Why Does My Dog Ignore Me Outside? (Explained By Professional Dog Trainers)

french bulldog running freely outside

Fact Checked & Reviewed By:

Picture of <a href="https://notabully.org/author/dr-nita-patel" target="_blank" rel="noopener">     <span style="font-size: 21px; color: black;"></span>     <strong style="font-size: 20px; color: black;">Dr. Nita Vasudevan Patel, DVM, MS</strong> </a>

Dr. Patel is a Florida-based veterinarian with over half a decade of experience.

Picture of <a href="https://notabully.org/author/zoie-keast-cpdt" target="_blank" rel="noopener">     <strong style="font-size: 20px; color: black;">Zoie Keast, CPDT</strong> </a>
Zoie Keast, CPDT

Zoie is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer with over a decade of canine experience.

Fact Checked & Reviewed By:

Picture of <a href="https://notabully.org/author/dr-nita-patel" target="_blank" rel="noopener">     <span style="font-size: 21px; color: black;"></span>     <strong style="font-size: 20px; color: black;">Dr. Nita Vasudevan Patel, DVM, MS</strong> </a>

Dr. Patel is a Florida-based veterinarian with over half a decade of experience.

Picture of <a href="https://notabully.org/author/zoie-keast-cpdt" target="_blank" rel="noopener">     <strong style="font-size: 20px; color: black;">Zoie Keast, CPDT</strong> </a>

Zoie is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer with over a decade of canine experience.

It is incredibly frustrating when your dog can perform all their trained behaviors perfectly inside, but as soon as you are outside it is like they have never learned a command in their life. Whether they are pulling on the leash, chasing critters, or running away and hiding it is not only annoying but can also be dangerous.

For example, ignoring you outside to jump on strangers is embarrassing, but running across the street to greet another dog can put your dog’s life at risk. 

Your dog probably ignores you outside because of all the distractions. It is important to train your dog in many different places so they generalize the behavior you want. Some dogs might ignore you because something has scared them outside or they have a medical condition like being hard of hearing. 

In this article, we will discuss why your dog ignores you outside even when you put a lot of effort into training and what you can do to help condition your dog to listen to you outside. We will also discuss why ignoring you outside might be a bigger issue than training if your dog is under-socialized, fearful, or might not hear you very well.

Reason 1. Your Dog Is Distracted

The outdoors is way more interesting than the inside of your house where your dog spends most of their time. There are more things to smell, hear, see, and taste. Yes, even taste. You probably do not have goose poop in your house, but there might be a lot of it outside and your dog will be more interested in that than paying attention to you.

The reason outside is so distracting is that dogs do not generalize very well. Generalization means that a dog understands a behavior in their acclimated environment like your living room but they also have to learn how to perform the behavior in a place with lots of distractions like a busy park.

Dogs who are training to be service dogs have to learn to generalize and perform all their required task no matter where they are. They have a job and cannot afford to ignore their handler outside.

Here is a video about how guide dogs learn to generalize their tasks inside and outside.

Reason 2. Your Dog Needs More Training

What can be done about all the distractions? You have to work on training your dog to pay attention to you instead of ignoring you outside. By using positive reinforcement and rewarding the desired behaviors, your dog is more likely to repeat them.

The more places your practice the behavior, the better your dog will generalize and understand it and be able to listen rather than ignore you outside.

Victoria Stilwell talks about why positive reinforcement is a great way to train your dog and how it helps build a foundation for a great relationship.

Being outside and not ignoring you is a skill that needs to be trained. While some breeds are more biddable than others, dogs are not born knowing recall or how to check in with you.

Because of their breed traits, certain dogs are known for being terrible off-leash so you have to work much harder on training recall and not ignoring you outside. Letting your dog off leash is always a risk, and you should only do it if you feel you can trust their recall and have no doubts that they will not ignore you outside. You should also ensure your pet is microchipped in case the unfortunate does happen!

Reason 3. Your Dog Is Scared

Dogs can indeed be dramatic animals, but we do not want our dogs to be scared. A scared dog is likely to be reluctant to go on walks or might stop walking halfway through. There are a lot of reasons a dog might be scared to go outside including:

  • Being under-socialized and frightened of other people and dogs
  • Noise sensitivity (For example cars, sirens, barking, construction, thunder)
  • The leash (could make puppies or newly re-homed dogs feel trapped and panicked if they have never been on one)
  • A negative experience (For example your dog accidentally touched an electric fence)

When you become frustrated and yell at your dog or puppy for ignoring you outside, they could become scared of you. Be mindful that dogs are emotionally sensitive creatures and can become skittish even around their owners.

Not A Bully’s advising veterinarian, Dr. Nita Patel explained “It is also important that we do not flood our pet with the stimulus they are scared of in the hopes of desensitizing them to it.”

In other words, if your dog is scared of cars, take them out in short intervals for exposure rather than letting them spend a long time with the negative stimulus, which will overwhelm them and scare them even more.

Reason 4. Your Dog Is Hard Of Hearing

Of course, your dog might not intentionally be ignoring you outside but could be hard of hearing or deaf. Dogs can lose their hearing because of age, an illness, or they are born deaf.

If you suspect your dog of being deaf, Dr. Nita Patel suggests referring to a neurologist who can perform a BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) test. There are many resources out there to help train deaf dogs and they can live very full lives.

Just look at this happy deaf dog being trained with hand signals in the video below.

Why Does My Dog Ignore Me At The Dog Park?

Can you blame your dog, especially a puppy for specifically ignoring you at the dog park? It is so much fun there! They can be off leash, have lots of doggy friends to play with, people to meet, and tons of smells to investigate.

For a dog that wants to play all the time, the dog park is probably their favorite place in the world. It might be one of their only chances to be safely off-leash and if they like other dogs it is a great opportunity to socialize them. However, with all the fun they are having it is easy for your dog to be distracted and ignore you at the dog park. They really would rather keep running around and playing.

My biggest suggestion to new and old struggling owners is to try making catching your dog a part of the game. Call them to you, grab their harness or collar, then reward them by releasing them back to play with their friends.

Now you have trained your dog to enjoy coming to you at the dog park, instead of always expecting it to be a cue for going back home. When it is time to leave, they will be conditioned to not ignore you outside at the dog park.

How Can I Get My Dog To Pay Attention To Me Outside?

Certified dog trainer Zoie Keast let us know that “Recall, or simply coming when called, is one of the top requests I get from training clients- outside of behavior problems of course.” So you’re not alone in wanting a dog that comes when you call! 

Keast suggests starting with training your dog not to ignore you outside by working on the behavior you want with as few distractions as possible. This means working somewhere familiar like your living room or backyard and I sometimes even recommend  bathroom to clients so the space is as limited as possible. 

This foundation will help your dog learn basic behavior in a controlled environment at their speed. Do not push them too hard as you practice the behavior in your house, in your backyard, quiet park, and eventually busy outdoor areas. 

By building their confidence, you can depend on your dog to make the correct choice and listen instead of ignoring you outside when there are a lot of distractions. Make sure you use their favorite treats like chicken or cheese when training in environments where they are more likely to ignore you.  

Between positive reinforcement and high-value treats, you have to make yourself more interesting than all the distractions outside!

Let’s talk about two basic training exercises to help you build trust between you and your dog and prevent them from ignoring you outside. These are forever behaviors that you always want to reward and practice for safety and reliability.

Recall

Recall or “come” refers to being able to call your dog to you and expect them to immediately respond and let them catch you. Training this behavior takes a lot of patience, practice, and of course, treats. Certified dog trainer Zoie Keast also adds, “Not reducing out treats too quickly is extremely important to ensuring a strong recall.”

You want your dog to happily come to you and never be scared to approach you. Start with low distractions, say their name and the recall command, grab their harness, treat them, and let them go again. Build up difficulty and distractions as they master the skill.

Here is a great video that gives you a step-by-step method to train recall with distractions.

Make recall fun and never yell. When there is an emergency, your dog will happily come and let you catch them rather than ignoring you outside. I find that some breeds like huskies will be harder to train a recall, but even if you rarely let them off leash, you should still practice in case of a crisis. 

Look At That

“Look At That” or LAT helps your dog learn to pay attention to you without a verbal command. This behavior helps condition them to recognize distractions but then look to you for support. LAT rewards dogs for looking at the trigger which then “reduces the value of the trigger.”

While it is particularly useful for reactive dogs, it helps any dog who is easily distracted and might ignore you outside. When they see a trigger like another dog, give them a treat. Eventually, when they see another dog, they will look to you instead of focusing on the new dog. 

For more information and a step-by-step tutorial on training LAT, check out this video.

On another note, if your dog is scared or has been traumatized outside, it is important not to push your dog too hard past its threshold. Take things slowly when training outside.

They are less likely to ignore you outside if you take them out in the quiet hours of the morning or at night. Without all the scary distractions, your dog will be conditioned to come to you for comfort rather than ignore you and hide or run away if they are scared.

Finally, you need to change your training tactics if your dog ignores you outside because they are scared of you. While it can be frustrating when your dog ignores you outside, never yell at them. Take a deep breath and remember your dog does not yet understand or has not generalized the behavior you want. Instead of adverse methods, use treats, praise, and positive reinforcement to train your dog to pay attention and listen to you.

Final Thoughts

Typically a dog ignoring you outside is not a medical issue but a training and behavioral issue. While the average dog does not need to be trained for police work or high-level dog sports like obedience or agility, they do need to understand recall and should not ignore you, especially when you are outside where they can put themselves in danger.

That is because a dog who ignores you to chase something or visit another dog or person could get lost, get hit by a car, get into a dog fight, or find themselves in some other kind of trouble.

Safety concerns are not exclusive to your dog. A dog that ignores you outside might chase a cat, get into a flock of chickens, or herd the neighbor’s children.

Always know your dog and their breed, especially if it is a breed that has a high prey drive or is easily distracted. These dogs will have a harder time not ignoring you outside and might need to always be leashed for safety.

As a responsible dog owner, it is important to make sure that your dog has a reliable recall and a good foundation with games like “Look At That” before letting them off leash so they do not ignore you outside. It will keep you, your dog, other people, dogs, and critters safer to make more happy memories for years to come.

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