Saying “no” to your dog is a human reflex, a word that comes out of your mouth almost automatically.
Today we will see how to teach your dog to say no, but not only that! How and why to make your dog understand the meaning of “no”, what are the limits of this “Swiss army knife” indication that we use wrongly and inaccurately for everything, and finally, what are the alternatives to “no”.
Teaching your dog to say no: why and how?
First of all, why do we use the “no” in the education of a dog? After all, as everyone knows, constantly forbidding your dog does not allow for authentic learning, it simply instils a multitude of prohibitions that are sometimes incoherent and therefore misunderstood by the dog.
Let me give you a simple example to illustrate my point: as a dog trainer, I have often had clients explain that their dog kept jumping on them even though they told them “no” every time. And for a good reason, the dog would continue because he didn’t understand the meaning of “no” and wasn’t learning what to do. He saw the “no” as interaction with his owners rather than an absolute prohibition.
Clearly, “no” should not be systematic and should not be the only solution in education. As we will see later, several alternatives exist and allow for authentic learning.
Moreover, teaching your dog to say “no” should be considered more like implementing rules for living at home and outside. The “no” is, in a more general way, a way to set limits and a framework for his dog daily.
But be careful; for the “no” to be understood and integrated, it must not be systematic and must above all be gratifying. It may seem paradoxical, but the rewarding “no” is very important! It is, therefore, a matter of expressing a prohibition, such as the famous “no”, but to always accompany it with another indication.
For example, I’m afraid I have to disagree with my dog’s behaviour; I firmly tell him “no” and tell him what I would like him to do instead, and I value the alternative action. If my dog jumps on the guests when they arrive, I tell him “no” firmly to show my displeasure, and I invite him to go to his basket, valuing this action when it is done.
The limits of this learning
However, daily, the “no” has many limits because, as mentioned previously, this indication is used in too many cases, as an automatism, a reflex. Sometimes, the dog hears “no” so many times during the day that he assimilates this word as his first name!
The “no” must be used wisely and, at best, always be replaced by indications of action and not prohibition. This will be the subject of the third part of this article.
Moreover, as we have seen, “no” does not teach the dog anything, so the phrase “teach your dog no” is nonsense to me. It will always be more effective and beneficial to teach your dog what to do rather than constantly pointing out what he should not do.
Furthermore, as we touched on in the first part of this article, the “no” is sometimes considered by the dog to answer his request for attention and interaction that he has managed to obtain with his master!
Let’s go back to the example of jumping; when a dog jumps on you, it is because he wants to get your attention, and the fact of saying “no” and pushing him away is part of a specific interaction. And even if you think that this interaction “teaches” the dog not to do it again, on the contrary, the dog understands that this technique works well to get your attention.
So, in many cases, especially excessive jumping, saying nothing will be much more effective than saying “no”! When a dog jumps on you, ignoring him entirely by turning your back, not looking at him and not talking to him will teach him more than this attempt is futile. And if he insists, then you put in place an indication of action and not of prohibition: “in the basket” or “sit”.
Teaching your dog to say no: the alternatives
Since, as we have seen, the “no” is often useless and sometimes even reinforces the destructive behaviours of his dog, here are some alternatives to this indication :
Teach your dog “you leave” positively so that he learns to give up an intention to do or an action in progress
To do this, there are several simple steps:
Step 1: Provide yourself with highly edible treats, a low-value toy for your dog and place yourself in a low-stimulus environment.
Step 2: As many times as necessary, say “you let go” to your dog while giving him treats so that he understands that when you say “you let go”, he gets a treat. This may take several sessions to get your dog to understand the “leave it” = treat conditioning.
Step 3: Next, place the toy or object of low value to your dog that you have chosen in one of your hands and present it to him. As soon as he looks at it or approaches it, tells him, “you let go”. If he turns his head away or shows even the slightest sign of giving up on the toy, reward him very warmly with a “yay” and a treat. If he continues and insists on taking the toy, repeat step 2 and choose another toy.
Step 4: Once you have 100% mastered steps 2 and 3, you can then offer your dog this exercise with increasingly valuable objects and in increasingly stimulating locations.
The important thing here is to take your time and not rush through the steps.
Teaching your dog to “go to the basket” positively
Teaching your dog to go to the basket means teaching him to calm down immediately. Moreover, if the basket is considered a place of refuge for your dog, it will allow him to calm down and lower the pressure, especially when guests arrive.
To do so, I invite you to consult our complete article specially dedicated to this learning.
Teaching your dog to ignore
It may seem silly, but as we have seen, ignoring your dog is sometimes worth a thousand words! And don’t forget, ignoring your dog means: don’t look at him, don’t touch him, don’t talk to him!
By ignoring a dog, you are letting him know that the attitude he is using is not working, so in many cases, this is much more effective than a “no” that the dog ends up not understanding.
Be aware that in terms of “punishments”, ignoring is considered to be the worst of all for a dog because he needs social interaction to feel good about himself. If he sees that such or such action generates a radical refusal of exchange on your part, he will then understand on his own that this action will not be repeated.
Don’t use “no” all the time for everything and anything.
I prefer to reward the “no” by always indicating the action behind it.
Don’t hesitate to vary the indications by teaching your dog other commands to give up: you leave, to the basket, stop, not to touch, etc.
Ignoring your dog will sometimes be much more effective; try it and see!