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

Why Does My Dog Ignore Me

Fact Checked & Reviewed By:

<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.

<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:

<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.

<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.

One of the most common questions I receive from owners is how to get their dog to pay attention to them. Many owners are unaware of how to help their dog pay attention and become frustrated when their dog ignores them.

There are many solutions as to how to help your dog pay attention to you, but before you can start working on the issue you must figure out why your dog is ignoring you in the first place.

So why does your dog ignore you?

Dogs may ignore their owners for a variety of reasons, the most common being a lack of training. Some dogs may only ignore their owners in certain situations where there are lots of distractions, they could be scared or anxious, because of an underlying medical condition like deafness or ear infection, or because they’re overstimulated.

In the article below, we’ll discuss the most likely reasons as to why your dog may be ignoring you. We’ll discuss the differences between your dog ignoring you sometimes versus all the time, and what you can do to help encourage your dog to pay attention to you instead of ignoring you.

Why Is My Dog Ignoring Me?

It’s important to keep in mind that even the most well-trained dog may occasionally ignore you due to a specific reason in the environment. Being able to bring your dog’s focus back to you is an important part of training. While occasionally ignoring you is likely not a big deal, if it happens consistently you may want to be more mindful of why your dog is ignoring you.

Both the situation (ignoring you in the day versus at night) and context (ignoring you when you have visitors versus being alone) are important to determine the true cause of your dog ignoring you, and there are a few common reasons why your pup may not be paying as much attention as you would like.

Reason 1: You Aren’t Interesting Enough

Dogs will naturally pay the most attention to the thing in the environment that is the most interesting or motivating to them. This could be food, another dog, a sound, an object, or another person.

In most cases, the most interesting thing is something that creates excitement or anticipation in the dog, whereas in other cases the most interesting thing in the environment might be something that causes stress, fear, or uncertainty in the dog.

If you are trying to get your pup to pay attention and you aren’t as motivating as the thing your dog is currently paying attention to, then they will ignore you in favor of the other thing. If we are not able to be the most interesting thing to our dogs, then they will almost always choose to pay attention to the more exciting things.

In some instances, this is unavoidable (especially if the other thing is unpredictable or the dog has a valid reason for paying more attention to it than you), but in many situations, this issue can be prevented or fixed in the moment if you work on training in a variety of environments and situations to “proof” your dog’s focus.

That way, even if there is something super duper interesting in the area, there is a greater chance your dog will ignore it and return their focus to you. Providing proper motivation (and rewards) to our dogs for paying attention to us no matter what is one of the most important parts of obedience training and encourages them to continue to want to pay attention to us.

If we don’t provide that motivation or become more interesting than the environment, then our dogs will continuously ignore us.

Reason 2: You’ve (Accidentally) Taught Your Dog To Ignore You

Association-based learning is the primary way in which dogs navigate the world and learn from it. As I tell my clients, dogs are incredibly perceptive (often much more than we realize) and pick up on the slightest movements, sounds, or changes around them.

Oftentimes, owners will accidentally reinforce (make stronger) a behavior in their dog that they were not aware of. This could look like an owner trying to get their dog to come back to them at the dog park without having actually taught the dog to Recall in the first place, so the dog doesn’t understand what the owner is asking.

This usually leads to the owner becoming frustrated and when they do finally catch their dog, instead of using positive reinforcement they punish the dog for not returning when they first asked. To the dog, this is merely teaching them that they will be punished every time they go back to their owner. Dogs do understand that certain things lead to either a reward or consequence, but they do not have the same level of comprehension that a human does.

Humans can use their critical thinking skills at various points in the learning process, including deciphering the meaning much later than when the event first occurred. Dogs cannot do that as they do not have the same perception of time as we do, nor do they have the same level of critical thinking skills and do not know how to apply their understanding to the event that occurred previously.

Anything that happens will usually be attributed to something else that is occurring at that exact same moment. In the case of the dog being punished for failing to return to the owner, the owner views it as “I punished my dog so he knows better now and will return to me next time” whereas the dog views it as “I went to my owner, and they hit me so next time I will ignore them to avoid the pain”.

This is a common reason why dogs ignore their owners, especially in cases where punishment or pain was used to “reprimand” the dog for ignoring their owner. The owner, in their attempt to punish and control their dog, actually taught their dog to ignore them even more.

Reason 3: Your Dog Is Scared Or Anxious

Just like people, dogs can also be fearful or anxious when presented with certain things or placed into certain situations. The severity of a dog’s reaction depends on a variety of factors, but in some of the more moderate to severe cases, they may totally shut down and ignore their owner completely. I often see this happen at the vet clinic, in pet stores, or even during family gatherings.

When a dog is pushed past their tolerance level (threshold) for something that they are uncomfortable with, they can react negatively. If something in the environment is causing your dog to feel afraid or anxious, and the situation is not remedied immediately, or if you continue to push your pup, then they may begin to ignore any cues you give them.

As, Not A Bully’s advising dog trainer, Zoie Keast, explains “You may have also unintentionally trained your dog to fear you. Your dog needs to be able to trust that you are going to help them and advocate for their needs. If you are continually pushing them into situations where they feel uncomfortable or unsafe, they may feel they have no other choice but to ignore you to avoid the source of the fear. ”

For example, if your dog does not want to walk down a set of stairs or through an automatic door and you pull on their leash to force them through, your dog may associate that scary situation with you.

“Learned Helplessness is extremely detrimental to the relationship between you and your dog,” Keast adds.

Some dogs may even ignore treats or other rewards if the fear or anxiety is too great. It can sometimes be hard to determine if our dogs are ignoring us due to fear or anxiety rather than something else, so if this is something you think your dog might be struggling with it’s best to get an outside perspective from a reputable trainer or behavior consultant.

Reason 4: Your Dog Is Too Excited

Excitement in dogs is a pretty common occurrence, and too much excitement can result in your pup ignoring you because they can’t contain the energy. Even if you are the most interesting person in the room (see the first reason I listed above), if a dog is in an excitable state, it can be very difficult (if not impossible) to get them to relax and pay attention.

Signs of excitement include pacing, jumping up and down, high pitched whining or barking, repeatedly looking back towards the exciting thing (or never looking away in the first place), and even body tremors.

There is usually a LOT of energy that accompanies this level of excitement, and it can be difficult to just tell your pup to simmer down for a minute without providing an outlet for that energy.

A solid training foundation can help whenever you and your dog are placed in situations like this, but it’s important to allow the dog to feel happy and excited. If you have a generally high energy dog, being mindful of what you can do to help mitigate some of that energy when encountering exciting things while out is a good idea.

Reason 5: You Are Giving Your Dog Conflicting Information

As I discussed above, dogs are very perceptive to their environment. This includes body language, which is a bigger “signal” to a dog than anything verbal (the only thing that is above body language would likely be scent). If your pup is ignoring you, it could be that they aren’t doing it on purpose but that you are giving them conflicting information with your body.

If we are asking our dogs to do something with a verbal cue, and they ignore it, it could be that our body is actually telling them to do something differently. A good example of this is the Recall. Many people will give their dogs the prompt “Come”, and then step forward towards their dogs. To their surprise, their dog stays in place rather than moving towards the owner!

As humans, we tend to approach each other directly, make eye contact, and even make physical contact through a handshake or a hug. To a dog, all of these things are actually considered quite rude and threatening. When our dog sees us step forward, even if they hear the word “Come”, they will listen to our bodies first and our words second.

By stepping forward, our bodies are telling them “stay there” despite what our mouths are saying. This type of miscommunication can happen anywhere and at any time, which is why it’s a good idea to educate ourselves on common body language used by dogs and how we might be causing an issue with our own body language.

In many instances, the act of our dogs ignoring us is due to our own misunderstanding of dog communication rather than the dog willfully blowing off a cue or prompt. Remember that dogs also enjoy consistency and monotony; ensuring you are responding and rewarding, in the same manner, each time will help build these foundations.

Reason 6: Your Dog Has A Medical Issue

In rare cases, your dog may be ignoring you due to an underlying medical issue. An injury or illness could cause your dog to ignore your cues, especially if they are feeling nauseous or are in a large amount of pain. Deafness (either sudden or gradual) may also cause your dog to ignore you, especially if you were unaware that your pup had developed hearing issues.

If you rely heavily on visual cues like hand signals then blindness, cataracts, or other eye issues may also prevent a dog from responding. Lethargy can also explain your dog’s behavior.

Dr. Nita Patel also told us that “If your dog does not want to eat (and they usually never miss a meal), walk (and they are always eager to do this) or come to you, play, etc. whatever their normal is, this “ignoring” could be considered lethargy, a clinical sign for how many disease processes start.”

If your dog is ignoring you and you suspect an underlying medical issue as the cause, it’s important to get them checked out by a vet as soon as possible. In some cases, the underlying issue can be treated, and your dog will fully recover, whereas in other cases the issue may be permanent, and you may need to make adjustments in how you give cues to your dog.

Reason 7: You’ve Overused A Communication Signal

As I discussed above, dogs learn from association and base their actions on those associations. If there is no consequence or reward to an action, the dog will “tune it out” and ignore the action going forward.

Humans do the same thing! It’s a process called habituation, and both dogs and humans do it to ignore common sounds and sights around them that hold no meaning (positive or negative) to them.

A good example is police or ambulance sirens in a big city, or a train going by in a more rural town. For someone new to the area, the sirens or train might cause a great reaction whereas for the locals it causes a mild notice at most because they have become used to it.

Dogs function in the same way, and if they repeatedly hear a word or see a signal and it is not followed up immediately by any reward, consequence, or further guidance, then the dog will tune it out and dismiss it as having no meaning. I see this happen frequently with Recall training and with the Sit behavior.

Dog trainer Keast also agrees that the desired behavior must be IMMEDIATELY rewarded to make the connection. If you delay, then your dog will not know what or why they are being rewarded for.

I see many owners (especially new dog owners) mistakenly assume their dogs understand what those words mean right off the bat and will immediately start asking their dogs to perform those behaviors without having done any actual training to teach them what those words mean. Because no association with the words (or other signals) exists, the dog will assume that they have no reason to respond and thus they will ignore the words going forward.

Repeatedly chanting the words or saying the words again after the dog has already performed the behavior does not help, either! The more we use a word or signal without any follow up that shows there is value in performing the behavior, the more likely our dogs will ignore us in the future. In extreme cases, we have to switch to an entirely new word or signal and start from scratch.

Why Does My Dog Ignore Me Sometimes?

If your dog is only ignoring you sometimes, any of the above reasons could still apply, but the more likely reasons are related to a lack of motivation or disinterest, the dog’s emotional state, or a reaction to something in the environment.

All dogs (even the most well-trained dogs) may ignore their owners and handlers at some point in their lives, and that’s totally normal! Dogs are not robots, and it is impossible for us to prepare them for every situation they may encounter out in the world.

Just look at this dog ignoring his owner. He might be upset after visiting the vet.

On a serious note, if your pup is generally responsive and only ignores you in certain situations and you see a pattern (like if your pup only ignores you when you are around other dogs), a local trainer may be able to help you address the issue.

If your dog ignores you only sometimes and it’s usually pretty easy to get their attention again, then it’s not something to worry about as much.

Why Does My Dog Keep Ignoring Me?

If you’ve looked at every possible reason above and have attempted to fix the issue of your dog ignoring you, but they keep ignoring you, then it’s likely you are still missing an important part of the puzzle.

In many cases, this is related to a training issue or an owner unintentionally reinforcing an unwanted behavior. In other instances, some owners may set their expectations too high for where their dogs are currently at in the training process, and as a result, their dog continues to ignore them.

Dog trainer Zoie Keast has noticed that some clients often stop practicing recall and response commands or do not work on them in a variety of environments with different distractions. She urges our readers that no matter your dog’s age or level of training, practicing and working with your dog is integral to them always trusting and engaging with you.

Knowing where our dogs are in the learning process and going at their pace is important, otherwise, this can create an even greater setback in the training process and also has the potential to create unwanted behavioral side effects.

Is It Bad If My Dog Ignores Me?

This depends on the context of the situation, but in general, it is something that should be addressed with training, especially if your pup ignores you on a regular basis or in response to specific situations.

For safety reasons, we should strive to help our dogs understand that they need to respond to us the first time, every time. This is especially true for certain “safety behaviors” like Recall, Stay, Leave It, and Drop It.

Your dog ignoring you can also inhibit the learning process and make it a frustrating (rather than fun) experience for both of you.

How Do I Stop My Dog From Ignoring Me?

The best way to stop your dog from ignoring you is to work on building a solid training foundation as a preventative measure. While you can’t stop your dog from ignoring you in every situation you’ll ever encounter, by creating a solid foundation in obedience you can help bring your dog’s focus back to you when it matters most.

Using positive reinforcement and reward-based training is the best approach and will help create a positive association between your signals and the dog’s actions in response to those signals. Punishment should never be used with a dog who is ignoring their owner, as this often only makes the issue worse and there is a huge potential to create other, often more severe behavioral issues.

Keeping a variety of rewards on you when you know you and your pup are going to be in distracting situations will help, as well as being mindful of your dog’s individual stress, excitement, and energy levels.

If you are struggling, a local trainer is a great way to help create a good foundation and reduce the chances of your dog ignoring you.

Closing Thoughts

While the most likely reason your dog is ignoring you is due to a training issue or misunderstanding regarding something you are doing, it’s still important to evaluate the issue on an individual basis.

To help determine why your dog is ignoring you, you want to look at the situation in which your dog is ignoring you, their previous history of ignoring you, how often they ignore you, and what occurred prior to and during the moments you were seeking your dog’s attention, and they instead ignored you.

By looking at all of those things, you can better determine the true cause as to why your pup might not be paying as much attention as you’d like. When in doubt, reach out to a local trainer to help you out!

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