Friday, January 27, 2023

Saying NO to your Dog!

It’s OK to say NO to your dog

(This post written by Stephie Guy: The Shouty-Barky Dog Lady)

There’s a lot of confusion in the dog training world about the word NO.

I hear it all the time on my walks, most often from people leaning over their lunging barking dogs yelling NO in a stern voice, or from pet parents pulling their dog away from a tasty snack on the pavement whilst shouting NO.

Chatting to members of my shouty-barky dog group this week, I learned that it’s used a lot in the home too. NO to barking out of the window, NO to barking at visitors, NO to picking up a forbidden treasure, NO to chasing the cat.

The problem with using the word NO in all of these situations is that it often isn’t specific enough. I have to say, it’s a heck of a confusing concept for a human to understand, never mind for a dog.

Picture this. I’m sat on the sofa watching TV and totally absorbed in a conversation I’m having on social media. I’m absently eating chocolates and I have a cup of coffee in my hand.

My husband walks in, looks at me and says “NO”. I don’t hear him. He thinks I’m ignoring him so repeats it. I’m so engrossed in conversation that I still don’t hear him. I haven’t seen him either so I don’t know that he’s looking sternly at me. He then says “STEPHIE NO”.  This gets through to my brain. 

I look up and around, confused. No? No what? No don’t have that conversation? No don’t watch TV? No don’t eat those chocolates, don’t sit there, don’t put your cup down, don’t drink that coffee?

I have the advantage over dogs in this situation. I have a wrinkly brain that can think quickly, I can process many things at once, and crucially, I can ask “What? What’s wrong?”

Wouldn’t it have been simpler in that situation if he’d said “Stephie give me the coffee! It’s gone mouldy, I’ve got you a new one”.

Back to dogs. When you say NO is your dog able work out which bit of what they're doing needs changing? Probably not.

Let’s dig deeper…

  • Is your dog ignoring you or are they concentrating so hard that they simply haven’t heard?
  • Are they carrying on with whatever they’re doing because they don’t understand what you want?
  • Does your NO leave your dog guessing about what they should do instead?
  • Is the thing that they’re doing more fun or rewarding than your alternative?

The trouble we humans have is that saying NO can be instinctive. If we’ve been brought up in an environment where NO has been used a lot, it’s likely to be the first word we reach for. It may be that we’ve tried using STOP or DROP and it simply hasn’t stuck because we’re hardwired to use NO

And that’s OK.

We just need to teach our dogs what to do when we say it.

Great idea Stephie. But how?

Try this:

  • Every time you catch yourself saying no to your dog this week, write down what your dog was doing
  • Think about what you’d like your dog to do instead. Would a recall fix the problem? Would you like your dog to look at you and wait for the next instruction? Pick something that your dog already knows how to do.
  • Play around with pairing the word NO with the thing that you want them to do instead. And I do mean play around with it.
  • Literally, play with your dog, say NO then say what you want them to do and reward handsomely with treats or more play or whatever it is that motivates your dog.
  • And let me know how it goes!

Do you say NO to your dog? It’s OK if you do, we just need to teach your dog what it means.

Stephie is a dog trainer and behaviour consultant specialising in sensitive, anxious and shouty-barky dogs.

Join her on facebook here: The Shouty-Barky Dog Group // Mum’s Away, Pup’s OK

Or browse the website here:

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