You and I navigate and make sense of the world around with our voice. And so it’s normal that we try using our voice to guide and train our dogs as well. That said, a common mistake and inconsistency I run into with pet parents when they’re struggling with their dog or puppy lies within their usage of the word No, and their timing with it. And so I’ve put together a list of 10 reasons why I believe using the word No (or any type of word and sound to let your dog know they’ve done something you dislike) is hindering your communication and relationship with your dog. 1. Your dog doesn’t understand what No means. This isn’t to say that your dog doesn’t know the definition of the word, but rather doesn’t know what No means, and in what to do about it in the many scenarios where we’ll use it. Chances are that if you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve taught your dog to attribute a general meaning to the word No, that you have actually done more work on teaching them what you’d like for them to do instead, when they hear that word. 2. Your dog isn’t hearing you. If your dog isn’t actually sharing their attention with you, then you’re far better off not saying anything at all, and just helping guiding them away from that scenario where they’re not practicing desired behaviours. You want to save your voice and have it be the most rare but valuable treat that your dog hears when good things happen. That way your dog will be looking forward to hearing it. 3. Your dog is doing what they’re doing for good reason and confronting them can cause internal conflict. When your dog is exhibiting ann unwanted behaviour, it’s 100% of the time something your dog is doing (whether on purpose or by accident) as the reaction they feel the need to emply in that given scenario. And so what happens when you say No to their response is you’re essentially dismissing how they’re feeling and why. You need to instead guide them towards a different response, that you can then say Yes to, and that your dog will then have as an option to practice next time, and the time after that, if practiced enough. 4. You don’t know how your dog will respond. Similarly to the point above, if you don’t know how your dog will respond, you are better off not saying anything, and helping them walk away/take space instead. In dog training, we shape a behaviour by first having the dog naturally practice it, before adding the verbal cue to clearly begin creating the association. Because words have no meaning to dogs without a clear association, you can’t guarantee that your dog will ro won’t respond in the way you want. 5. When in doubt don’t act it out, but rather walk it out. Your dog doesn’t know why you’re saying No, what it means or what to do instead. And so, to avoid adding further confusion, avoid using the word No or any verbal cue that they don’t fully understand yet, and practice a different cue altogether, to get your dog’s mind to focus on something you’d rather they do instead. And the best way you can achieve this is also by simply walking away with your dog. Oftentimes all we want when we say No is to have our dogs step away and give that situation time and space, but yet we’ve never actually taken the time to teach and shape that behaviour first. 6. You are reinforcing the unwanted behaviour with your voice. You’re likely saying No because your dog is doing something you don’t like, which unfortunately also acts as a rienforcer. Especially with young dogs, attention of any kind towards any kind of behaviour is exactly that, attention and a reinforcer. So even though you are thinking that you are trying to deterr your dog from doing something and hopefully stop them, what your dog is receiving is plain attention, and attention that doesn’t really help them come up with a better response anyway. Watch how two dogs play with one another, and you will see that one waits for the other to to a particular action and in a particular way, before reinforcing it with their attention. 7. Say Yes instead. If you’ve attended puppy class, you’ve likely heard of the word Marker, which means a cue or sound that lets your dog know they’ve done something you like, and that a treat is also likely to follow, especially while they’re so young and still learning it all. And so all you have to do is wait for those moments where your dog is doing what you DO like, mark it with the word Yes and reward. If you find this difficult to do, in the face of situations where your dog struggles listening to you, this simply means that you need to practice in easier environments first, and the ones where you’re both feeling frustrated and the need to confront one another, are currently too difficult for you both.
8. Your dog has already heard you say it previously and hasn’t responded in the way you want. If you’re saying the word No to your dog regularly, chance are that word’s meaning is unfortunately non-existing, in your dog’s mind, since he/she is still doing the unwanted behaviour. You are better off making a weird or rare sound with your voice to get your dog’s attention, before guding them to do something else instead.