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Understanding the Defiant Dachshund

In This Chapter

You’ve heard it from this book (if you’ve read earlier chapters) and probably from many other places if you’ve been doing your Dachsie research: Dachshunds are notoriously stubborn. You may also have heard the words defiant, willful, obstinate, headstrong, and intractable. All true, yes, and appropriate in some Dachshunds more than in others.

But this trait is perfectly natural for a Dachshund; it’s even part of her considerable charm. This chapter will help you understand why Dachshunds act the way they do in order to help you come to know and train yours better. So-called stubbornness is really a sign of Dachshund intelligence — of an independent thinker that’s far more than an obedient automaton. Ask any Dachshund devotee about the Dachshund’s stubborn streak, and you’ll probably elicit a smile. Instead of angering those who love her, the stubborn Dachshund engenders affection, even pride, because the Dachshund’s obstinate nature is anything but malicious. Your little pup is simply smart as a whip. (Feel free to brag about her!)

Looking for Signs of Intelligent Life

I’ve heard trainers, breeders, and behaviorists describe two types of intelligence in dogs:

– The kind of intelligence that makes a dog highly and easily trainable (Border Collies, Shelties, and Labrador Retrievers are this kind of intelligent, for example)

– The kind of intelligence that manifests itself as the ability to think without requiring direction from humans

Dachshunds tend to fall into the second category, so don’t be fooled into thinking your stubborn, seemingly untrainable puppy is stupid. Au contraire. The problem may just be that your Dachshund is too smart.


Most dogs want to please the people they love, but not to the point of severe boredom through senseless repetition or through the performance of an activity that doesn’t seem to have a point. Dachshunds revel in fun, but what’s so fun about standing in the middle of the living room floor, being told to sit, stand, sit, stand, sit, stand, sit, stand? Keep your training sessions short, frequent, fun, and challenging. If you’re bored, your Dachshund is probably bored, too. (For more training tips, head to Chapter Taking Charge of Your Dachsie and keep going.)

Dachshunds may not be humans, but they aren’t robots, computers, or animals that enjoy a life of servitude, either. They have many wants:

– They want to be with you.

– They want something interesting to do with their time.

– They want to enjoy their food, their sleep, and their playtime.

– They want to learn tricks and do what you ask, as long as it makes sense to their doggy minds.

So, the first thing to remember when approaching your Dachshund for your early training sessions is that training must be fun, must have rewards, and must be something you and your Dachshund do every day together —something you both anticipate and relish.

Why Dachshunds Are Independent Thinkers

Different dog breeds have been bred for different reasons. Some have been developed to be very in-tune to their humans’ every need — working in close partnership to herd livestock or retrieve game, for example. Some have been developed to be strong, protective working dogs. And some have been developed to curl up and look pretty on the laps or in the sleeves of royalty.
Dachshunds (like most Hounds) have been developed to think for themselves (see Figure 10-1 for a Dachsie deep in thought). Traditionally, the best Dachshunds were the ones that could follow scents without constant supervision, that could go into badger dens and corner badgers on their own, and that could bark to alert their human companions that the prey was cornered. It was man and Dachshund against badger or rabbit or wild boar.
Figure 10-1: This Dachshund is a free (and deep) thinker. (Photo courtesy of Gail Painter.)

Field trials: Independent thinking in action

Watching a Dachshund field trial is a great way to observe the Dachshund’s independent nature in action. In Dachshund field trials, Dachshunds compete in pairs to follow the scent of a rabbit. (The rabbit isn’t caught or killed; usually, it isn’t even seen by the dogs.) When the dogs catch the scent, or line, of the rabbit, the handlers aren’t allowed to intervene in any way to direct the Dachshunds. The dogs must trail the scent all on their own, followed by the watchful judges who determine which Dachshunds are most capable of following the trail. See Chapter Advanced Training and Competing for Fun for more on these field trials.
In other words, Dachshunds — even the Minis — were made to perform reliably and intelligently without too much human intervention. Therefore, the best way to get through to a Dachshund so that she can learn your house rules and what you desire from her is to learn how to speak her language. The following sections dive deep into this topic.

Dachshunds Can’t Obey What They Don’t Understand

If only you could tell your Dachsie, “Listen here, Gertrude. When you feel the urge to eliminate, please let me know ahead of time and I’ll let you outside.” Or, “This is the deal, Otto. When I say ‘Sit,’ you plant your rump on the ground and stay there. And when I say ‘Come,’ you run right over here as fast as you can. If you do, I’ll really like it a lot.”
Sadly, dog training isn’t that easy. But it isn’t too hard, either. The first thing you have to realize is that your Dachshund doesn’t speak English. Okay, sure, you know that. But have you really considered what it means? It means that your Dachshund isn’t being defiant the first time you say “Sit” and she just stares at you with a look that says, “What planet are you from?” She just doesn’t know what you’re talking about. Her mother didn’t tell her to Sit. How is she supposed to understand?
And, even if your Dachshund has learned “Come” in the living room, she may not understand that when she smells a juicy squirrel dashing through the park and runs madly after it and you shriek “Come!” hysterically that you expect the same response as you did in the living room. (And no matter how much you practice, your Dachshund may still chase that squirrel, so keep her leash on outside!)
Teaching your Dachshund what behavior you expect when you say certain words takes work and plenty of consistent practice. It also takes a certain degree of showing before the telling alone will work.


Never hold a grudge against your Dachshund. After a few seconds, your dog will have no idea what you’re angry about. Dogs live in the present, and they only know that you’re angry. If you decide to punish your pup for chewing your shoe by keeping her locked up for two hours or by ignoring her all day, your punishment will be ineffective and even destructive, because your Dachshund will learn to fear you or avoid you rather than listen to you.

Communicating with Your Dachshund

How do you talk Dachshund? First, you have to see the world from your Dachshund’s point of view. Imagine that you’re a Dachshund, scampering around about 8 inches off the ground. You’ve suddenly been uprooted from the home you knew, and here you are in a strange place with a strange creature who towers above you and keeps uttering strange, undecipherable sounds. The creature seems very nice, offering food and petting you. The voice sounds well-intentioned, and sometimes you get treats.
But sometimes the voice gets mad, irritated, and scary. Sometimes the creature appears dangerous, waving his or her arms wildly and yelling. Sometimes the yelling seems to be at you, but you can’t imagine why. You want to do whatever will make the creature talk nicely, and you sure want some more of those treats. If only you knew what to do to elicit that behavior from your creature!
Oh well, you may as well go on exploring your new environment, relieving yourself when you have to and chewing on whatever you find that looks tempting. After all, this is what dogs do; you don’t have any other instructions — at least none you can understand.


To get through to this uneducated and independent-minded little Dachshund, you have to be very specific in your rewards. The moment she does something good, praise her, pet her, even give her the occasional treat. When she’s naughty, redirect her to the right activity (hand her a chew toy, move her to her outdoor bathroom, and so on) without making any fuss. Ignore her until she does the right thing again and then heap on the praise. Now she’ll get the message.


Don’t just praise your dog when she does something you ask her to. Also praise her when she does something well or right when you didn’t ask. Constant positive reinforcement of good behavior is integral to developing a good relationship with your Dachshund. If you spend the whole day yelling “No!” and “Bad dog!” but never rewarding your Dachshund for the things she does right, she won’t learn the self-confidence that’s so important to a well-trained and happy pet. And she certainly won’t learn what you want her to.

The following sections present more communication tips that will have you speaking Dachsie in no time. For more on the words you can teach your Dachshund, head to Chapter Putting Your Dachshund through Basic Training.

Accentuating the positive

Most people use a combination of training methods for their dogs, depending on the situation. Here are the most common methods of training:

Positive reinforcement rewards desired behavior with something the dog wants, such as a treat or praise.

Negative reinforcement rewards desired behavior by removing an unpleasant condition — like when you release a choke chain after your dog sits.

Punishment discourages undesired behavior by inflicting something undesirable, such as a scolding.

Extinction doesn’t reinforce undesired behavior — like when you ignore your Dachshund when she jumps up on you.


Positive reinforcement used in conjunction with extinction is considered by many contemporary trainers to be the most effective, fast, and humane method of dog training. When your Dachshund does something you want her to do, reward her immediately and heap on the praise. When she does something she isn’t supposed to do, don’t reinforce the behavior. Completely ignore her. She’ll hate that.

Of course, if she’s doing something dangerous or damaging, you have to stop her immediately. Whisk her outside before she eliminates on your carpet or remove her jaws from your table leg. Accompany your removal with a firm “No!” But don’t make a big deal about it. She won’t understand, she’ll get scared, and even if she does learn not to chew the table in your presence (because that’s the only time she gets punished for it), she won’t understand that she shouldn’t ever chew on the table.


One of the most important things to remember when communicating with your Dachshund is consistency. If you praise your Dachshund for obeying your command one day and then ignore her for obeying your command the next day, she won’t get it. If you refuse to let her on your bed one day and then let her on your bed the next day, she won’t get that, either. Make the rules and stick to them. If you must change them, keep them changed. Dachshunds don’t understand waffling.

Staying calm and upbeat


If you want to relate to your Dachshund, the most important thing you can do is stay positive. Getting angry when your Dachshund eats your loveseat or leaves a puddle on your antique quilt is understandable, but it won’t do any good. Leave the room, get angry, get over it, come back, and resolve not to let it happen again, because (and you may not want to hear this) the whole thing was your fault anyway.

Dachshunds aren’t malicious. They don’t hold grudges. Your Dachshund isn’t trying to wreck your stuff or disobey you. When she does something wrong (wrong according to your rules), it’s only because she didn’t understand that the behavior is unacceptable.
If you’re always (or at least usually) calm, positive, upbeat, and happy when teaching your Dachshund the rules, as well as the fun things you and she can do together, she’ll get your meaning much more quickly. Dachshunds are all about reward. What can they do to get one, and what can they do to get another one? It’s that simple. Yelling isn’t a reward. A slap on the rump isn’t a reward. Rubbing her nose in an accident is most certainly not a reward. But a treat? A pat? A walk? An enthusiastic “What a good, sweet, darling little puppy dog you are!”? Now those are rewards that allow you to relate to a Dachshund.

Showing, telling, and reinforcing

Words make sense to a Dachshund only when they’re linked with something you’ve first shown her how to do. For example, you can follow this three-step process:

1. Taking your Dachshund to her elimination station every hour or so the first day you have her is showing her.

Rewarding your good dog with new treats

Tired of the same old pieces of kibble for positive reinforcements? You can use many things to reward your Dachshund. Here are some ideas:

– Small pieces of lean meat, veggies, berries, a spoonful of plain yogurt or olive oil with dinner, pieces of whole-grain cereal (oat rings or wheat biscuits, for example), or bits of scrambled eggs will keep your Dachshund excited about training.

– A game of fetch or a run around the yard will energize your pup.

– An extra grooming session now and then will be appreciated (most Dachshunds love to be brushed).

– A walk with you is the ultimate reward for a job well done.

Some trainers don’t believe in using food rewards, but Dachshunds are highly foodmotivated, so as long as your rewards don’t cause your Dachshund to become overweight, using food rewards is a great way to train.

2. Associating this action with a word or phrase, such as “Go potty,” is how showing leads to telling.

3. Praising her and/or offering her a bit of kibble when she does her duty is positive reinforcement.

Together, these actions result in a Dachshund that knows what you want and is glad to give it to you.


The most effective method, in my opinion, for showing, telling, and reinforcing what’s expected of your Dachshund is lure-and-reward training. You use a lure, such as a piece of kibble or a treat, to guide your Dachshund into the desired position as you tell her the name of the position — Sit, Lie Down, Bow, or whatever. When she achieves the position, Dachsie gets the treat. Show, tell, and reinforce. Now that isn’t a difficult communication.

Recognizing “Normal” Dachshund Behavior

Despite all the generalizations you hear about dogs and Dachshunds, the fact is, every Dachshund is different. Some are more stubborn than others. And some are jollier or bigger performers, or more retiring, or less likely to enjoy children, or more friendly toward strangers, and so on.
You can read every book on the planet about Dachshunds, dog behavior, and training, but until you get to know the personality of your Dachshund, you’ll have only half the story. Putting any individual Dachshund in any individual home will result in a unique and special situation. The following sections give you some common Dachshund desires and behaviors and then explain how differences can occur.

A common Dachshund mentality

Most Dachshunds aren’t complicated. (And neither are most people, really.) They share many characteristics, which I list here:

– They enjoy pleasurable activities. They require food, water, sleep, and affection. They absolutely love to go on walks, play outdoors, chase squirrels, chase balls (but not necessarily give them back to you), sleep under the bedcovers with you, and curl up on your lap to watch television. They’ll do just about anything for your undivided attention.

– They don’t enjoy being hungry, in pain, overly tired, uncomfortable, or frightened, and they absolutely hate it when you’re displeased with them — especially if they don’t know why. They don’t want to be ignored. They want to be the center of your universe, and they sincerely believe they deserve to be.

– They don’t know what “Sit” means until you show them. But they’re smart, so after you show them, they’ll understand. They don’t know why you want them to do boring, repetitive things when they could be sniffing around or having lunch. But they’ll do those things if the reward is big enough. They want to know why they shouldn’t pull on the leash. So if you make it clear that pulling on the leash means no walk and that trotting politely by your side means a long walk, they’ll be happy to oblige.

And that’s about it. If only raising kids was that easy! (Actually, positive reinforcement works on kids, too, but that’s a different book.) All you have to do is practice, practice, practice. Keep training fun, keep it happy, and keep it rewarding for everyone involved.

Nature versus nurture

Your Dachshund inherited certain traits and tendencies from her parents. She may be particularly smart or quick or laid-back. But nurture plays a big part, as well. Everything you do, everything you say, and the way you and your Dachshund live together shape her personality. Nurture affects her ability to learn, her desire to please you, and even her zest for life. Talk about a big responsibility!
However, even if you do everything the way you think (and I say) you should, your Dachshund may be particularly stubborn and hard, requiring sharper corrections (though never physical ones). Perhaps you have a sensitive fellow that practically faints with joy if you smile in his direction. You’ll probably never need to raise your voice even slightly with this one, and you may never even need to use food as a positive reinforcement for training.
Maybe yours doesn’t want to sleep in your bed at all. Maybe she already knows what you mean when you say “Come,” and you hardly have to train her.
Maybe she pushes your limits to see how much she can get away with, even when she knows exactly what you want — just out of curiosity or tenacity or because she’s particularly precocious.
All you can do is live and learn together, stay positive, and give yourself a timeout when you get angry (and you’ll probably get angry from time to time). Keep at it. You and your Dachshund have a bond of mutual love, respect, and affection, even if you may not always like each other.


Some dogs seem to be completely untrainable. Well into the first year, though, their owners suddenly discover that these dogs are deaf — an affliction that happens sometimes with Dachshunds, most often in dogs with large areas of white. There are alternate methods for training deaf Dachshunds, which you can learn from a professional trainer with experience in this area. The following section digs deeper into the topic of health problems.

When training problems mean health problems

In some cases, training problems or certain unusual behaviors may indicate a health problem in your Dachsie. Apart from individual differences your dog shows, be on the lookout for any of the following behaviors and alert your veterinarian. Better to catch a health problem in the early stages than to ignore it until it becomes life-threatening.
Call your vet if your Dachshund

– Never obeys your commands when she can’t see your face.

– Was housetrained but suddenly begins to have accidents inside the house regularly.

– Behaves aggressively for no good reason, especially if you’ve trained your Dachshund not to bite or if she has never exhibited aggressive behavior before.

– Suddenly becomes shy around people when she wasn’t previously.

– Suddenly seems forgetful or confused, possibly bumping into furniture (more common in older dogs).

– Suddenly refuses to come, go on a walk, or move at all.

– Yelps when touched.

– Suddenly becomes destructive, fearful, or hysterical when left alone.

All these behaviors may seem to be training issues, but they could be signs of a serious health problem — possibly of an acute nature. Don’t hesitate to call your vet. She’s there to answer your questions and keep your Dachshund well.

The behaviorist is your ally

If your dog exhibits behavioral problems, seems untrainable despite your best efforts, or has any of the problems listed in the preceding section and your vet has ruled out a medical problem, consider contacting an animal behaviorist. No, it isn’t like taking your pet in for psychotherapy. Dogs can suffer from very real and serious behavioral problems, and a behaviorist is trained to deal with these specific problems.


Don’t be shy about calling a behaviorist. Plenty of people do, and plenty of people are very glad they did. Many dogs have been saved through simple behavior-modification techniques. Most dogs surrendered to animal shelters are there because of behavioral problems their owners couldn’t or wouldn’t handle. Don’t let your Dachshund suffer this fate. Learn her language, train her, hire a professional when necessary, and immerse your dog in plenty of love. Now you’re talking Dachshund.

An animal behaviorist may not have all the answers, but a good one may know just what to do when you’ve exhausted other avenues. Sometimes the most serious-seeming problem is really a simple matter.

Technical Stuff

Some dog trainers also call themselves canine behavioral consultants. These trainers may not have advanced degrees in animal behavior like a behaviorist, but they may have a lot of practical experience with behavior problems. A consultant could be a big help when you’re trying to solve a training problem, depending on your situation, but behaviorists generally have more formal education. Only behaviorists can prescribe medication, such as a medicine that may be appropriate for separation anxiety or aggression.

Here are some resources to check out:
– To find an animal behaviorist, check out the Animal Behavior Society’s public directory of certified animal behaviorists at

– For a list of behavior consultants, check out the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) at

– For a list of trainers who specialize in behavior problems, check out the Association of Pet Dog Trainers’s site at and click on Dog Trainer Search.

by Eve Adamson

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