Does ignoring your dog make them sad? Let’s Explore

What do dogs do when there mad?

His back goes rigid and his body is stiff. “When a dog is really, really upset he’ll often go rigid, his body stiff, hard and unmoving,” says Melissa McGrath-McCue CPDT-KA, pet behaviorist and author of Considerations for the City Dog. “It’s almost as if he’s saying ‘take one more step, I dare you!’

Do Dogs Poop for Revenge? No, dogs do not poop out of revenge either. The fact that they are not capable of such emotions makes dog training so much easier. … Instead of showing your dog all the spots where he shouldn’t go potty, you just lead him to the one spot you would like him to use, reinforced by a reward.

Why does my dog ignore me when I call her name?

is experienced by many dogs when they are called to Come by command, or by name. Let’s look at some common ways that owners inadvertently teach their dogs to ignore their name: Your command is repeated over and over when the dog is more motivated by something else (e.g., squirrels) and would never possibly listen.

When shes not geeking out about dogs, you can find her reading, hiking with her two Cardigan Welsh Corgis, or paddleboarding.

As Preventive Vets dog behavior expert and lead trainer at Pupstanding Academy, Cathy focuses on helping humans and their pets build a strong relationship based on trust, clear communication, and the use of positive reinforcement and force-free methods. With over 13 years of experience, she has had the opportunity to work with hundreds of dogs on a wide variety of training and behavior issues. Beyond her one-on-one consultations through Pupstanding Academy, she also teaches group dog training classes at Seattle Humane. Her specialties include dog aggression, resource guarding, separation anxiety, and puppy socialization.

Our mission is to help save dogs and cats’ lives through our educational content. To support our efforts, this page may contain affiliate links. We earn a commission for qualifying purchases – at no cost to you.

Cathy is certified through the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers, holding both the CPDT-KA and CBCC-KA designations. Cathy is a Fear Free Certified Certified Professional, a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, the Pet Professional Guild, and the Dog Writers Association of America.

A note for our readers: If you have an urgent question and are unable to ask your veterinarian, you can use the Ask a Vet service that will give you access to a veterinarian for 7 days for $1.

14 Signs Your Dog Doesn’t Love You (Even if You Think They Do)

For today’s topic, we’re going to delve a little deeper into an oft-repeated myth about positive training. Namely, the idea that in order to train a well-mannered companion, you need to do two things:

Chances are, if you’re a dog owner, you’ve heard some version of this mantra somewhere along the way – from a well-meaning friend or neighbor, perhaps, or in an online training group. And really, it sounds pretty reasonable at first blush. So why am I writing a blog post about it today?

First, it’s a gross mis-characterization of how reward-based training works. It plays into the idea that because positive trainers don’t use punishment, ignoring bad behavior is the only recourse we have. So, the thinking goes… are you supposed to just ignore your dog when he’s snatching a pot roast from your kitchen counter, or running amok at the park?

Most owners are skeptical of this plan, for good reason. Sometimes, people opt for correction-based techniques instead because they don’t think positive training can be effective for these types of real-life problems.

Your friendly golden retriever jumps on guests? Just ignore her until she stops, then praise and pet. New puppy barking all night in her crate? Don’t pay any attention to her, and only let her out when she’s quiet.

Could we potentially “fix” issues like these by ignoring them? Maybe… under certain circumstances, which we’ll discuss in more detail below. But the process won’t be much fun, and it’s likely to take a lot longer than you might have hoped.

Before we dig into the specific reasons I don’t recommend simply ignoring things you don’t like, let’s talk about the theory behind this advice. Decades of psychology studies have yielded some inarguable truths about the forces that drive behavior, and how animals learn. One of these truths is this:

Behaviors that are reinforced (rewarded, in plain English) will get stronger, while behaviors that are consistently NOT reinforced will tend to die out over time.

This advice relies on a critical assumption – that YOU are the only possible source of reinforcement for whatever behavior your dog might engage in.

Sometimes, this might be true. If I’m working with my dog in a controlled training environment to teach him a new skill, I might very well choose to simply ignore an incorrect response and have him try again. In this situation, ignoring the undesired behavior can be very effective because my dog wants what I have (usually treats, or a toy) and is being actively rewarded every time for making the right choice.

So, for example: let’s say we’re working on coming neatly into “front” position for the obedience ring, in a quiet training building without any significant environmental distractions. A straight sit in front earns a click and treat, while a crooked sit means I simply step out of position and reset for another try.

Is this a reasonable training plan? Sure! Under these conditions, I would expect the number of straight sits to increase, and the crooked sits should get less frequent over time.

What if my dog is jumping on the counter to look for leftovers? Why can’t I simply ignore this, and expect the problem to go away?

It may be true that I, personally, am not reinforcing my dog for jumping on the counter. I am not praising him and giving a treat, or throwing his toy, or scratching his ears approvingly. But that doesn’t mean the behavior isn’t being reinforced! On the contrary – every time he scores a tasty morsel from the countertop, it strengthens the behavior of jumping up and makes it more likely to continue.

In other words, the environment itself is reinforcing my dog for jumping. My involvement (or lack thereof) isn’t relevant.

This is why simply ignoring common problems like barking at the mailman, jumping on guests, pulling on the leash, etc. isn’t an effective strategy. These are all behaviors that your dog finds rewarding, without any input from you. So they’re likely to continue happening as long as nothing changes.

Note that this is NOT because your dog is naughty, or stubborn, or deliberately trying to make you angry – it’s just science! So don’t take it personally. We’ll talk about some solutions below.

What about situations where we DO control the reinforcement? Let’s say your dog begs for food at the table, or whines for attention when you’re watching TV, or cries all night in his crate.

In all of these cases, the dog wants something that we can control. We can choose to give him a bite of our dinner, or get off the couch and throw his toy, or let him out of the crate to sleep in our bed – or not. So it stands to reason that ignoring this behavior (making sure it isn’t reinforced) would be a good way of making it stop.

The short answer is, I still don’t really care for this strategy as a stand-alone option. Here’s why:

Learning theory tells us that behavior that is reinforced will be repeated, and behavior that isn’t reinforced will tend to die out. But we also have our dog’s previous learning history to contend with – and if a particular behavior has been successful in the past, he won’t give up on it easily.

So what happens if you decide to start ignoring a behavior that you’ve always rewarded before?

Let’s use begging at the table as an example. If you decide to ignore the soulful eyes and head resting on your knee, will your dog shrug his shoulders (metaphorically speaking) and wander off to do something else? Probably not. After all, he’s been begging for food at dinnertime for the past six months, and it’s always worked before.

So if no food is forthcoming, he’ll escalate his tactics. He may whine, or paw at you, or shove his way further into your lap. If you STILL don’t oblige him with a bite or two, you may get a whole host of obnoxious behaviors including barking, nosing your plate, and jumping up at the table.

In other words, instead of giving up, the dog doubles down and tries even harder. This is called an “extinction burst” in behavior science parlance – it’s an entirely predictable result of ignoring a behavior that was previously reinforced, and it’s not fun for anyone involved.

In this example, most humans will eventually give in and slip the dog a piece of meatloaf somewhere along the way, because he’s becoming increasingly annoying and they just want to eat their dinner in peace. Which of course, just rewards the dog for his persistence – and ensures that he’ll try twice as hard next time rather than give up.

Yes – but only if you’re absolutely determined not to give in, even once, no matter what your pup might do. This can lead to an unpleasant battle of wills with lots of frustration on both sides, which definitely isn’t what most of us are looking for in our relationship with our dogs.

It’s also going to take a long time (especially if the behavior in question has a really long, solid reward history!), and you’ll likely never completely get rid of it. Most dogs will still try their old “go-to” strategies from time to time, even if they haven’t been rewarded in a long while.

The good news is, positive trainers DO have other strategies available to us that are much quicker, easier, and more user-friendly than simply ignoring unwanted behavior.

First, rest assured – you aren’t expected to just sit on your hands and do nothing. Dogs misbehaving from time to time is a fact of life, and we all need a way to step in and intervene. So in the moment, if your dog is acting up, take action! It’s absolutely fine to interrupt or distract him, and redirect his energy in a more acceptable direction.

The important thing to realize is that, in most cases, what you’re doing here isn’t really *training* – it’s managing a problem as it occurs. Which is fine, and necessary sometimes! But if you want to change your dog’s behavior going forward, you’re going to need to be proactive.

First, it means managing the environment to prevent problems from occurring in the first place. If we think our dog might run wild at the park and harass other dogs or people, we can choose to keep him on-leash. We can keep tasty leftovers off the counter so that they aren’t available for snatching, or use a baby gate to confine our pup to a different room at mealtimes so that begging isn’t an option. We can close the blinds before the mailman comes, to preempt the inevitable frenzy of barking.

(I wrote a post a while back that goes into more detail about management and why it’s important, which can be found here if you’re interested.)

We can teach him to sit instead of jumping on visitors, and reward generously for this with treats at a distance – then gradually work up to close-quarters greetings once he has more self-control. We can train him to lay on a mat away from the table at mealtimes, and reward him for choosing to go there rather than drooling over our plate.

This way, instead of allowing the dog to get increasingly frustrated and hoping that he stumbles on an acceptable solution, we’re taking control – showing him what we want, and making it worth his while to do this new thing instead.

This approach works for just about any problem behavior you can possibly imagine. So if your pup is doing something you don’t like, ask yourself: what do I *want* him to do in this situation?