Ask Inger: My Dog Chooses When He Wants To Listen. Selective Hearing?

Ask Inger: My Dog Chooses When He Wants To Listen. Selective Hearing?

Hi, Inger! A few months ago my boyfriend and I adopted the most well behaved Lab ever, Max. He’s seriously such an amazing companion and already knew several basic commands as well as has awesome leash behavior. We’re spoiled! We live near a dog park and even a dog beach so we love to get him out and about.

The only issue Max has is that whenever he is off-lead, he could care less about his humans (us) and is only interested in running around like a crazy man and visiting with new dogs (social butterfly!). How do we get Max to be more watchful when he is off lead?

We’re trying to make him more responsive to us using treats but it seems like he comes for the treat, and then takes off again – only coming back when he’s hungry (not as often as you’d think). At this point, we’re not sure if he can ever be off-leash at the beach as there are no fences and we can’t stop him from running around.


Hi Sam,

Great question! Many dog owners suffer from having their only dog hear words like COOKIE extremely well, yet words like “let’s go” at the dog park become in audible. Go figure, a similar hearing dysfunction can happen with family members too. Here’s the scoop. Often, what is deemed to be a well-mannered dog by many owners and new dog parents of a rescue dog is actually a manifestation of age, not necessarily obedience.  Now hang on, don’t get your knickers in a knot, I am not suggesting your dog is not “super” smart, or fabulous. I’m saying that in many cases, like yours, you or your dog have not participated in formal obedience classes. Therefore, you are winging-it and so is your dog. This technique (of winging-it) or treat training initially works really well with a puppy. Owners usually get that quick response of their pup eagerly wanting to please. What the puppy is responsive to is the owner’s body language and high voice inflection praise and treat. But by teenage-hood, like with humans, forget about it, in one ear, out the other. Then what?

Teach your dog to come, sit and wait for a release command. The missing link is that you just be a little smarter than your dog teach him to want to finish the command. Sometimes people hear positive reinforcement and treat training and end up coaxing their dog more than really training them. Playing a game of hide-and-seek in your house should fix the temporary hearing impairment. But wait, you need to teach your dog to seek you out, sit and wait for a release.

I recommend teaching this systematically in a step-by-step process. The dog owner tip is that you need to teach it with a beginning, middle and end. The end is the release. Very important!  You need 2 people, for walls (in your house or apartment) one dog, a treat, and a little reverse psychology. One person holds the dog; the other grabs a treat and hides in another room. The person holding the dog does so nonchalantly by it’s collar. The person hiding should repeatedly call the dog’s name. Don’t peak. The person holding the dog back should let the dog go on the third call of its name. Holding the dog back creates an instinctive drive to hear its name and WANT to seek you out. Suddenly letting your dog go creates the race- horse effect. When your dog finds the person calling have the treat already in your hand and gesture the letter “j” with the hand holding the treat. Your dog’s eyes will follow you hand signal with the hand that is holding the treat, and say sit. Now hold your dog’s focus and ask your dog to watch you. Only for a second, then say the “okay!” and give him the treat. Practice this game at home for a while before trying it at a dog park. Once dogs get and understand hide-and-seek, they love nothing more than to come immediately, sit and wait for that release command.

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