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One of the cool things about being a dog owner is seeing our four-legged friends have fun with their buddies. Whether this be at the dog park, at doggy daycare, or just in our own backyards, we love being able to see Fido romp and play with his best buds.
When it comes time to end the play, though, some owners might find they run into some issues with getting their pup to listen to them. So why might a dog ignore their owner when other dogs are around?
Your dog is likely ignoring you when around another dog because they’re having too much fun! In some cases, ignoring you may be related to training issues such as poor recall or lack of impulse control. Some dogs may also be overstimulated or anxious and cannot focus on you in the presence of other dogs.
In the article below, I’ll discuss several possible reasons as to why your dog may be ignoring you when other dogs are around, and why that might be a bad thing. I’ll also provide some tips for how to encourage your dog to pay attention to you, even in the midst of play!
6 Reasons Why Your Dog May Be Ignoring You Around Other Dogs
Keep in mind that each dog is an individual, and the context of the situation is important when determining why your pup might be ignoring you.
1) Having Too Much Fun!
The most likely reason your dog is ignoring you when in the presence of other dogs is that they are just having too much fun! Dogs are more likely to engage with things that interest them, and if the other dogs they are around are more interesting than you, then they will stick with the dogs.
In most cases, it’s important to allow your dog to “be a dog” and enjoy playtime and activities with other dogs. This is important not only for their social skills, but also to help keep them physically and mentally entertained.
Interactions with other dogs allow our dogs to play in ways that we humans cannot really mimic, and some dogs can prefer this to their interactions with people, but I promise they aren’t getting “bored” with you!
For puppies and young adolescents, these dog-dog interactions are extremely important and a necessary part of the socialization process. When they are first introduced to another dog, they may totally ignore you because they are learning the “social customs” of dog communication and are more focused on that, similar to how you probably were when you attended your first day of high school and had to learn all the ins-and-outs!
2) Poor Recall
Recall training is extremely important for dogs to go through, and if they have a poor recall then it’s likely they won’t respond to you when in environments where they are distracted, such as in the presence of other dogs. With good recall training, your dog learns to return to you upon hearing (or seeing) their cue, no matter what is going on around them.
Many owners stop recall training once their dog is reliably coming when called in quiet, non-distracting environments and then mistakenly assume their dog has fully learned this behavior. With all types of learning, you must practice the behavior in a variety of environments and situations and seek a response from your dog each and every time, gradually working up to more difficult training scenarios (such as the dog park).
Dogs learn through association, and if they have not generalized the recall behavior to all situations and environments, then they will only have associated it with a specific environment or situation. If you take your dog to a dog park, they may not really be “ignoring you” when with other dogs, but it may be that they actually haven’t learned the recall cue.
Alternatively, they may have also learned that when they hear the recall cue it means they must leave their friends, so they may choose to ignore it in order to continue playing with their friends. If this is the case with your pup, a local trainer will be able to help you undo your dog’s current understanding of the recall and create a new association with it.
If your pup is easily excited or hasn’t had a lot of experience being around other dogs, they may be ignoring you because they are overstimulated by the environment. Overstimulation can occur in many environments and situations, and your dog “ignoring” you could mean that the environment is just too much for them to handle.
This overstimulation (which is often related to stress) can appear as a variety of behaviors, from ignoring you flat out to interact with the other dogs, to sniffing the ground or scratching their ear as you call to them, and even doing zoomies around the area as you try in vain to get them to come back to you.
An overstimulated dog is generally above their tolerance threshold, and in many cases, it’s not that they WANT to ignore you, but that they can’t focus on anything else but the environment and whatever is overstimulating them (such as other dogs).
Gradually exposing your pup to other dogs and ensuring that every experience is a positive one can help them build their social tolerance level and help them stay calmer in their interactions with other dogs, which leads to a better response from them if you were to call them to you.
4) Lack Of Impulse Control
Similar to having a poor recall, a dog with a lack of impulse control may seem like they are ignoring you when they are in the vicinity of other dogs. This is especially true if you have a reactive dog or one who gets over-excited and cannot control themselves.
Dogs who receive a good training foundation and lots of positive socialization as puppies tend to develop excellent impulse control as they age, and this can help them focus on you and your cues instead of giving in to that urge to go visit with the other dogs.
For dogs who do not receive any training foundations, who are poorly socialized, or who have owners who do not set good boundaries with their dogs, they often have poor impulse control and will frequently “give in” to their urges rather than listen to their owner.
This includes actively ignoring their owner when around other dogs because their impulse to go and visit with the other dogs is too strong. They have not developed the life skills to ignore that urge (or they have not been given guidance from their owner on how to politely ask to go and visit with the other dogs).
5) Anxiety Or Fear
Anxiety and fear can have a huge impact on whether your dog is paying attention to you or not, especially if they are around the thing that is making them anxious or fearful. Many dogs have anxiety with or a fear of other dogs, and if you’ve got a pup like that chances are they may “ignore” you when they are in the presence of another dog.
In some cases, this anxiety and fear can be so great that your dog totally shuts down and ignores everything around them except for the other dog (even if that dog is at a distance). In other cases, your dog may not start ignoring you until they are closer to the other dog.
Like being overstimulated, an anxious or fearful dog who is pushed over their threshold will shut down mentally and their focus tends to narrow toward the thing that is the cause of their worry. It’s often an automatic response (similar to a panic attack in humans) and thus should not be punished or else you could make the issue even worse.
In order to help dogs like this regain control of their emotions and change their negative association with other dogs, it’s best to seek out the assistance of a reputable dog trainer who specializes in fear- or anxiety-based reactivity. It is a lengthy process, but with time and patience, you can help your dog bring their focus back to you rather than the other dogs.
6) Motivation Issues
Sometimes it can be hard to determine what is most motivating to our dogs, and even if that special treat worked in one scenario, it might not work in the next scenario.
It might hurt if your dog ignores you in favor of other dogs, but being around other dogs is extremely motivating to a lot of dogs, especially those who are social and enjoy playing with their four-legged friends.
Being able to play with the other dogs is self-rewarding, which means it can be difficult for a dog to leave that situation unless they receive something of equal or greater value. If your dog normally responds to you with one or two dogs around but starts ignoring you when more than that number of dogs show up (or if their favorite furry friend shows up), then it could be you are not motivating them enough.
While we may think that the piece of hot dog is more exciting than playing with another dog, your pup may not agree! It’s important to be mindful of everything that could potentially motivate (or reward) our dogs, and to use the best motivator in a given scenario (which can also change on a dime).
The best way to reward your pup while they are playing with their friends might actually be to let them go back and continue playing for a bit. Over time they’ll learn not to ignore you because it means that they’ll likely get to go back to playing right away (and maybe receive a bite of hot dog at the same time).
In the few instances where it is actually time to leave, they may also not put up as much of a fight, provided you’ve done several “recall and returns” prior to taking them away from their friends.
Is It Bad If My Dog Is Ignoring Me When He’s Around Other Dogs?
In general, it’s probably not a good thing if your dog is ignoring you when in the presence of other dogs. This can be a major safety issue, and it’s important that your dog be responsive to you no matter what is going on around them.
If something happens while your dog is playing with another dog, or if you see a group of dogs start to get out of hand at the dog park, your dog should be able to go to you if you give them their recall cue and ignore all the fuss that’s happening with the other dogs.
Ignoring you is also a training issue, and if left unchecked it can develop into additional “bad habits” from the dog, such as ignoring you in all situations instead of just when he’s around other dogs.
If you are repeating various cues (either verbal or in another way) and your dog continues to ignore them, it could also lead to you “poisoning” your cue. This means that your dog will become indifferent to those cues, and if you ever want them to work again, you’ll need to change the cue completely.
It can also be incredibly frustrating for you as the owner if your pup is ignoring you in favor of their friends, which can cause a rift in your relationship with your dog and potentially lead to unintended punishment towards the dog (such as grabbing them a little harder than necessary when you do finally catch them at the park, or by no longer allowing them to play with their friends at all).
If your dog is actively ignoring you when they are around other dogs, it’s best to figure out why they are ignoring you in the first place (and it may be that it’s just a misunderstanding between the two of you, rather than the dog knowingly ignoring you in favor of their friends).
Once you’ve determined the root cause, you can then work on training to help your dog develop a better response to your cues, even if they are smack dab in the middle of playing with their best furry friend.
How Do I Get My Dog’s Attention When Other Dogs Are Around?
This can vary based on the reason why your dog is ignoring you in the first place. In many cases, it’s likely your dog is just having a lot of fun. In these instances, you can encourage your pup to come to you periodically and then reward them by allowing them to go back and play.
If the reason your dog is ignoring you is because of a training or motivation issue, it’s best to reach out to a local trainer who can help you establish a good training foundation from the ground up, and work towards building up a solid recall even in the presence of other dogs.
If your dog “ignoring” you is due to an underlying behavioral problem, such as fear, anxiety, or overstimulation, a trainer can help you create a plan to help your dog build up her confidence.
No matter the underlying reason as to why your pup is ignoring you while around other dogs, it’s important to remember to never punish them as this can escalate the issue or create new problems. Having a few tasty treats on hand whenever you expect to be around other dogs may also help keep your pup’s focus on you rather than the other dogs.
While it can feel disappointing if your dog ignores you in favor of other dogs, it’s important for them to engage in their social skills with other canine companions. In most cases, your dog is likely ignoring you because they are having too much fun and it’s nothing to be too concerned about.
In some cases, your dog may be ignoring you because they need to brush up on their training skills, or because they have an underlying behavioral issue. In those instances, safety and overall good manners are a concern so it’s a good idea to reach out to a local trainer to help nip those issues in the bud.
Positive reinforcement training can help establish a good connection with your dog, and provided they receive proper motivation (and rewards!), they’ll usually choose to respond to you rather than ignore you, even if their favorite furry friend is around!