Stubborn Yorkies

When a Yorkshire Terrier Won't Listen



While most owners don't expect their dogs to be perfect, it is realistic to expect your Yorkie to listen to you. After all, owners 'command' and dogs 'obey', right? Well, while puppies and dogs will pay attention to their humans to some extent, full obedience is not a given. If your Yorkshire Terrier flat out refuses to listen to you or if he/she seems to only listen randomly, some training will need to be done.


This section will cover:

  • The reasons why a dog does not listen (and may even downright ignore you) 
  • Exact training steps to turn things around
  • Age exceptions

Why a Yorkie Doesn't Listen


This all boils down to 2 elements that need to exist simultaneously:


1) Your Yorkie needs to know why he should listen to you. Being your dog's owner is simply not enough. In order for a puppy or dog of any age to truly pay attention, follow commands and do as you ask, that dog needs to understand why he should be listening to you. A Yorkshire Terrier that may seem defiant or unresponsive may actually be metaphorically thinking 'Who made you boss?' and unless you first show why and what does indeed makes you an authority figure that should be listened to, there will not be full obedience. 


2) Your Yorkie needs to be shown how to listen. Unless a dog is taught exactly what a word means and what actions are expected when those words are said, a dog is not going to understand what an owner wants him to do. Your Yorkie may hear his name and then a bunch of sounds that have no meaning. Canines can learn up to 200 words; and you'll just need to teach your Yorkshire Terrier about 10 of them for true obedience. 


Now that we know the two main reasons a puppy or dog won't listen, steps can be taken to create the right foundation for teaching a Yorkshire Terrier to listen well. 

Establish Yourself as the Leader


What went wrong: You spend hundreds of dollars a year on quality food for your Yorkie, you take the time to choose the best toys for all his needs and you worry about him when you're away at work… but your puppy or dog has no concept of those things. Owners need to do specific things on a regular basis to for a Yorkshire Terrier to understand that the human is a leader, to be listened to and respected. 


While dogs will love their humans, enjoy time spent together, relish times of cuddling on the sofa and be eager to play… unless that dog sees the human as the 'Alpha' of the 'pack', he will have no idea that obeying the human 'should' be done. To a canine, all humans and all pets in the household are his 'pack'. And the pack must have a leader.


Dogs that don't listen either mistakenly think that they themselves are the leader or are confused about who has that position. Dogs will ignore commands that are come from someone who has not established their authority to give them.   


A Yorkie that doesn't know his owner is in charge may seem to listen sometimes and ignore at other times. And this is a matter of the dog doing as he pleases all of the time… his desires to 'come', 'sit' or otherwise do an action happen to coincide with what the owner is requesting.  

Daisy, 7 months old

Photo courtesy of Lisa

How to fix this: It is best if these elements are incorporated from Day One of having a puppy, however if done consistently even an older dog that believes that he is the one in charge can learn a new hierarchy in a household. 


1) Feeding Rules - To canines, the most important element in the world is food. Even with Yorkshire Terriers that may seem to be finicky eaters, all dogs have a keen sense that food equals survival. One of the best methods to teach a Yorkie to listen well is to show that you are the one who provides the food. Filling up the bowl and placing it down does not fully explain this to a pet… and even worse is preparing the food, placing it down and then calling the dog in.  


When you make it exceedingly clear that you are 100% in charge of whether or not a dog eats, this quickly establishes both respect and obedience. 


The following training rules should be implemented by every human in the household, even children that are old enough to do so. Turns can be taken so that this lesson is taught regarding everyone and so that a Yorkie doesn't learn to just listen to one particular person and ignore the others.


1. Prepare the food bowl. It does not matter if your dog sees you doing this, since the most important step will come next. Once it is done, place it up on a counter above your dog's eating area.


2. Call your Yorkie in to eat. Even with dogs that don't listen, most will come when they smell the food. If your dog needs visual affirmation, you can show him the bowl but then place it out of reach as he approaches. 


3. Leaders eat first. If you are going to enjoy a meal at the same time, you will want to have your food on the table. If you are going to have a snack, place this on your table as well. While you do not need to dine at the same time as your Yorkshire Terrier, it is best if this can be coordinated to occur at least a few times per week. For the times that this does happen, you will want to sit down and take a few bites. Don't be surprised if your Yorkie gets really riled up and frustrated, particularly if he is used to chowing down before or at the same time that you do. Only a few bites are needed; the goal is simply to make sure that your dog is very aware that you ate some food before he did. Ignore any barks or calls for attention. 


4. If you did the above, rise to complete this next step. If you did not need to do the above (because you were not eating), this step comes after the bowl is placed on the counter. 


The Yorkie must sit before any food is given. This goes for any snacks or rewards as well, except of course for treats left when the puppy or dog is home alone. This needs to be a full 'Sit' in which the dog's rear end is touching the floor. A super hyper dog that is raring to eat may have a difficult time focusing and a Yorkie that is not used to having to listen may put up a bit of a fuss. However, you can hold up the bowl and make it clear that you expect the dog to sit if he is to get what he wants.  


Whether it takes 2 tries or 20, at some point the Yorkie will listen to the command. Praise this by saying 'Good, Sit' and then set the dish down. 

Dallas, 9 months old

Photo courtesy of Charletta king

2) Gatekeeper rules - As we touched on earlier, a dog sees all humans and pets as his/her 'pack'. Added to this, the house itself is seen as the 'den' where the pack resides. No matter where a dog sits in the hierarchy of the family, this is his territory… he will typically bark at those that trespass into it and it provides a feeling of safety and security. But, who is the gatekeeper of such an important place?


Surely, someone must be in charge of these living quarters.


From a Yorkie's perspective, the person or animal that takes on that role (and would therefore be important enough to be listened to) is the one that has the rank to enter and exit first.  


What went wrong: If you have been letting your Yorkshire Terrier be the one to leave first when taking him out for a walk and allowing him run inside before you when the session is done, you're not alone, many owners do this… and this is a huge misstep that can result in a dog not listening well. Without any words at all and based on these seemingly innocent actions, the Yorkie was given a message that he/she was in charge. 


When coupled with allowing a Yorkie to walk ahead (and not heeling to your left) when out walking, this is a double whammy of misinformation that is being relayed. 

How to fix this: It should be a steadfast rule that all humans enter and exit first, followed by the Yorkie and any other pets. While this takes a bit of practice and you may feel as if you need to be a bit of a contortionist at first, you can soon learn how to extend your arm so that your Yorkshire Terrier follows when leaving and when arriving. 


It is recommended to:


1. Within a few feet of the door, command your Yorkie to 'Sit'.


2. Place his/her harness on (this is always recommended instead of just using the collar, as it can prevent injury to the neck including collapsed trachea and gives you much better control when walking).


3. Connect the leash to the harness.


4. Reaffirm the 'Sit' command by repeating it as you open the door. If your Yorkie rises, give a firm 'No' and repeat the command until he is sitting. In the beginning, it is just fine to offer a reward when he listens and remains seated. Later, he will listen purely by instinct and reflex behavior


5. Extend your arm so that you can step through the threshold first. As you practice this, your Yorkie will catch on and should be able to sit in place until you are fully outside and give the 'Okay' release word.


6. Repeat when it is time to go back inside with your Yorkie waiting on the doorstep as you go into into the house first. 

3) Teach commands - As we touched on above, a dog can't listen if he doesn't understand what he is expected to do. You may have said 'Sit' or 'Come' hundreds of times, however if a Yorkshire Terrier is not 100% clear about what that even means, surely he will not be able to follow your orders. 


What went wrong: While you may assume that a dog does understand 'Come' and other 'easy' words, in many cases this is just a coincidence… you spoke and your dog responded to your voice but may not have fully comprehended what was done…


In a dog's mind, perhaps your 'Good girl' was referring to her trotting speed…


or perhaps your 'Good boy' was referring to his letting go of a toy before he started to come over. 


In other cases, owners may have not had time to teach commands or for some reason not understood the importance of taking time to do this. While it is best to start when a puppy is young, a Yorkie of any age (even seniors) can learn commands; it is never too late to implement this and will play a huge role in how well your dog is even able to listen to you.

Candy, 9 years old

Photo courtesy of Emily

How to fix this: You may wonder how you are supposed to teach commands when your Yorkshire Terrier won't listen to you in the first place, however this can be done. When first learning a command, a puppy or dog is motivated by the reward that is given for doing a good job. Once a dog learns how to do something, reward is no longer needed because the particular action becomes an automated response to a spoken word; Muscle memory kicks in and a dog listens due to it being an instinctive action. 


All dogs should know the 5 basics of: Sit, Come, Down, Stay and Heel. If you are not sure where to begin and are looking for a super easy and effective guide, we highly recommend Faye Dunningham's book: The Well Trained Puppy: Housebreaking, Commands to Shape Behavior and All Training Needed for a Happy, Obedient Dog. You'll find this in both hard copy & Kindle. 


Alternatively, our book: The YorkieInfoCenter Book, is a 500+ page eBook, packed with all sorts of care, including training. 


Extra Tips for Stubborn Yorkies


Some Yorkshire Terriers have been inadvertently taught to not listen for such a long time (via confusion over who is the leader) that they are downright defiant. The dog may never listen, may growl when picked up (some will be as sweet as pie once in a while and moody and growling at other times; this is because the dog is deciding when he wants to be touched), may nudge people away or even nip at children. 


In these sorts of more extreme cases, stricter training will need to be incorporated until the Yorkie is not only listening well, but also has his behavior under control.


Additional strategies include:


1) Humans are always in a physically superior position. This reaffirms the Alpha/Beta hierarchy that must be taught. This essentially means that all humans should be physically above the dog at all times. Here are some rules:

  • Never sit on the floor with your Yorkie. If you are brushing the coat, cleaning the teeth or doing some sort of grooming task, you can kneel or place him on a table while you stand. 
  • If you are sitting on a sofa or chair, your puppy or dog must remain on the floor and not be allowed onto the furniture with you.
  • The puppy or dog is not allowed on anyone's bed; he must rest and sleep in his own bed. Do be sure that your Yorkie has a quality canine dog bed that is located in a safe and comfortable spot. 

2) Social isolation - This is reserved for Yorkies that are not listening but are also displaying signs of aggression including growling and nipping. It can also work for problems with jumping up repeatedly or even for incessant barking. 


Please note that this is social isolation and not physical isolation; since placing a misbehaving puppy into an out-of-the-way area far from where he feels safe or putting him into a small claustrophobic crate can cause quite a bit of stress and can cause even worse behavior. For biting, growling, hyper jumping and the like, you may need to place him in his area (all dogs should have a small gated off area for when they are home alone - this should have a bed, toys, water and all needed items for comfort and safety).


If he is simply not listening but without aggressive behavior, the goal will be to ignore him to such an extent that he wonders and worries that he may have crossed the line and is being excluded from his pack.   


During this time-out period, there should be zero interaction including any sort of eye contact. You may even need to limit what is said between you and other humans so that this is not misconstrued as communication with the dog. This is most effective if the duration is 5 minutes passed the time when the Yorkie actually notices that he is being ignored. Some may play with a toy and not even be aware that anything changed for a good 20 minutes… and others will take note almost immediately.  

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3 Things to Remember


1. Keep things going. The steps discussed above to establish yourself as a leader who deserves the respect to be listened to is something that should be applied on a regular basis. If you do this for several weeks and then slack off a bit, things can revert right back and your Yorkie may wonder if you are backing down from your role.  


2. Everything should be done with love. When you take steps to show that you are leader in order to teach your Yorkie to listen to you, this does not mean that you are a mean ruler… The captain of the boat (or the pilot of the plane, if you will) can be super loving, kind and full of compassion and affection. It's perfectly okay to spoil your Yorkshire Terrier. Play, buy him/her super cute clothes… take your Yorkie with you to run errands… cuddle, kiss and enjoy the beauty of having a canine family member. The amount of love that you have and that you show will not change. The only difference is that you are teaching the proper chain of command to your Yorkie. 


3. Your voice matters. When you want your Yorkshire Terrier to listen to you, the tone of your voice plays a huge role. Commands should be spoken with confidence. If you make it sound like a question, it does not project authority. And if there is frustration or anger in your voice, this can cause a dog to feel afraid and end up doing the opposite of what you want. 

Age Exceptions


Puppies - There is a common scenario that happens with young puppies. A really young Yorkie puppy of 8, 9 or 10 weeks old may seem to know his name and even understand the 'Come' command. And then as the pup matures, he may appear to fallback and owners wonder why in the world the puppy is suddenly not listening to them. 


Well, what happened is that the Yorkie was never really listening to begin with… or at least not in the way that you thought.


Young puppies often respond to voices… any voice and no matter what is being said. So, if you say a pup's name and add on a 'come here!' and the Yorkie perks up and heads right over to you… this has nothing to do with actual understanding of either the name or the request. 


As a puppy learns about his new home and gains a better sense of security, he may then not need to seek out comfort quite so much. It is at this point that owners think that their Yorkie has decided to stop listening. What is needed is to teach the Yorkie that he should listen (refer above to 'Establish Yourself as the Leader') and which actions are expected in response to certain words. 

Lexie Grace, 4 years old

Photo courtesy of Ann Grace

Seniors - It is not uncommon for senior dogs to have gradual hearing and/or vision loss and this can sometimes be misinterpreted as the dog not caring anymore or deciding to not listen any longer. An older Yorkie that does not respond to a loud noise (a clap or an unexpected sound) and/or does not move his ears at all may be displaying signs of hearing loss.  


Senior Yorkshire Terriers should be having twice-per-year geriatric veterinarian visits and both vision and hearing exams should be part of this. If your Yorkie is older and seems to not be listening, do have your vet check for bilateral (both ears) or unilateral (one ear) deafness.

A Final Word


We must remember that in most cases, a Yorkshire Terrier that is not listening is struggling with two concepts:


1) Why (in the perspective of the 'canine world') should he/she listen?


2) What is being said (Does the dog understand the command or request)?


If you take the time to revolve both issues, you will find that not only will you have a well-behaved dog, you will also have a happier dog. Veterinarians, animal behavioral experts and professional trainers all agree on one thing: Dogs that are taught to be obedient are happier. When a dog thinks he's in charge, it is stressful… and being unsure about whose duty it is to run things is burdening. If you resolve this for your Yorkie, he/she will be able to relax and enjoy being a loved and important member of the household.  


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