As the Operant Conditioning goes, cause and effect are the pillars of everything our dogs do and do not do.
So when your dog decides to take a particular path in his / her behavior, should we brand them stubborn / determined / stupid / obstinate, or use it to our (and dog’s) full advantage. So what is it that stubbornness usually means when told by the owners of so-called Stubborn pets?
“My dog does not want to … or, there’s just no way in the world that he’d…. If he’s, say, got a ball / stick / smell / gets destructed etc.” So it isn’t true according to the title of this thread? Of cause not, stubborn dog is stubborn dog. Being Determined and set in it’s way is one of the strongest survival techniques for our beloved canine to pull through whatever life throws their way.
It is partly emotions that are tied in the displays of so-called stubbornness. In the wild there’s nothing else to influence it and therefore the only guiding tool is the pre-recorded messages system, or instincts and reflexes. You do what you feel is right. Yes, exactly – dogs do not do / not do things out of spite, they do not “punish” us by committing a certain act. It is that while living in a human-operated environment being stubborn often becomes harmful, destructive and unacceptable by us. We judge our dogs according to our standards, and not evolutionary advantages of our beloved pooches in self-suffusing environment where being strong, independent and pushy gives you an advantage.
Every behavior is predominantly goal orientated. Meaning – the outcome effects the performance. Benefiting from something you make sure that whatever you have done that resulted in this benefit is there to stay, and vice versa. Hunting, competing for social benefits, space of comfort, protecting yourself or defending your family requires a strong effort to maintain and promote your way ahead of everyone else’s. You veer off the track and leave your mate when offered an alternative – your species die out. You starve and your family extinct. So stick to your guns. This ability gets polished up, reinforced and practiced over generations and centuries, and so-called stubbornness becomes your way of life. But may you be lucky enough to reside with somebody who takes care of you and keeps the situation under control absolutely every time and everywhere – and you can let go of all your “guns” – life is different. You are set for life! This is the difference that makes the term Stubbornness not applicable, appropriate and suitable to describe the character quirks resulting in your dog choosing to go the “stupid” path. Because being reluctant to follow logical and positive instructions then becomes exactly that. Stupid!
Example – you proof your dog for coming back skill while out and about with your pooch. You call him / her, treat it with a kibble or nice game, and move on to the next repetition. So how would you describe the dog voluntarily refusing to return back to you when told to do so, and get a goodie? You entice your hound with a piece of sausage into the Sit or Down position, and it chooses to walk away and stare out of the window. Stubborn? Yes and no. Yes, if nothing matters for this dog. It never realized the importance of it’s reward, never learnt to play with you or enjoy the treat because it’s simply “not that much into it’s food”. It would be a clever dog choosing to get the maximum stimulation in every setting, rather that going for what does not have a value for them. Stubborn means clever for those dogs.
Dog who was fortunate enough to have the owner who invested time and effort into teaching the dog to appreciate and treasure any involvement the owner puts in. All trained dogs are hot on their rewards, and love the rare chance to play with the owner. Refusing to do this is nothing else but stupid. And believe you me – there’s no such a thing as Stupid Dog. Dogs are rational, logical and consistent. It is the owners who can be branded with the Stubborn mark, and it wouldn’t be a complementing name by far. Example? Here you are: Dog refuses to get off the couch and growls at the owner when approached. Stubborn, in every interpretation and often dealt with by harsh, unfair and ineffective methods that would not work for most owners. Such dogs dealt with in this way are often rehomed or euthanized. Have you tried to offer this dog a piece of Pet-Munchies for getting off or walking into it’s bed? Such a happy game that your dog will learn within a couple of repetitions. Then objecting to getting off from the couch becomes stupid. Oh, he’s “not into food” gain? Do your homework! And let the dog enjoy the pay-out for complying with the task. What you will soon start noticing is that the food / treat itself becomes less relevant with time, I’s the fact that reward has being issued that works like the ultimate prize. Endorphin-releasing motion (and emotion) is the anticipated act for the dogs wanting to succeed and loving to obey.
Use generous reward-based methods in your training and general communication with your dog – and stubborn dog would be a matter of the past. Still experience Stubborn Dog syndrome – re-assess what and how you work, and move on.