If your dog is struggling to learn something, ask yourself these 3 questions to decide what to do next.
1. Is My Dog Upset?
An upset dog is one who is afraid, stressed, worried, anxious, or uncomfortable. For upset dogs, we need to address their underlying emotion FIRST. For example, a dog who is stressed out by other dogs will not be able to successfully pass another dog on the sidewalk: they may pull away to get more distance, or may bark or lunge to try to get the other dog to go away. Either way, they're not going to be able to walk politely on leash until they have a more positive association with other dogs.
2. Does My Dog Know What I'm Asking?
Dogs are often guessing what we're asking of them. They may be just learning, or they may not have practiced the skill in enough different scenarios to have generalized the behavior. Go back to an easier step: prompt your dog with a hand signal or a food lure, or go back to a quieter location to practice.
3. Am I Offering My Dog Enough Motivation, and At the Right Time?
Dogs require motivation to learn, just like any animal. Imagine trying to call your dog away just when they've started playing at the dog park. Whatever food you have in your pocket is just not going to be better than the big fun they're having. But wait a few minutes until you see them disengage a bit, and then your cheese will be interesting enough. And don't forget to use food that is motivating enough for the situation. While you might be successful with dry biscuits at home, the outside world requires the good stuff!
Taking a step back and asking questions will help you make quicker progress when working with your dog. Just like humans, dogs need a helpful teacher who removes obstacles to learning.