Should you say no to your dog?

It’s a word that we all understand. But what, if anything, does “no” mean to your dog? Here’s why dog trainers prefer to find alternatives to the word “no”.

Which words do dogs understand?

We all know that dogs don’t use words to tell us what they need. They have their own ways of putting their point across. However, they do understand quite a few of the sounds we make.

Given the opportunity, a dog will happily learn a great number of behaviour cues and can even recognise the names of their toys eg “find pink elephant”. We know how clever they are – just look what an assistance dog can do for example.

How does a dog learn to understand our words?

Dogs learn by association. They might not be able to make sense of a full sentence, but it doesn’t take them long to recognise words like “sit”, “here”, “walk” or “dinner”. Those words are all related to objects or activities and carry with them the promise of something positive (praise, treats, fun or food).

But what about the word “no”? It’s not a thing, it’s not a place, it’s not an activity and it’s not a cue for any specific behaviour. So what does “no” mean to a dog?

What does the word “no” mean to a dog?

To a human, “no” is a negative. It means you can’t do/have what you want. When we say “no” to a toddler or a dog, it usually means “stop what you’re doing right now” but a dog doesn’t know that. It knows you’re not happy – your body language and tone of voice will convey that. But as far as we know, it doesn’t realise why and it certainly doesn’t know how to respond. The word “no” only causes confusion.

Have you ever watched a pre-school teacher at work? Trust me, there are a lot of similarities between pre-schoolers and dogs. The toddlers can speak a little but their brains are not mature enough to use words effectively. Neither is the child able to tell what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. Yet they are curious little souls, who learn by touching, tasting, climbing and exploring with no regard to personal safety, etiquette or the feelings of others. Ditto for dogs. They want to explore and learn. They learn pretty quickly that pleasing you will make them happy but they don’t automatically understand the rules for living with humans.

Going back to those amazing pre-school teachers, nursery nurses and parents. When a young child behaves inappropriately, their first reaction is not to shout “no” but to try and distract the child, to give them something different to do. Instead of punishing them for the wrong behaviour, they praise the child for doing the right thing. A good dog trainer will use exactly the same principals.

For example if you spot your dog sneaking up on a plate of cookies, rather than yell “no”, you could ask for a “sit”, a recall or even just eye contact. Praise and reward your dog for doing the right thing – and then move the cookies out of temptations way.

Where to use training techniques instead of “no”

On walks: 

A recall or an emergency stop cue will make more sense to your dog than “No…..don’t jump on that lady”. And rewarding your dog for loose lead walking is far more effective than shouting “no” to the tugging tank at the other end of the lead.

Meeting other dogs:

Put the lead on and ask for a “sit”, a “heel” or a “look-at-me” to discourage inappropriate behaviours

When visitors arrive:

If your dog is either an over-enthusiastic greeter or an unwelcoming host, how about training an alternative behaviour? “On your bed” is a useful cue for either situation.

Begging for scraps:

Nobody wants a drooling dog begrudging them every mouthful of a meal. “No” isn’t going to stop the behaviour so why not ask for a “lie down” or an “on your bed”. A settle mat is a useful tool that can be deployed at home, in the pub, the café, the picnic site – anywhere

Here’s Bibi who isn’t comfortable with strangers and will lunge and bark at them. In this video he’s learning a better way to behave

Bibi you are incredible!! 💙💙💙Bibi will bark, growl and lunge at strangers when being road walked if they come too close. This was his first training session working on this and what an amazing job he did! This is the first time he has never barked at this man here in the video. And how lovely to have such good neighbours that are happy to help train your dog 😁😁 Well done Nicci! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

Posted by CK9 Training on Thursday, 29 August 2019

Need help and ideas with training techniques?

Why not take a look at CK9 Training’s doggy lifeskills classes and workshops? They are especially designed to prevent those awkward situations where you want to say no to your dog, but know it really won’t help the situation.

Start off on the right paw with our puppy lifeskills classes

For dogs and puppies between 6 months and 2 years of age (or for dogs who are immature for their age) our adolescent life skills classes are just the job

Our pulling on the lead workshop will make walks much easier for you AND your dog

And don’t forget, our one-to-one training services for dogs who don’t mix well with their own kind

Not in Surrey? Find an accredited dog trainer near you