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"No" is Not the Answer

The word "no" is a super useful one; it can be used to convey so much: "don't do that," "stay away from there," "don't put that in your mouth" (ideally just used with small children?), and a whole lot more. It's a perfect response in a lot of situations!

When is "no" not a perfect response? When it's used with your dog.


Think about it; what are you communicating to your dog when you say "no"?


Let's look at a classic scenario: guests come over and, as soon as they've stepped in the door, your dog is jumping all over them, so excited to finally have guests (because this pandemic is getting to all of us). Your dog is happy and excited and forgetting themselves. The majority of people would I meet with or see in class immediately begin a chorus of "No, no, no, don't do that; get off of them! No, that's now how we behave. NO!"


What are we actually getting across to our dogs during this display? I can't actually crawl into your dog's head to find out what is really going on, but I have to imagine, to a dog - a non-English-speaking, non-language-focused animal, you are more than likely just rewarding the jumping behavior: You're talking to the dog, which could be taken as offering attention and maybe even verbal praise (again, doggos don't speak English or care much about language); if you're pushing on the dog or trying to pull them away, you might be playing a fun game and petting them and it's all great fun. The point is, your dog is probably not getting out of the "no" what you think you're putting into it.


But, if "no" isn't helpful or isn't doing what we want it to do, what do we do instead? Start saying “yes.”


It might seem like an over-simplified answer, but it really is that easy - I swear! I'm always going on about management with my clients (and several other blog posts), but let me give you a refresher: management makes it so that we can prevent the behavior we don't like. This is how we can make it so that 1) we don't even have to say "no" and 2) we can shower our dog with treats for the "yes" behaviors!


Let’s revisit the scenario posed earlier: Your dog is jumping all over and clobbering your guests and you're not happy with it (and your guests probably aren't either). Rewind a bit to before your guests are even in the house and think about management. What are some things you can do to prevent your dog from jumping on your guests (the thing you don't like) when they come in? Find a good way for your family, your dog, and your house to prevent your dog from even getting to your guests - if your dog can't get to the people, they can't jump on them:

  • Put up a baby gate or some barrier in front of the door or a doorway close to the door your guests will be entering

  • Put your dog on their collar/harness and leash

  • If you're meeting outside, have your guests wait outside the gate or fence before entering the yard

Next is figuring out how to say "yes" instead of "no." What is a "yes" behavior, you ask? Well, what would you like to see your dog doing instead of clobbering your guests?

  • Standing calmly and quietly?

  • Sitting?

  • Laying down?

  • Heading to a bed or station?

Whatever it is you'd like to see, reward that - with bits of cheese (or whatever treats your dog likes), with pets and praise, attention and play!


Overall, always keep in mind that your dog is not a little robot; they don't and won't respond in a mechanical manner and may not always be very predictable; they don't follow our every command and (sometimes maddeningly) have minds, wants, and desires of their own. "No" isn't going to be helpful for you - the more you use it and the more it doesn't work out for you or your dog, the more frustrated you (and your dog) will get


Instead, communicate with your dog, using the language they (and we) will always understand: rewards! Say “yes” to your dog and stop saying "no" (or, at least, try and I'll still be really proud of you)!


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Dog Training in Milwaukee, WI

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