Saying no to our dogs is a common part of trying to stop or interrupt problem behaviours. From puppy biting to jumping up, we keep telling our dog to stop and get nowhere. I’m not here to tell you to stop telling your dog no, I’m going to tell you why it doesn’t tend to work and what you can do to help stop unwanted behaviours without constantly nagging them.
So why does your dog go right back to doing what you have just told them not to?
Quite simply, they don’t understand. We use the word no is many contexts and dogs struggle to have the cognitive ability to grasp the meaning of that particular no at that particular time. But he must know what it means as he stops sometimes, I hear you say, but more often than not, your dog is reacting to your firm and angry tone of voice rather than the word itself.
Let’s break this down into an analogy for humans.
You’re typing up a report on your computer in work and your boss wanders over, leans into your cubicle and watched what you’re doing. As you type merrily away, your boss reached over and slaps you’re your hand away from the keyboard and tells you ‘no!’
Huh, what is that about? You look at your boss but they don’t say anything so you go back to what you were doing. Your boss reaches over again. ‘No!’ they say, firmer, and slap your hand off the keyboard again.
You’re getting a bit miffed now. Why are they telling you no? You make an attempt at your work again and this time your boss gets really angry. They grab your wrists and get in your face, ‘NO!’ they shout.
Now depending on your individual response, you might fight back or you might shrink back and stop touching the keyboard. Either way, you’ve had a negative experience around your boss, will be hyper aware of them and feel anxious when they approach. You also still have NO IDEA why your boss was telling you off to begin with.
So, you’ve learned not to touch your keyboard around your boss but not around others, so you might still be carrying out the wrong thing but you have no idea.
Pretty awful, right? How can we change the picture? Let’s revisit the analogy again.
You’re typing up a report on your computer in work and your boss wanders over, leans into your cubicle and watched what you’re doing. As you type merrily away, your boss reaches over and slaps your hand away from the keyboard and tells you ‘no!’
You stop and look at them, what do they mean?
Your boss then proceed to demonstrate what they want you to do instead. You start back typing the way you have been shown. Your boss nods and says ‘good job’, then walks away.
See the difference?
Now apply this to your dog. Instead of repeatedly saying no to them and getting no where but more frustrated, teach your dog what you want them to do. Be constructive. I’m not saying to never say no, you certainly can and sometimes it works as an interrupter, pausing the dog in their tracks momentarily. But that’s your opportunity to let them know what you want them to do instead.
So, next time you catch yourself repeatedly telling your dog ‘no!’ stop and a take a moment to think about what you want your dog to do and show them.