Help! My Dog Has Selective Hearing


My Dog Has Selective HearingIt’s fairly common to hear dog owners complain that their pup listens at home but not when they’re away from home or they might claim that their dog is stubborn, strong-willed or just plain dumb because he doesn’t always listen or follow commands. They say their dog has selective hearing.

Can you relate to any of these scenarios?

  • When the doorbell rings, you tell your dog to sit and stay but as soon as you open the door, he rushes to greet your guest and it’s hard to get him under control.
  • You’re enjoying a pleasant stroll with your dog walking politely on the leash until he spots another dog owner walking their dog. The closer the other dog gets, the more your pup pulls on the leash or whines, straining to meet the other dog.
  • When taking your dog along to visit a friend or relative, you ask him to sit and stay calmly by your side. He listens for a moment but his excitement gets the best of him and he soon breaks the command.

Yep, just when you’re feeling proud and confident with your dog’s training or obedience skills, one of these things happens and you feel like you have an out-of-control dog that won’t listen at all. It can be both embarrassing and frustrating. With Haley being a somewhat excitable dog, I can relate to all three of these scenarios, and maybe a few more.

You may think your dog has selective hearing but here’s what’s really happening. You’ve probably done a great job of training your pup when you’re at home and your dog listens well in most cases but then you stopped instead of moving on to the next phase which is training for the three D’s: distance, duration and distractions.

Once your dog listens and follows commands well at home in a calm and quiet environment, most of us ease up on the training and assume most of the work is done. But dogs also need to be trained for those same commands when you’re not standing right beside them or when there’s something interesting competing for their attention. If you make the effort to work on the three D’s, you’ll have a fully trained dog that will listen well in all types of circumstances and environments and that makes life with your dog a heck of a lot easier. Here’s how you can work on the three D’s of dog training.


Slowly work to increase the physical distance between you and your dog when giving a command. Here are some examples:

  • Practice asking your dog to sit when you’re not standing right next to him.
  • Slowly increase the distance you move away from your dog after putting him in a stay position.
  • Work on recall by gradually increasing the distance before calling your dog to come to you.


Gradually increase how long your dog should stay in a command or position. Try these exercises:

  • Slowly increase the length of time your dog should remain in position after you give the stay command.
  • Gradually increase the time between saying your dog’s name to get his attention and issuing a command.
  • Practice having your dog remain in a down position for longer periods of time.


Work with your dog around low-level distractions, then slowly increase the level of distractions as your pup learns to listen and follow commands even though something interesting or exciting is nearby. Start with these examples:

  • Have a family member help you by occasionally ringing the doorbell while you work on training to keep your dog focused on listening to your sit and stay commands.
  • When working around distractions (other dogs, squirrels, blowing leaves…), start far enough away from the distraction so your pup will listen to your commands, then gradually work to decrease the distance while still maintaining control of your dog’s attention.

Dog WalkThese are just a few examples of how you can train for the three D’s but you’ll want to customize your training for whatever issues your pup might need to work on. Training for distance, duration and distractions isn’t hard, it’s just that most of us don’t really think about it until we’re in one of those situations I mentioned earlier. Here are some helpful tips as you get started on the three D’s.

10 Tips for Training the Three D’s

1. One D at a Time!
To build your pup’s confidence and success, work on the three D’s one at a time. If you increase distance, duration and add a distraction all at once, your dog will most likely fail at all three.
2. Reward Your Pup
Always reward your dog and give lots of encouragement and praise as he’s learning the three D’s.
3. Work Slowly
Learning each of the three D’s is a gradual, step-by-step process.
4. Fallback When Necessary
If your dog is struggling with any of the D’s, you’ve probably increased the distance, duration or distraction too much. Go back a level to reinforce the behavior before the next increase.
5. Watch the Number of Distractions
Don’t combine too many types of distractions at once. Just like with distance and duration, it should be a gradual process.
6. Leverage the D’s
If you’re having trouble with one of the three D’s, try reducing the other two.
7. Use High-value Rewards
Whether you’re using food or your dog’s favorite toy as a reward, make sure it’s a high-value incentive to encourage your pup and to reinforce the behavior.
8. Don’t Skimp on the Number of Rewards
You may need to give more rewards than usual in challenging situations to keep your dog’s focus.
9. Attitude is Everything
Stay positive and view difficult situations as an opportunity to train.
10. Keep Practicing
Training is a process. Your dog will get there with your patience, persistence and lots of practice.

Distracted DogIt’s wonderful if your dog listens to you while at home, but it’s even better if you can take him anywhere and know that he’ll listen and be well behaved in any environment. If you think your dog has selective hearing, maybe a little work on the three D’s is all he needs. Haley’s pretty good at distance and duration, but she needs some work with distractions. Yes, it seems there’s always something to be worked on when it comes to dog training.

Have you trained your dog for distance, duration and distractions? Share your tips with us!

50 Comments on “Help! My Dog Has Selective Hearing”

    • Hi Y’all!

      That is a great article and a good reminder of the importance of continual training to reinforce good obedience in all situations. Joining a good training class, especially those run by an AKC instructor is great for all dogs, but especially dogs who react to other dogs. Just remember, you have to go home and practice what you both learned.

      Y’all come on by,
      Hawk aka BrownDog

    • The title of this post is awesome!! Cocoa does not listen at the puppy park. She looks right at us and knows all the escape routes. I feel like she’s having so much fun she figures she will pay the consequences after we leave!! She knows we are not happy with her as we walk to the car but she loves it so much. We will need to keep working on this listening thing!! It is important for safety reasons.

      • That’s a great point, Jenna. Even after our pups are trained on certain things, they do need reminders or refresher courses occasionally.

      • Boy can I relate to that. Haley tends to get overly-excited when first meeting other dogs and she’s always been a tad fearful. Luckily, she’s mellowed quite a bit now that she’s older.

    • Excellent post. What I find hardest about training for distractions is finding cooperative helpers.

      I really want to teach Honey to remain calm in the presence of friendly strangers (especially when we’re pulling up to a fuel dock). But it’s really tough when every dock hand we meet starts making kissing noises at her as soon as they spy her in the cock pit.

      Not only are they not helping me train in distracting situations, they’re reinforcing the behavior I most want to stop.


      Any chance you have a future post on training humans to stop messing with your dog training? 🙂

      • I can imagine Honey gets lots of attention when you pull in to dock. She’s so beautiful, it would be hard to ignore that sweet face and golden hair.

    • This is such great training advice, thanks for sharing! Distractions are always challenging. I’m going to try training while the doorbell is ringing. Guests coming over are always a challenge, the dogs get SO excited.
      Love & biscuits,
      Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    • I hadn’t been putting much work into distance and distraction training, until I realized I could get Leo to come back to me at a pretty good distance in front of other dogs by giving him string cheese.

      • Maybe training on some hand signals might work for Jack. He sounds like such a sweetheart, I probably would just let him do his thing. ?

    • I’m book marking this! You are so right, we train at home and in the classroom, but we never train outside where there are smells and distractions. This is something we need to work on.

      Although, I am proud to say, I was able to distract my dogs from a rabbit this morning, which made me very happy!

    • Great advice! It’s easy to forget about keeping up with the training once things go well at home. It’s rare that we have an opportunity to work on the distance thing with Rita, but will have to try to remember next time we take her to a beach or lake or something. And distractions are hard to train for too… Squirrels and birds are big distractions for her, but it’s hard to get them to help with the training! 🙂

      • No, I hadn’t heard of her book but found it on Amazon just now. I might add it to my Christmas list this year. Thanks for the tip!

    • Yep, we can definitely relate to the “selective hearing” in our puppies. The 3 D’s is something we work at constantly with our service and guide dog pups. One tip that I find myself alway reminding others is that every puppy/dog is different. Just because your last dog was able to accomplish something quickly doesn’t mean the current one will be the same. Thanks for the great post!

      • Thank you for that great tip, Colby! I often think that raising dogs is a lot like raising kids. They’re all unique, even kids with the same parents can have different learning styles and be motivated by different things.

    • Oh yes, the pups can BOTH have selective hearing…thankfully it’s very easy to redirect Buzz’s attention to me – I just need his favorite chuck-it ball. He loves that thing. Even pees while holding it in his mouth 😉

      I’ve used the ball A LOT lately for redirecting purposes – We have new neighbors right next door to us, who have a dog. Neither Missy nor Buzz seem to like him too much as they will both start an annoying barking concert with raised hackles if all 3 happen to be outside at the same time (divided by our fence). So once the “concert” starts, all I have to say is “Buzz, where’s your ball?”, and he immediately stops barking at the other dog, and takes off to find his ball and drop it at my feet for a game of fetch.

      Missy will stop barking and come running to me as soon as I shake a bag of treats. She IS a devoted slave to her stomach and will drop everything, so to speak, for a tasty something.

      I definitely believe that it’s important to keep practicing polite behavior, and to remember to stay positive. Sometimes my first impulse is to yell “Puppies STOP IT!”, but I know that would just entice them to bark more, so I take a deep breath and redirect myself 😉

      Next time the neighbor’s dog is in the yard, I will try a new approach, working on just ignoring him in the first place. I think I’ll use their leashes and treats for Missy, and the chuck-it ball for Buzz. Thank you for the input!!

      • It sounds like you have great motivation for each of them and I bet they’ll get used to the new neighbor soon. It’s funny how our pups like some dogs and not others, I guess we humans are the same way about some people though, haha.

        I love what you said about redirecting yourself. I never really thought about it that way, but working around distractions can be frustrating and I’m sure our dogs pick up on that frustration sometimes. I guess the new word for that is to “pivot” which really fits when thinking about redirecting dogs. Here’s hoping peace and harmony is restored in your neighborhood soon. ?

        • I used to live next door to two annoying little dogs who would raise a yap-a-thon at my dog Harry whenever we went outside. I started feeding all three of them treats at the fence line, and they became best friends!

          • What a great plan that was, Kathryn! I’ve heard of letter carriers doing that also when they would deliver mail to houses with dogs. I bet it made their daily route much more pleasant. They probably bought stock in dog biscuit companies too, haha!

      • That’s okay, if senior people can get away with selective hearing, I suppose we should cut our dogs a break too when they’re a little older, haha!

    • Mum says that Cody had selective hearing and would sometimes act as if she didn’t even know her name!!! no one would believe mum (especially trainers) until they would actually see it happen.

      My training has been on hold since end of May — first because of the heat (we train outside) and then cos of the Valley Fever that caused a limp. Mum is gonna talk to the vet on my next appointment in January and hopefully the trainer.

      One of the things I do that really drives mum crazy is that when we go to the dog park in the complex, I don’t always get along with other dogs there, but when we go to the big dog park (in Udall Park — it is about 3 times as the one here) I get along with ALL of the dogs there. Mum was gonna meet the trainer there and work with me until I got the valley fever!! Mum gives me LOTS of praise when I do something right — especially when we are out and come to a crossing. Mum puts me in a Sit/Stay and 90% of the time I Stay until she releases me!!!!

      ttfn and toodle pip


      • I’m sorry to hear about your Valley Fever, Cookie. Living here in Ohio, I’ve never heard of it and had to do some research about the disease. I hope you’re making a full recovery and can get back to training soon.

        Haley was the same way with two of our dog parks here. I think she might have had a bad first experience at one park and would always get tense when we would go back. She did fine at the other park no matter what dogs might be there. Keep up the great work with the road crossings, I’m sure that makes Mum happy that you’ll be safe around any traffic.

        Thanks for stopping by today, Cookie! ?

    • Such a great post! We realllyyyy need to work on distractions with Cooper, particularly other dogs. I do sometimes get frustrated with him for reacting when I *thought* we were beyond a particular obstacle, but your post is an excellent reminder that I need to work at his pace… not mine!

      • Thank you so much, Maggie! I feel your frustration. I remember when Haley was younger, she would pull so hard towards other dogs while straining and hacking, so embarrassing! I used to look at other people walking their dogs nicely on leash and wonder if Haley would ever behave when seeing other dogs. Now, I smile to myself when we meet younger dogs that act that way towards us. ?

    • This is such an awesome post! Thank you for breaking everything down. Sometimes people are so overwhelmed with training their dogs they don’t know where to begin, and I know most of us tend to rush it. This post will be such a great resource for new dog owners but also a good reminder for all of us!

      • That’s such a sweet compliment, thanks Lindsay! I’ve been guilty of rushing training sometimes too or forgetting that refreshers or reinforcements are needed with certain types of training.

Share your thoughts, leave a comment!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 Subscribe to new posts