Is he stubborn, or smart?

In my experience, dogs that people call “stubborn”, “stupid”, or “untrainable” are often the dogs who really just want to know “What’s in it for me?”

Dogs have been kept as companions for thousands of years now, and one of the characteristics that we really like to breed into dogs is their ability to focus on and read subtle cues that we give. Some breeds, like kelpies and border collies, have been bred to really focus on these cues and to have a high drive to work with people. These dogs are typically called “smart” or “highly trainable”. They are no smarter than any other dogs (sorry folks), but their high drive for working with people means they respond first and worry about their payment later. Most enjoy the physical nature of the work they do enough that they find the work itself rewarding.

So how do “stubborn” breeds differ? Often they are breeds that were originally bred to work independently (as guards or hunters), responding to cues that come from external factors rather than people (such as the approach of someone unfamiliar, or finding a good scent). These characteristics set them up perfectly for the work they were bred for, but it means that we have to put in some work if we want our “stubborn” dog to focus on us.

stubborn dogs

This leads me back to the start of this blog. When we train our dog, we should always be able to answer the question “What’s in it for the dog?”. If we expect our dog to listen, the answer should be something the dog would want to work for (hot dogs, a game of tug, a belly rub).

Last year I read a great book called When Pigs Fly by Jane Killion. It is full of absolutely wonderful tips and guides for turning your “stubborn” dog into a training superstar. Depending on your dog you might need to start by actually teaching your dog that training is fun, or you might just need to change the approach you take.

No dog is “stupid” or “untrainable”, some just force us to start training smart, not tough!


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