5 Reasons Your Dog Is Ignoring You, and How to Restore Focus

Your dog doesn't mean to cause you frustration, but their attention spans are subject to the same limitations we experience.

Published May 17, 2023
Pet dog turns away from smiling owner

Did you just give your dog a command, but they're simply staring off into space with those big puppy-dog eyes? Or maybe they're still playing as if they didn't hear you at all? There are several reasons why your dog ignores you. Here are the big four, along with what you should never do to get their attention.

5 Big Reasons Your Dog Ignores You

"Why does my dog ignore me?" You're not alone if you've ever uttered this at the park or in your own home. Every dog is different, so there might be other issues (or even a combination of distractions) that are pulling your dog's attention away.

1. They're Not Feeling Well

You probably wouldn't want to sit and "Shake!" if you were feeling sick, so it's possible your dog might be ignoring you because they don't feel well. Look for other signs of illness, like low energy, low appetite, fever, not wanting to drink water, or drinking more than usual.

How to deal with it: Figure out what's causing them to feel off. Are they in pain? Is there an underlying health issue? It's possible they just need a rest, and their energy will return. If you suspect your dog is actually ill, and it isn't something that will resolve on its own, you may need to schedule a vet visit.

2. They're Distracted

Distractions, such as other dogs, lots of new smells, and people, can hold your dog's attention to the point where they forget you even exist. If you're working on a new behavior, the dog park isn't the best place. Puppies and younger dogs are much more prone to being distracted, especially in unfamiliar environments. Some dogs just have lower levels of attention in general, so keep that in mind, too.

How to deal with it: This really is a combination of training and socialization issue. Work on training in your home until your dog responds every time, then slowly bring in distractions one by one. Ideally, your dog should listen to you regardless of what's going on around them, but you'll need to practice a lot to get up to that point. It does get better with age, too.

Man Balancing Bulldog Puppy on Chest

3. They Need More Training

Your dog might not have grasped any given command if they're ignoring you. It happens. Try the command again, making sure you get their attention first. If they still won't budge, maybe it's time to cut your session short. The long-term fix might take more work.

How to deal with it: Continue practicing with positive reinforcement until they reliably respond to the cue. Be consistent with your commands and the way you reward your dog to get the outcome you want. And if your dog doesn't seem to be getting one certain command, go back to the drawing board and try a different approach instead. It's OK to take breaks, too, and let you dog get the sillies out of their system.

4. They're Bored

You might think that hours and hours of training each day would be beneficial for your dog, but it's really not. Dogs get extremely bored and antsy after about 10 minutes, so consider limit your training sessions. The easiest way to fight boredom is not to let it set in at all.

How to deal with it: Shake things up! Aim to do training in short bursts a few times throughout the day so you can keep your dog's attention and help them comprehend every behavior. Or, try shifting your focus; instead of working on obedience for an hour straight, shift to a training game that engages your dog. Sometimes, if you mix up the routine, your dog will learn to enjoy the boring stuff, because they know the fun is coming.

5. They're Annoyed

Yes, dogs can get fed up, just like we can. And that's OK. Every person and every animal has a limit, and if they're confused, don't understand what you want, or are just plain over it, your dog might decide not to pay attention anymore.

How to deal with it: This one can be tricky. Dogs really don't hold grudges, but they can develop strong dislikes for a particular activity, place, person, or thing. If something upsets them, try to figure out what it is. Are they upset or irritated when they visit a particular spot, or a certain person? If that doesn't work, try redirecting them with a quick burst of highly engaging play or training (and a treat after).

Don't Repeat Yourself

Avoid "command nagging," which is where you repeat a command over and over again while your dog ignores you. This will only reinforce them tuning you out. Instead, give them a moment to respond, and they might follow through with the command, or show them what it is you want them to do (for example, lift their hand if you're teaching them "Shake"), then reward them.

Quick Tip

Redirection is a powerful tool if you need to get your dog's attention. Keep a high-value toy or treat on you, especially when you're out with your dog, and you can use that as your trump card to get their attention back.

Dogs Don't Ignore You on Purpose

It's really unlikely your dog is ignoring you on purpose. don't take it personally. Your dog isn't mad at you and they don't want to "get even" with you. It's probably just that they're distracted, feeling crummy, or need more positive reinforcement to understand what behavior you're asking for. Keep at it, and with some patience and consistency, you'll find your dog improving each time they're put to the attention test.

5 Reasons Your Dog Is Ignoring You, and How to Restore Focus