Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

My Dog Only Listens When I Get Angry – Why?


My dog only listens when I am angryWhen I suggest speaking calmly, my client says what I’ve heard clients say for over 30 years: But my dog only listens when I get angry.

I explain that actually, he only listens when you act and you only act when you’ve become irritated.

Example: You’re sitting on the couch and your dog is nosing the trash. You say, “Stop it.” He doesn’t. You say it again. He doesn’t. You say it with anger as you get up. He stops.

  • You think this is proof he only responds when you get angry.
  • I think it’s proof you are acting when you are angry.

Simple unintentional cause and effect.

A dog, your dog, any dog can, will and would prefer to be taught without anger. Anger slows learning down, on both sides of the equation, but it can be such a long-trodden internal road that it can feel like a necessity when it is only a habit.

If you want to get off this emotional merry-go-round here’s what you do:

  1. Remember your dog, any dog, can learn to respond to the softest whisper or gentlest touch. They can feel a fly land on the tip of their ear and hear a biscuit box open from two floors away, they feel what is happening and they hear it. If they do not respond it is because they either do not understand, are confused or are concerned.
  2. Everything your dog knows about “commands” was taught by us humans, maybe by you. Everything you like about his response and everything you don’t, we taught. So, um….lighten up a little.
  3. Pretrain gentle follow throughs. When all is calm, pretrain your dog to respond to gentle pressures and touch so you can calmly cause what you want to happen to happen. I recommend my 7th book, My Smart Puppy, for this.
  4. Shhhhh. If you get quiet you will often stay calmer. Repeating commands can trigger us humans to feel like we are being ignored and that doesn’t lead to calm training.
  5. Say it/do it. You can make things more complicated than that but you won’t make it more effective. Say it then follow through. Calmly, quietly, quickly.
  6. Use it often. The more productive practice the more progress. True in all things. True with dog training. So link listening to you with everything good in his life and your dog will learn to listen.
  7. Reward immediately and sincerely.Smile, touch, treat
  8. HAVE FUN! Really. Find the joy. Play. Because the more fun you have the further you will be from anger. And that’s the goal as we retrain you.

The anger/action link up is a learned one. It can be unlearned. Using a quiet voice, having a way of following through and then following through quickly and calmly will soon make “my dog only listens when I get angry” a problem of the past.



  1. all too true. when I am sitting in my recliner and my dog goes after the cat plates (loves cardboard!) he does not stop until I am banging my feet on the footrest and yelling. I have found, in addition to your idea about following through early in my command sequence, if I intervene earlier…say BEFORE he has gotten more than a foot in the direction of the cat plates, I can divert and engage. of course, I could also pick the plates up!

  2. Haha yeah, living in a optimists world. It doesn’t matter the command. He only reaponds when I start raising my voice. Even then he doesn’t care.

    Some dogs are just to bull/thick headed, like my beagle. Only one thing on their mind, and it’s not me

    • Hi Jared – Then it’s time to up your game. You can change his response, but you have to change yours first. Having loved and trained a beagle myself, I can assure you they are trainable but sometimes we have to change our approach to the process. Have hope! Sarah

  3. I’m sorry. But if my dog only listens when I raise my voice. When I get angry, he stops. Because like a child, he knows I’m angry.
    I just wish I could get him to stop all his bad behavior. Sometimes perhaps there is no magic wand, and your dog is just a dog who will never listen.

    • Or… you only act after you get angry. Dogs can learn to respond toa whisper IF you follow through after that whisper. Everything a dog understands about “commands” or any human word, we taught them. He can change but you have to shift first.

  4. How can i “follow thru w praise and treats when he WONT stop w a whisper. I dont get it and im so frustrated!

    • Hi Diane – When they don’t understand then on leash practice is the name of the game. Not only are you teaching your dog a foreign language but actually a pretty foreign concept: that sounds mean specific actions. My Smart Puppy has simple exercises to start with. You can forge communication that is less frustrating for both of you. Good luck – Sarah

  5. I’ve thought the same thing maybe she only corrects her behavior cuz I’m about to move toward her and take action. No this isn’t the case I will softy and nicely command without moving a muscle. She won’t listen and while I am STILL NOT MOVING because I have absolutely tested this theory I will raise my voice to the “stern commanding voice” and she immediately jumps into gear and I’ll looks straight at her and ask her why does she only listen when I yell I don’t want to be angry with you wtf is wrong why do you ONLY respond when I give you the angry mama bear tone???? ugh I love my dog I don’t want her to think I’m mad I have to literally PRETEND to be angry in order for her to listen. Some dogs just don’t and won’t Listen until there is some kind of threat which drives me crazy!!!

    • You make my point exactly. If you followed through immediately and consistently on a whisper, she would respond to your whisper. Her response is totally up to you (which is fun because then you can change it if you want).

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