Why I don’t use the word ‘no’ in dog training
There is a conflict between how humans use language and how dogs understand words. When I visit clients for the first there is often a barrage of noes.
No means - stop barking
No means - don’t jump up
No means - don’t run through the door
No means - don’t bite your lead
No means - don’t pull
No means - don’t snatch food
No means - don’t pee on the floor
No means - you’re doing that wrong
No means - don’t lunge at a dog
I’m sure you can think of many other ways that the word is used. Here is the problem, as humans we use the word ‘no’ in a context that gives it its meaning. Dogs aren’t able to understand that much subtlety. When humans use the word to each other it can create hostility and this human emotion can translate into hostility in our relationships with our dogs. When humans are saying ‘good’ it’s good for them psychologically and they feel positive feelings which will be transferred to the dog.
I’m a firm believer that every interaction with a dog should end up with the word ‘good’. From a human perspective, it’s like the old saying “never go to bed on an argument.”
So what do we do instead? We teach the dog what we *do* want them to do in each situation.
If we look at jumping up, what does the dog want? Maybe the dog wants to be near you and get attention. The dog jumps and you automatically start stroking it and get excited. Now the dog has learnt that it will get attention when it jumps. What we have to do is teach the dog that attention is not achieved by jumping.
In this case, we’ll use the simplest command to change this behaviour. When the dog jumps up we will only say the word sit. This can take a while we keep saying sit until the dog sits. At this point, we say ‘good’ and give the dog the attention it wants. If the dog jumps, we start again. Consistent repetitions will get rid of the jumping behaviour. If you give in, just once, the dog will know that jumping still works. You’ll need to get the whole family and your visitors on board with the training.
All the noes can be replaced in similar ways. Ask what the dog wants? Ask what the dog will have to do to get it? When the dog does the alternative behaviour we mark it with the word ‘good’ and then give the dog what it wants or a version of it. You'll end up with a happier dog that really understands you.