What about “NO”

Well, what about no?April10Obe2013 008

The majority of the dogs I work with and the last three that joined my family have had too much no in their lives and not nearly enough of what to actually do.

Positive thinking will let you do everything better than negative thinking will.

Zig Ziglar

Yes I understand that there is a need to stop them quickly from doing something at some time. And I also understand NO! is overused, will trigger anxiety and worse depending on the prior experiences of the dog.

Always turn a negative situation into a positive situation.

Michael Jordan


Recently, after three training visits with a family of a dog that was “at a crossroads!” Meaning this dog either gets better now or she’s outa here. They were talking about how much nicer and easier and calmer she is (which a trainer always likes to hear expressed) then the theory was offered that maybe she’s matured (oh well).

Could be…could also be that helping her to know what to do and not just what not to do, makes a huge difference in calmness. Also could be that focusing on rewarding the things you like the dog to do will get more of those things into a day.

But back to NO!

Do I shun its use always? No.

For dogs who are anxious, lack focus, often find their own fun, don’t hardly look at or interact with their people – I would shun the use of NO, of scolding, of any negative use of their name. Those partnerships need a heavy dose of shared fun and good accomplishments and anything that will repair the relationship. The dog might even need a ‘new’ name.

For dogs that over-react to seemingly minor type things…I would avoid the use of no or any reprimanding tones or actions. They have decided something is very bad and to add people telling them they are in trouble or wrong doesn’t help solve anything. They need to be able to choose to do things (think limited choice and the choice you want is the easier one to make, and the other choice just doesn’t get a reward).

For most happy dogs it’s OK to have a non-reward marker and it could be the word no. All a non reward marker is, is a cue/signal that means what the dog is doing now will not get rewarded, hence stop it and do something else. Kind of like the hot/cold game – cold means you’re on the wrong path, hot means you’re getting closer to the goal.

However NO! is often associated with punishment…so there’s a problem, it’s not just a marker, not just information.

When I used to use No, as a trainer, my dogs knew they would get rewarded for doing something else. They knew to stop doing what they were doing and get to me, which they did, and were praised. But most people don’t use it like that, they want to see guilt, shame/fear to prove the dog knew they were wrong. Or they just are so frustrated they’re not willing to let it go and so they go on, not understanding how much damage they’re doing to the partnership because now you’re being negative to a dog that has come, hasn’t been doing whatever it was doing for a while and has tried to placate you.

Was I immune to that? No, especially in the early years of training, when I didn’t have as many options or experiences to draw from, I would get frustrated and want to blame the dog. But now I know better, so I do better.

As I wrote about in an earlier post, Obe (the young Doberman I’m training for my daughter) is anxious about being left alone, in a crate, in a car. Prior owners really goofed this up…but if they hadn’t I probably wouldn’t have him, so it’s working for me.

He’s much, much better now. But to get that improved tolerance I used distraction of food filled bone/Kong to ease the crate door closure issue. Now after two weeks of playing crate games many times daily, of getting him to understand that release only happens to quiet calm dogs and of having him in and out and fed inside, gate closed, gate opened, again and again to reward, it’s time to make the closures more obvious. It’s time to close the gate with no other distractions and all the clips and reward when he calmly accepts this fact. It’s not time to tell him NO!, there is no reason to add an anxiety prone word or tone to the process.

This means even if he reverts to pummeling with his feet, barking at me, or biting at the clips or even at my fingers that are closing the clips…nothing. No talk, no reaction (of course I’ll keep my fingers on my side of the gate) and be still and not let the gate pop open, and then praise and release for calm acceptance. He has quite a bit of practice on the ‘do it right’ side so he is very likely to understand the worthlessness of his ‘knee-jerk, habituated reactions’ and they should go extinct pretty quickly, maybe almost immediately.

I’ll know that it wasn’t too much to ask if he is willing to continue playing crate games – go in, wait, come out, go in – with rewards. And then we’ll truly have this issue resolved/trained and it won’t be a management concern, a ‘we can’t kennel him or leave him somewhere other than home,’ for his whole life. And that’s a big deal if you want to be able to travel or travel with a dog.


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