back to the last place where it was working well and keep practicing. Remember, training your dog is a marathon rather than a sprint!

Also remember that as well as training your Emotional Support Animal, you're also strengthening your bond with him, so the reward isn't just a well trained dog but an even closer friend.