Why I never use the word “no” with my dog

Perhaps one of the most commonly used words I hear with people and their dogs is the word “no”….and when I mention in classes that “no” is something we should avoid saying to our dogs, I am often greeted with slightly sceptical responses. So I thought I would write a little article to fully explain the reasons why I firmly believe the word “no” should not be used with dog training.

Clients often assure me that their dog “knows what the word ‘no’ means”. My response to that is this – if a dog truly has an understanding of what a word means, you should not need to repeat it, or raise your voice, or use another action to stop the dog (eg dog jumping up on someone, you say “no” several times, but then have to pull the dog off the person). If a dog truly understands a word and its meaning, saying it once is sufficient.  If you need to constantly repeat the word “no” and accompany it with an increasingly angry tone of voice, this is not only stressful for you, but it causes immense stress for your dog, who has no idea why you are yelling and being intimidating and confrontational.  The word is often said by men in a very strong manner, and dogs can often be seen cowering or lowering their heads while their owner yells “NOOO!” at them. For me that is unacceptable – to cause a dog fear or anxiety and confusion simply because we are not tuning into the way dogs actually do learn. Which brings me onto the following point:-

“NO” does not teach your dog what you DO want them to do

In my classes I always tell clients the following – if a dog does something you do not like, it is never being “naughty” but is simply doing what comes naturally to them. In order to modify a behaviour we dont like, it is important to identify what it is we dont like, decide what we would like our dog to do in place of that behaviour, and work on teaching them that behaviour instead. So if your dog is, for example, constantly jumping up at people….instead of yelling “No” each and every time he jumps on a person (and risking the very real possibility of teaching him an incorrect association with the word, whereby “No” means jump up!), work on teaching them an automatic sit to greet – which is a behaviour incompatible with jumping up. There we go – you will be working on proactively teaching your dog how you DO want them to behave in that situation, and not once is there a need to say “No”! If your dog is constantly picking up your lovely nice new shoes, then work on teaching them a reliable “leave it” and ensure your dog has other, appropriate chew toys.  Work on teaching your dog how you DO want them to behave, not punishing them for doing something you do NOT want them to do.

“No” can also inadvertently cause your dog to stop behaving in ways that we DO like

Imagine if your dog is lying on his bed,  keeps checking in on you (behaviours that are desirable and that you may well have spent time and effort reinforcing) but is also chewing that shoe that we mentioned in the paragraph above…..and you yell “NO!” at him. In that instance, how can he possibly know that that intimidating body language and tone of voice has come for chewing the shoe, and not lying calmly on his bed or checking in with you? Often dogs who always hear the word “No” yelled at them can shut down and avoid doing anything much in case it causes them to get yelled at.

The word “No” can actually sometimes become reinforcing 

One of the things I encourage a LOT in classes is to teach dogs to self settle…it is one of the most beneficial behaviours a puppy can learn. But it is also one of the hardest things for owners to remember to do, as while they are listening to me I keep telling them to reward their puppy for being calm and quiet. So often then what happens is because the puppy has been calm and quiet and focused on the owner but got no rewards for it, they get frustrated and may bark or jump up at their person….this immediately gets a reaction from the owner who often then tells the puppy “No”! So all the puppy has learnt is that if they want attention, bark and act like a loon and there we are – attention given” This is one of the biggest reasons I always encourage people to reward their dog in class BEFORE they act up or get frustrated…remember that by rewarding a behaviour we like, we are increasing the likelyhood of it being repeated!!

S0…what to do instead?

By attending training classes you will get a good grounding of basic behaviours and cues which you will then be able to progress and use to tell your dog what you DO want them to do. Examples are as follows:-

  • If your dog has picked up a shoe or another item you dont want him to chew, ask him to “drop”
  • If your dog is heading towards a sandwich that has been put on the coffee table you will be able to ask him to “leave it”
  • If your dog tends to jump up when you come in, you can ask him to “sit” before he has a chance to.
  • If your dog doesnt feel like getting off the chair or sofa, you can either use a behaviour such as hand targetting, or ask him to “off”
  • If your dog is chewing a chair leg then interrupt them by making a light hearted noise, and calling them away.

Obviously all of the above need to be taught to your dog, but it is far better to be proactive and teach your dog how you do want them to behave in a situation, so that they know what you would like them to do, rather than tell them off for doing something when they have no idea what they are meant to do.  Another important part of modifying any behaviour is managing the environment so that the dog cannot practice that behaviour…..so while you are working on training your dog, prevent access to areas he may tend to chew, shut him away when visitors first arrive so he doesnt get the chance to jump all over them as they come in. All of this will help make it much clearer to your dog what you do want them to do, and the bond between you and your dog will have no risk of being damaged!

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