How to Train a Strong-Willed Dog

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Training a strong-willed dog can pose a challenge, and requires time and patience. Evaluate your dog's temperament before setting a training plan. Adjusting your training method to allow for your dog's temperament can save you both frustration and setbacks.

Evaluate Temperament

Some breeds were developed to be strong-willed. These dogs were bred to do a job, usually with little human direction. They are generally smart but independent and stubborn, bred to think for themselves. They require firm, confident training. Knowing the characteristics of your dog's breed will help you evaluate his temperament.

Strong-Willed Breeds

Although any dog can be strong-willed, some breeds are predisposed to the trait. Jack Russell terriers, American pit bull terriers, malamutes, Akitas, German shepherds, Rottweilers, American cattle dogs and Catahoula leopard dogs were bred to be strong-willed. Siberian huskies, Samoyeds, Basenjis, Canaan dogs, Salukis and Afghans are bred to be independent. If you have a dog who's a mixed breed, genetics from one of these breeds can be the reason he's strong-willed.

Behavioral Traits

Strong-willed dogs want to be "alpha," or the leader of their pack. In a true dog pack, the alpha demands and gets submission from the other pack members. You are your dog's pack, along with those living in your house.

Strong-willed dogs don't want to learn; they want to lead. They want you to meet their needs on demand, whether it's dinner or playtime or petting. They will ignore your commands, go ahead of you through doors, pull you on leash and take over the couch. This dog is your equal, not your pet. This behavior can be exhibited even in puppyhood.

Train for Success

You must become the alpha, or pack leader, to earn your dog's respect. This does not mean you need to treat him harshly or punish him. Teach him that you are in charge by asserting your authority with your voice and body language.

  • Speak to him in a firm voice.
  • Have him sit before you feed him, walk him, give him treats or pet him.

  • Stand up straight when you talk to your dog. Don't bend over him.
  • Praise him when he responds to your commands but stand; don't get down to his level. 
  • Keep the furniture and bed your territory. Use a firm, "No!" when he tries to get up. Repeat this as often as you need to.
  • Don't pat when he demands it. Give affection on your terms.
  • Don't wrestle with your dog. This encourages him to try to dominate you physically.
  • Avoid games such as tug-of-war.

When It Works

Once your dog understands that you are his leader, he will respond more quickly and eagerly to your commands. He will want to please you and earn your praise. When he comes to you, his head will be lowered slightly and his tail wagging, in a more submissive position. This signals that he is looking to you for permission and direction.

Tip

  • Once your dog begins to respond to you as his leader, enroll him in an obedience course to continue the progress you've made. Teaching him additional obedience commands such as "come" and "stay" will enhance his training.

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