I heard this recently. Let me give you a bit of the backstory:
In the hunting dog world, there is a concept called "honoring" or "backing". When one dog has indicated that there is a bird up ahead (called pointing), all the other dogs in the area are to stop moving, so as to not accidentally flush the bird out of range.
When I asked the owner about this, there was a lot of explanation...and it concluded with the ever-famous words: He knows what to do but he doesn't listen.
I put a long leash on the "rebel" dog. I managed to get a hold of his leash before he charged in. My dog was on point and standing like a statue. A third friend went in and flushed the bird. When the bird was airborne, I released his leash and praised him. It took one repetition and the dog was honoring again.
Does He Really Know?
The short answer: No. Most times, a dog has no clue. This is because we have done a poor job "explaining" why the behavior is worth their while. Jack is actually very eager to please. All that was needed was a situation where he could be praised. He knew what was wrong...he had no clue what was right.
How To Help A Dog Really Understand
What you need to do is show a dog how a behavior is advantageous. Take the ever popular "jumping up". When the dog is young, ignore the dog when he is jumping up. In contrast, get on the floor when he is calm and greet him on his turf. If you are consistent, the dog "understands" how to get what he wants.
If your dog knows what to do but doesn't listen, the reality is that he (most likely) does *not* know.
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