It’s a knee-jerk reaction that’s hard to suppress when something truly awful is happening.
When your dog is chewing up a cute shoe, stealing your taco, or jumping on your guests and stamping muddy paw prints all over them… the first word that pops into your mind is, “NOOO!”
But that’s the one word that many positive reinforcement dog trainers and behaviorists will tell you not to say to your dog. You might think it’s a little insane – I felt that way when I first heard of this concept.
Everyone says “no,” right? I mean, you have to say “no,” or how will the dog know when they’re doing something wrong? For the love of all things cute and furry… what’s the big deal if I say “no”??
Then I actually gave it a try. Every time I wanted to say “no,” I did something else instead… I’ll tell more about that in a minute, but first…
Why Are We So Hung Up On “No”?
A baby human’s first word is usually “mama,” and their second word is usually, “no!”
It’s an easy word, and the baby probably hears it quite a lot, every single day. “No” to touching your poop, biting your brother, or drawing on the wall.
Then, Mom airplanes up a spoonful of wilty peas, and baby opens her little mouth and says, “No!” for the very first time.
It’s powerful, and the tables are turned. It feels infinitely better to give a “no” than to receive it. It’s a sharp, strong word that makes children, animals, even adults stop in their tracks and drop whatever they’re doing wrong. Right?
It’s not so much that “no” does not work. “No” DOES seems to work, and people have been saying it to their dogs for generations, and many of them will continue to do so, and their dogs will be neither scarred for life nor will they become dangerously aggressive.
What’s really exciting is the fact that we don’t actually have to say it. It’s not about not having the freedom to “no” at your dog in the comfort of your own home – it’s about having a more clear, meaningful way to communicate that gets even better results.
Why You Won’t Miss “No” …I Promise.
Get ready to say goodbye to these annoying side effects that often accompany use of the word, “no.”
You’ll no longer:
- Sound like someone who isn’t in control of their dog
- Confuse your dog when you’re saying “no” to someone else
- Sing the first 19 seconds of “Nobody But Me by The Human Beinz” to your dog all day long.
- Watch helplessly as your dog learns to ignore “no” and continues being naughty.
What To Do In Case Of A No-No
The phrase “bad behavior” is accurate from our point of view, but it can get us stuck in a habit of seeing our dogs as misbehaving children, rather than animals that need to be trained and guided before we can expect them to behave in ways that make our lives better and more convenient. For brevity, let’s call a destructive or annoying behavior a “no-no.”
You can ask your dog for an alternate behavior, but they may not listen to your command until they stop doing that no-no. In some cases, you may want to use a positive interrupter. This is a noise that gets your dog’s attention. It can be a kissy noise, a whistle, or a gentle “eh-eh.” The objective isn’t to startle or scare your dog, you just need to get them to snap to attention and await further instruction.
Teaching A Positive Interrupter
To create a positive interrupter, make the noise, then give your dog a treat if they look at you. If your dog does not look at you, you may need a different sound that catches their attention.
When they begin to associate the sound with an easy treat, your dog will react faster and more reliably to the positive interrupter.
To intensify your positive interrupter, throw the treat to your dog’s mouth instead of just giving it to them. For some dogs, catching is more exciting than simply getting a treat, so this can make the interrupter more effective at getting their immediate, undivided attention.
Using Your Positive Interrupter
When your dog snaps to attention when you make the sound, you’re ready to put it to use.
Next time your dog is committing a no-no, make the sound, and deliver the treat. Then, call your dog to you, or use an easy command like “sit,” and reward her again.
After that, you might want to take her outside for some exercise, because the no-no may have been a product of boredom or inactivity.
Can “No” Be A Positive Interrupter?
Realistically, someone is probably going to say no to your dog at some point. You might say it in the spur of the moment, especially if you feel pressured to audibly punish your dog for the approval of other humans.
If you’re going to say “no,” say it with as little volume as needed to get your dog’s attention. That might mean you have to yell, depending on how far away your dog is, the noise level in your environment, or simply because you’re startled or alarmed and cannot help it. Yelling can be scary to your dog, but you can similarly condition your dog to expect a treat when it does happen.
“No” is not the best positive interrupter because it’s so common in everyday conversation. But it might be an inevitable one. What really matters is that you stop saying “no” when the behavior stops, instead of chiding your dog after the fact. Then, reward your dog so she knows that listening to you and pausing a behavior is a worthwhile decision for her to make.