Can You Say No
To Your Dog?

Luzelle & Puppy Sage of HausTralis Malinois at Starbucks Botany Auckland

By Luzelle Cockburn

I’ve been hearing some rumours that dog trainers are saying owners can’t say “no” to their dogs. I find this concept interesting. Is it right to say “no” to your dog? Has saying “no” become taboo? If so, why?If you do want to use it effectively, how do you teach your dog what “no” means. Why is saying “No” to your dog discouraged?

Have you ever said no to your dog?

What happened? What did your dog do? Did saying “no” have an affect on your dog’s behaviour?

Why is “No” so Ineffective

Let’s assess what happens in a general scenario – remember before I was a dog trainer, I was a normal, everyday pet owner just like you. OK, so your dog did something they weren’t supposed to do.

Let’s say your dog ate the cat biscuits. You caught your dog in the act and said “no”. Your dog had already demolished every last morsel before you got there. You yell at your dog, they leave the empty bowl alone, and tomorrow the same thing happens again.

Why? You said no to your dog? Shouldn’t they get it?

Because eating the biscuits is worth it. It makes your dog feel good. You got there too late, and plus, you weren’t there to stop your dog in time. You’re really fighting a losing battle, because eating the cat bikkies is more fun than listening to you. And yes there are a number of things you could do, but many of them would not stop your dog unless you were 100% vigilant. So, then, what is your best course of action?

Now what could you do instead? Well, leaving the cat biscuits out in easy reach of your dog and expecting them to leave it alone is much like leaving a chocolate cake out and expecting me not to eat it (unless it has just plain icing on, then I can leave it alone, but I digress). Ain’t gonna happen. You’re asking for the impossible. You might as well start believing in unicorns and fairies.

So, what can you do instead? Remove the cat biscuits. Don’t leave them out. Simple as that. Set your dog up to succeed and not to fail (or put the cheese back in the fridge after you use it, as I learned this week).

No is often ineffective because it is used too late, without training and without appropriate consequences. It could be much easier to set your dog up to succeed.

“Leaving the cat biscuits out in easy reach of your dog and expecting them to leave it alone is much like leaving a chocolate cake out and expecting me not to eat it (unless it has just plain icing on, then I can leave it alone, but I digress). Ain’t gonna happen. You’re asking for the impossible. You might as well start believing in unicorns and fairies.”

Why No is Discouraged

I have observed that many people use “no” incorrectly. Usually when “No” is used, it’s used in anger or “no” is said so often that your poor dog thinks their name is “No”. The dog is confused and the owner fails to take the opportunity to teach the dog how they want them to behave instead.

When “No” is used in anger, a dog can become fearful. Especially as many owners feel angry even after the dog complies and don’t stop being angry at their dog. It’s not easy to regulate our emotions. But, when you are dealing with your dog, it’s important to stop being angry when your dog complies. Even if they just chewed up your favourite pair of Pradas.

Really you should ask yourself how your dog got hold of your shoes in the first place. Then grab a rolled up newspaper and hit yourself over the head for leaving your shoes in easy reach. Trust me, I do this in my mind every time I stuff up. I know. I’m weird like that.

When “No” is said so often that your dog thinks their name is “no” it becomes background noise to your dog. It becomes useless. So think about how you can set your dog and yourself up for success, by teaching your dog how you’d like them to behave and keeping valuable things out of your dog’s reach.

How to use “No” Correctly

Well, there are two ways “No can be used effectively. Firstly as an interrupter to stop your dog from doing something and secondly as guidance to steer them towards the right course.

I use both. My interrupter is “oi” and I use “no” as guidance. But they are easily swapped around.

Using an Interrupter

What does it mean to use an interrupter? It means you cue your dog to stop doing whatever they are doing, or there will be consequences (and there are always consequences for non-compliance what the consequences are will depend on the dog). I only use an interrupter when I know my dog will listen or I have control over the situation without it turning into a frustrating game of chasey. Where your dog is running off with their treasure and you’re running around after them, like someone who has lost the game and the plot.

Does using an interrupter damage your dog? When used correctly, I have seen no evidence of this happening, in fact my dogs become so good, I’ve even had a dog bring me chicken bones she found in the park. My dogs quickly learn to stop doing whatever they are doing on “oi” I’ve had dogs spit out birds and guinea pigs on “oi” dogs stop eating cheese I left out on the bench. And then I grabbed a piece of rolled up newspaper and hit myself over the head for leaving the cheese out.

Using Guidance

No as a form of guidance is usually used in a normal tone. Where you use it to communicate to your dog that the path they are taking will not lead to reward. And that if they would like a reward to pay attention and try again.

Does using “no as a form of guidance damage your dog? I find that using the word “no” in my training as guidance really helps my dogs to learn faster and be more efficient in their training. It’s never used in a harsh tone (unlike “oi” where my tone of voice indicates serious urgency). It is simply said as guidance.

The dog has a choice. Heed my guidance and try something else. Or carry on and not get a reward. Usually if I have to help the dog with “no” more than twice I go back and help them, because obviously the exercise hasn’t been taught correctly under the circumstances I’m asking them to perform in.

So, can you use “No” or not?

It really comes down to how you use it and what your dog is like. Have you taught your dog what “no” means? Or is it just background noise? Do you use it in anger? Has your dog lost respect for you because you lose your temper so much?

Some dogs won’t get their feelings hurt by hearing “no”, others will ignore their owners if their “no” doesn’t have strong enough consequences and there are some dogs that don’t want to upset their owners at all. I’ve learned over the years not to let my emotions run away with me. I’ve learned to control my anger. And I’ve learned to only speak when I mean to. If you have good self control including control over your emotions, then by all means use no.

If you are struggling controlling your emotions still, then I would recommend learning to control your emotions before using “no”. Decide how you will use “no” and practice. One thing that has helped me get better control over my emotions is remembering that the first to lose their temper has lost the game. Because as soon as you lose your temper you can no longer deal with a situation as effectively as you could if you were calm.

What do you think of this article? Tell me in the comments below if you found it interesting or if you totally disagree! I’d love to hear what you think!

Need Some Help with Your Dog?

The whole reason I’m a dog trainer is to keep dog out of shelters and rescues and off death row. The best way to do that is to keep dogs with their families! So, I’ve put together some resources to help you with your dog! It’s all kept in The Dog Training Lab – you’ll find heaps of free resources, just pop your email address in The Free Resources Hub to get access and you’re set! 

What information is in there? Tips to help you with walking your dog on lead, toilet training, problem barking and so much more!

About SolutionK9 Luzelle & Walter

Hey, I’m Luzelle!

If it has to do with transforming your naughty, embarrassing, frustrating or worrying dog into an obedient, well behaved member of the canine society that you can actually enjoy spending your life with, I can help.

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