How to Get Your Dog to Listen to You: 14 Top Tips

Getting your dog to listen to you is probably one of the most important things that you need to be able to do as a dog owner.

It’s not just about saying “fetch” and having your dog bring back a ball or getting him to do impressive tricks.

You need your dog to listen to you and follow your commands for much more important reasons.

Firstly, if your dog doesn’t listen to you, your life will become extremely difficult.

Imagine you have guests at your house and your dog won’t stop running around, barking and disturbing the guests while they eat or talk.

Or imagine you need to do some household chores and your dog keeps getting in the way.

You need him to sit or go to a different room, but instead he keeps playing in the room that you are trying to vacuum.

You can imagine how annoying things like this can get. But that’s not the worst part. If your dog doesn’t listen to you, he might end up hurting himself.

Let’s say you’re playing with your dog outside and he gets distracted by a cat (or some other animal). He starts to chase the cat and you tell him to stop or come back – but he doesn’t listen.

He chases the cat onto the street and gets hit by a car. It sounds awful, right? But accidents like this actually happen and it’s often because the dog doesn’t listen to his owner.

Training your dog to follow your commands takes a bit of time and you need to be patient. But it’s not too hard to do if you do it correctly.

Having a well-behaved dog that listens to you is definitely worth the time and effort. Read on to find out the 14 top tips on how to get your dog to listen to you.

1. Don’t Forget - Dogs Don’t Speak English

Tricolored dog alert and focused

This might sound like a funny tip but it’s actually quite an important one. Dogs don’t know any languages and they don’t communicate with humans or other dogs using languages (like we do).

This means that saying a command is not as effective as showing a command. For example, the “sit” command is given by saying “sit” and holding your hand out with your palm facing upward.

This is a combination of saying and showing. But, if you said “fetch” and showed your dog the “sit” command, he would most likely sit.

Some dogs might fetch, but most dogs will do what you show them. This is because dogs communicate with body language.

They look at our movements (and the movements of other dogs) and respond to those movements.

The reason that this is important is because many owners say a certain command like “sit” while their body language is sending a different message.

You might say “sit” while you’re washing the dishes or holding a baby, and your dog might get confused.

That’s because he sees you doing something else with your hands or moving your body in a different way.

He might think these movements mean something else, or he might confuse those movements with a different command. Either way, he might not fully understand the command.

This doesn’t mean that dogs don’t understand what you say to them. They do.

They don’t understand the language but they do make a connection between a certain word (e.g. “sit”, “run”, “fetch”) and the action that you are expecting them to do.

It doesn’t even have to be a real word. Dogs don’t care about the language. It might just be a sound like “blah” or “woo”.

The important thing is they associate the sound with the action you’re expecting from them. With enough training and practice, they will listen to your commands and follow them.

You won’t even need to show them the command. Dogs are intelligent animals and they can learn verbal commands.

The only thing you need to keep in mind is that they prioritize body language. If you say something and do something else – he might not follow your command.

Or he might only respond to your movement.

Say the Command Clearly

Dogs get confused if you say a command while a lot of people are talking or shouting.

They also get confused if you say multiple commands after one another, or if you say the command between other sentences.

Just remember that dogs aren’t great with language. If your dog isn’t listening to you, say the command clearly and not in between other sentences.

Teach Your Dog the Command Properly

Dog owner teaching his dog new skills

Make sure you’ve actually taught your dog the command. Many people come across this problem. They “teach” their dog a certain command, but after a while he doesn’t do it.

They say the command clearly (and without any confusing body language), but their dog doesn’t do anything. This is a sign that they haven’t actually taught their dog the command.

To learn a command, dogs need a lot of practice. You might have to repeat and practice a command hundreds (or even thousands) of times till your dog fully learns it.

If you stop practicing before your dog has learned it, he might forget the command. This is almost the same as not teaching your dog the command.

In other cases, owners teach their dogs a command by saying something and showing a certain hand gesture (like saying “sit” and showing the “sit” hand gesture).

They don’t realize that their dog is reacting only to the hand gesture. Later on, when they try to give a verbal command without the hand gesture, their dog doesn’t do anything.

Make sure you practice the verbal command many times and in different environments to make sure your dog has actually learned the command.

2. How to Get Your Dog to Listen: Give Your Dog a Name

It sounds like a simple tip, but it needs to be done before you can move on to teaching commands.

The best way to teach your dog his name, is by saying his name and giving him a treat when he looks at you. Dogs make connections between their actions and what they get.

If you say his name and he gets a treat for looking at you, he’ll create a positive connection in his mind.

From that point on, he’ll always look at you when you call his name (because he knows he’s going to get a reward).

After doing this for a couple of days, you need to swap the treat with something else - like petting your dog or saying “good boy” when you call his name and he looks at you.

Learning his own name is the first step to listening to his owner.

Don’t Use Your Dog’s Name When Getting Angry at Him

Cute puppy laying on grass

If your dog poops in the house or does something wrong, say “no” or “bad boy” or any other phrase you feel comfortable with. But don’t use his name.

If you use his name when he does something wrong, he’ll make a negative connection between his name and your mood.

He’ll think that you’re angry or that he’s in trouble whenever you use his name. This will make it difficult for you to get your dog’s attention when you need him to listen.

Always use his name in a positive way. Pet him or give him a treat when you call his name and he comes to you. That way, he’ll give you his full attention when you use his name.

3. Teach Him the “look at Me” Command

This command has many other names (like “focus”), but they all have the same purpose – to get your dog to look into your eyes.

This is an important command because when your dog is looking into your eyes, he’s also listening.

It’s much easier to get your dog to do something after you’ve given this command. So how do you teach this command?

How to teach your dog this command

  • Show your dog a tasty treat and start moving it around. When he begins to follow it with his eyes, move on to the next step.
  • Slowly raise your hand so that the treat is in between your eyes. As soon as your dog looks into your eyes/at the treat, praise him (e.g. you can say “yes” or “good boy”), then lower your hand and give him the treat. After repeating this step a couple of times, move on to the next one.
  • Now you need to do the same thing again, but when your dog looks into your eyes, say “look at me” (or “focus” or whatever you decide), then praise him and give him the treat like you did in the last step. Make sure you say “look at me” as soon as he looks into your eyes. The command and the action need to happen at the same time if you want your dog to understand what the command means. After doing this a few times, move on to the last step.
  • This is the final step. Say “look at me” without showing him any treats. If your dog looks into your eyes – you’ve succeeded! You can praise him or pet him, then give him a treat so he remembers the command. If he doesn’t look into your eyes, repeat the first 3 steps.

Things to Remember When Teaching This Command

Only teach your dog one word or phrase for this command. This means if you teach him the phrase “look at me”, then you shouldn’t say “focus” or anything else.

You can choose any word or phrase for this command. But once you’ve chosen a command, don’t change it.

For example, if you say “look at me” but then you change the command to “focus”, your dog will get confused. This applies to other commands as well.

You can also add a hand gesture when you’re teaching this command. For example, you can point to your eyes or your nose when you say “look at me”.

Your dog will learn the hand gesture just like the verbal command. You can then use the hand gesture and the verbal command at the same time. Or you can use just one of them in the future.

4. Get Rid of Distractions When Training Your Dog

Labrador on a casual walk with its owner

Puppies and untrained dogs easily get distracted by other people, other animals, and even toys. If you want your dog to listen and learn, you have to get rid of anything that can distract him.

If you don’t, he won’t be able to focus on what you’re teaching him. If he doesn’t focus, then he won’t learn the commands.

So it’s best to train your dog in a quiet room inside the house (away from other members of the family), or in your backyard.

You can also train him in a quiet part of a park, but if he sees other people running around or playing – he might get distracted.

You should also pay attention to toys lying around on the floor. If you don’t need them for your dog’s training, you should put them away.

Later on, you’ll need to test your dog in environments where there are distractions (more on that later). The final goal is to have a dog that follows your commands anywhere and everywhere.

But you shouldn’t have those distractions during the initial training period.

5. Make Sure Your Dog Is Getting Enough Exercise

Border Collie playing with its toy

If you’re wondering how to get your dog to listen to you, then you should implement this tip in particular.

Your dog doesn’t have to be dead tired, but he shouldn’t have a lot of energy during the training sessions.

You can play a game of fetch or even just take him out for a walk. Anything that will get him to use his energy.

This is important because if your dog has lots of energy, he won’t be focused on what you’re teaching him. It’s sort of like a distraction.

He’s going to be excited and he’s not going to be interested in listening to you. He’s going to be thinking about running around, playing with his toys, or spending his energy some other way.

6. Don’t Use Fear to Control Your Dog

Locked and frightened dog

Dogs listen to commands or do certain things for one of 2 reasons. They either do it to get something good (a reward) or they do it to avoid something bad (a punishment).

In the first case, you’re working with happiness or satisfaction. In the second case, you’re using fear to get your dog to do something (or not do something).

For example, some people hit their dog on the rear when he pees inside the house.

This is a type of punishment and people think that their dog won’t pee inside the house again, because he’ll be afraid of being punished.

But this method doesn’t work very well and it’s not a good idea to train your dog like this.

That’s because fear-based training isn’t very effective and it’s also not healthy, as it can lead to aggression.

If your dog listens to you now because he’s scared, he might not listen to you later on when he thinks he has a chance to avoid punishment.

You want your dog to follow your commands out of loyalty, not fear.

Keep in mind that dogs often don’t even understand why they are being punished – especially if you punish them after they do something wrong.

They don’t understand the connection between their action and the punishment, especially if you punish them after a certain amount of time has passed.

It’s pointless, it has a negative effect on your relationship with your dog, and has a bad impact on your dog’s mind-set.

Dogs often stop trusting their owners when they get punished multiple times. To avoid these problems, make sure you never hit your dog or cause him any pain.

You should also avoid shouting at your dog.

The best method of training is reward-based training. This is when you give your dog a treat, or pet him or praise him when he does something right.

Dogs respond very well to this method. It’s fast, effective, and no-one gets hurt during the process.

7. Make Sure the Training Sessions Are Interesting

Dog and its owner playing on the beach

Dogs can easily get bored. This is especially true for puppies and intelligent breeds.

If you want your dog to learn the commands you’re teaching him, keep the sessions short (about 15 minutes), and add a bit of variety.

You should also play with your dog at the very end so he associates the sessions with fun. That way he’ll look forward to the training sessions and that will make it much easier to train him.

8. Make Sure Your Dog’s Essential Needs Are Met Before Training Sessions

Thirsty German Shepherd drinking from a fountain

Your dog shouldn’t be hungry or thirsty during the training sessions. Being a bit hungry is OK, but not too hungry.

He shouldn’t need to go to the toilet during those sessions either. All of these will make it difficult for your dog to focus.

9. Pay Attention to the Breed

Two dogs playing with each other

Some dogs are naturally more stubborn than others. They’re harder to train and sometimes they don’t listen to their owners. Huskies, for example, are a stubborn breed.

They’re smart (which makes it easier for them to learn new things), and they love to please their owners. But at the same time, they can easily say “no” to your command or simply ignore you.

The reason for this is their genetics. The fact that these dogs can ignore your commands is related to their past.

These dogs were originally used to pull sleds in cold parts of the world (e.g. Siberia). When they got to frozen lakes, they would decide whether or not it was safe to go over the ice.

If the owner told them to run across the ice, they would obey or disobey the command based on their instincts.

If they didn’t listen to their instincts and did as they were told, they could end up falling into the lake and dying.

They disobey a command when they think it’s dangerous or wrong to follow that command. This is not a bad thing, but it does make training a bit harder.

The key to training these types of breeds is to build trust over time, and give them rewards that they can’t resist when training them.

The reward should be so fun or tasty that they ignore their own opinions, and do whatever you’re asking them to do.

To help with this, you should pay attention to what your dog loves to eat the most as a treat. Some dogs love beef or chicken, others love frozen fish, and so on.

Find a treat that they go crazy for. This will help you train them when they’re being stubborn!

10. Pay Attention to Your Dog’s Emotional State

Two dogs barking at each other

Dogs feel emotions just like us and it distracts them - especially when you want your dog to listen to you.

Even if your dog is fully trained and follows your commands no matter what, he might still disobey one of your commands if he’s feeling a strong emotion.

One of those emotions is fear. A great example of this is when there’s thunder and lightning outside.

Your dog might run to your feet or cuddle up against you, even if you tell him to sit or stay. That’s because he’s scared and his fear motivates him more than your command.

Another example of this is when you take your dog to a vet. A lot of dogs are scared of vets and start to act nervous in the vet’s clinic.

They might move around restlessly, bark continuously, or even try to leave the room. When you tell them to sit or look at you, they don’t pay attention to your commands.

Another emotion that can stop a dog from listening to you is anger/aggression.

If another dog steps into your dog’s territory or gets too close to him, he might start growling, barking, or even start attacking the other dog.

Dogs often don’t listen to their owners at times like this because they are acting on their instincts.

This means that you shouldn’t be surprised if your dog doesn’t listen to you in situations like these.

It doesn’t mean you haven’t trained your dog well. All dogs can act like this from time to time.

Just pay attention to your dog’s emotional state if you want to understand why he’s not listening to you.

By solving the issue (getting away from another dog or a scary sound/place etc), you’ll be able to get your dog to listen to you again.

Other than their emotional state, you should also consider your dog’s age. Puppies need time to develop physically and psychologically. Don’t expect them to act like a grown-up dog.

11. Train Him in Different Environments

Woman walking two dogs in a forest

This was briefly mentioned in the previous paragraphs, but let’s take a more in-depth look.

When you first start training your dog, it needs to be in a quiet place where there are no distractions, as outlined earlier in this article.

You need a quiet place so your dog will focus on the lesson and learn the command. But even if he follows the command in that room, he might not obey the command somewhere else.

Once you’ve taught your dog a command, you need to practice it in many other places – like the park, on the street, in a car, in your backyard, at the vet etc.

That’s because dogs don’t respond to commands the same way when there are distractions, such as other people, moving cars, other animals, different sounds, new places etc.

To have a well-trained dog that listens to you all the time, you need to practice every single command in multiple environments.

That’s the only guarantee you have that he will follow your commands when you’re outside.

12. Teach Your Dog, but Don’t Bribe Him

Australian Shepherd demonstrates paw command

A lot of people try to take an “easy” route. Instead of actually teaching their dog how to follow commands, they just bribe them with a treat.

For example, you want your dog to come to you.

The correct way is to teach your dog the “recall” command. This is taught like other commands – you say a word and when he comes to you, you give him a treat as a reward.

You repeat this and practice it till your dog learns the command.

The incorrect way is to hold up a tasty treat to get him to come to you without teaching him the command.

This sounds like less work but it’s very wrong. The reason this is problematic is because your dog might eventually get bored of the bribe.

This means you’ll have to think of a better bribe (like a better treat, or a better toy). This can turn into an endless cycle till you are unable to come up with a better bribe.

When that happens, your dog will stop doing what you want him to do. Make sure you teach your dog the commands he needs to know.

Don’t bribe him with treats – that type of training won’t last long.

13. Use a Leash (Especially When Teaching the “recall” Command)

Dog being walked in the forest during sunset

When your dog is on a leash, it’s much easier to get his attention.

If your dog gets distracted by a moving car or a cat, you can just pull on the leash and your dog will start paying attention to you again.

When you start out, you should use a short leash.

Once your dog learns the command and comes to you when he’s 5-10 feet away, you can move on to longer leashes and practice the same command with longer distances (30+ feet).

The “recall” command is one of the most important ones. You use this when you want your dog to come to you, and this command can save your dog’s life.

If he’s running towards a car or if there’s a dangerous animal nearby, this command will get him to safety. 

14. Give Him Healthy Treats During Training

Cute puppy receives its treat

When your dog does something right, you need to give him a treat as a reward (at least in the beginning).

Since you need to teach your dog many different commands and repeat them hundreds of times, you can’t give him unhealthy treats all the time. It’s bad for their health.

That’s why you should pick a low-calorie but tasty treat for your training sessions.

Keep in mind that over time you should swap treats for words of praise (like yes, well done, good boy etc) and petting.

Final Thoughts

You now know how to get your dog to listen to you, but keep in mind that all dogs are different. Some might start listening to you immediately, while others might need a lot of training.

Pay attention to your dog’s age, environment, and emotional state when you give a command.

Practice the commands many times, keep the training sessions interesting and make sure he’s getting enough exercise.

That’s pretty much all you need to do. Follow the tips in this guide and you’re guaranteed to succeed.

Just remember – even dogs with the best training might not listen to you from time to time. Always have realistic expectations. Any dog can get scared or distracted.

No one’s perfect after all!