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Teaching "No" to Your Dog | Don't Make These 7 Mistakes

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

In previous articles, you learned several ways to stop your puppy from doing something you don't want him to do.

We spend a lot of time on this because if you can immediately STOP bad behavior, you can control your pup in virtually any circumstance that crops up. So we want to get this right.

Let's look at seven common mistakes owners make when teaching "No."

  1. Repeatedly saying "No" without backing it up  with a corrective technique.
  2. Asking  (instead of telling) your puppy to stop what he's doing, or trying to "reason" with him.
  3. Smiling or laughing when you say "No."
  4. Petting or fondling your puppy while saying "No."
  5. Repeating the same corrective technique  even when it doesn't make your particular pup stop the behavior.
  6. Calling  your puppy to you, when you're planning to correct him.
  7. Chasing  after him to correct him.

Let's look at those mistakes one at a time.

1) Don't say "No" without backing it up.

sign at crossroads says Jake StoryWhen her TV show went to commercial, Kathy wandered into the kitchen for a glass of water. Through the window, she saw her dog Jake digging another hole in the tulip bed. She raised the window. "Jake, No! No!" Jake stopped digging and looked up. But Kathy was already hurrying back to the TV. Jake resumed his digging.

Here's what Jake learned from Kathy's "correction":

That when he does certain things that he enjoys, his owner's head sometimes appears and vague sounds float out of her mouth. Nothing else happens.

Jake logically concludes that the sound no  is an incidental background sound, no different from the incidental sounds of flying dirt he hears when he digs a hole.

The sound no  carries no consequences. He can ignore it, just as he ignores the sound of the flying dirt. Just another one of life's little mysteries!

One of the most common mistakes owners make is to tell their puppy "No" and then allow him to continue the behavior. This simply confirms to him that no  is a meaningless sound.

If you're ever in a position where you can't MAKE your pup stop a behavior (say you're at the top of a ladder with a bucket of paint and your puppy is barking), don't say "No" unless you're truly prepared to come down that ladder!

Be especially careful when you're occupied with something, such as talking on the phone. Some clever pups learn that if you're busy, you might yell, but you won't make them stop.

Remember, your puppy is learning from you all the time. He can either learn good things or bad things from you. Your job is to make sure he only learns good things.

2) Don't ASK your puppy to stop what he's doing or try to "reason" with him.

sign at crossroads says Jake StoryKathy held up her chewed sandal and waved it angrily at her dog. "Jake, these sandals cost me 75 dollars and now you've ruined them. They were a perfect match for my turquoise outfit! It was wrong of you to do this, Jake. It was mean. You've made me very unhappy and you darned well better be sorry! Am I making myself clear, Jake? Do you understand me?"

Poor Jake. All he understands is that his owner is holding up a chew toy and spewing out a long monologue of harmless sounds. As she waves the sandal around, he stares longingly at it. He remembers where he got this tasty toy. He also remembers that there were lots more in the same place.

How  you correct your puppy is important. Ranting, pleading, a barrage of words... those mean nothing to a dog. Just say "No" in a calm, confident, deep-ish voice and add a corrective technique.

3) Don't smile or laugh when you say "No".

sign at crossroads says Jake StoryKathy's husband, Roger, couldn't help chuckling as he pulled their dog away from the spitting cat. "Hey, Jake, leave the cat alone, eh?" But he had to admit that it was amusing to see them bickering. Roger wasn't fond of the cat, anyway. As soon as he released Jake's collar, the dog charged after the cat again.

dog stealing food from fridgeIf you secretly think it's cute or funny when your puppy does something you don't want him to repeat, you need to keep those thoughts off your face and out of your voice.

Otherwise, your puppy will read your body language and conclude that your "No"isn't really serious.

When you interact with your puppy, your tone of voice, facial expression, and body language are important. Work on your acting skills!

4) Don't add affection or petting to your corrections.

sign at crossroads says Jake Story"Jake, how many times have I told you to stay off the sofa!" Kathy wrapped her arm around the dog and pushed him onto the floor. When he was off, she said "Good boy!" and tickled his head affectionately. As she headed for the kitchen, Jake jumped back onto the sofa.

A correction isn't much of a correction if it includes personal attention, touching, and praise. Make your corrections swift and impersonal, then turn your attention away from the pup for at least a few minutes. You want him to learn that only when he has been behaving well does he receive touching, petting, and praise.

5) Don't keep using a correction if it doesn't work for your puppy.

It's tempting to choose a particular corrective technique – for example, a harmless spray of water – because you like it. But the question should always be: Does it work for your particular pup?

sign at crossroads says Jake StoryRoger was tired of Jake's incessant chewing. The sofa was pitted with holes like the craters on the moon. So he bought a plastic squirt gun, and when he caught Jake chewing, he ran toward the dog, squirting madly.

Well! That was fine and dandy with Jake! He leaped happily into the air, trying to catch the water with his tongue. The "game" ended when Roger, backpedaling frantically, tripped over the ottoman and fell on his backside.

Later he returned to the living room and found Jake curled inside one of the holes in the sofa.... chewing on the plastic squirt gun.

This happens a lot. Owners will complain that they tried the spray of water or noisemaker or leash tug. And it didn't work.

  • Now, sometimes there is something amiss with their timing.  They might not be quick enough to apply the corrective technique in close enough proximity  to the behavior. For your puppy to understand the connection between the two, timing is important.
  • Or there might be something amiss with their firmness.  They might be giving a big rowdy pup a single squirt of water or a half-hearted tug of the leash that would be better matched to a baby Chihuahua.
  • Or sometimes consistency  is the problem. If you correct a behavior one day but allow it the next day, your puppy will never understand.

But sometimes a correction doesn't work simply because you've chosen the wrong correction for your particular pup.

Your puppy will show you, by his body language, and especially by the results,  whether a particular correction works for him. His tail will droop a bit or his ears flatten. His facial expression and body language will say, "Oops! Sorry about that!" Most importantly, he should stop the behavior immediately.

If he keeps right on doing what he's doing, or if he stops for a moment, then goes back to the misbehavior as soon as you turn your back, you have not yet made the correction outweigh the reward he's getting from the behavior.

You're looking for the corrective technique – and the degree  of corrective technique – that outweighs  the fun he is getting from the behavior. That's different for every pup and for every behavior.

brown dog pointingUltimately,then...

it is your PUP who decides which corrective technique you should use.

Don't keep using a correction that doesn't work for your puppy. Increase its firmness, or adjust your timing, or try something else. A technique isn't "corrective" if it doesn't stop the problem.

6) Don't call your puppy to you, if you're going to correct him.

If you call your pup and he comes to you, and then you scold him or do something he doesn't like (a bath, for example), he will associate the sound Come  with unpleasantness and be reluctant to respond positively to that sound.

You don't want your puppy to think that obeying Come  might cause discomfort.

And don't try to trick him by coaxing, "Come here, Jake. Mommy's not going to hurt you. Come on, sweetheart."

unhappy dog in bathtubBecause if your pup follows his trusting nature and believes you and then discovers your deception, he will not only distrust the word Come  but also he might distrust YOU.

So whenever you need to correct your puppy or do anything uncomfortable with him, don't call him. Go get him. Silently.

And if your pup runs away from you when you're going to get him?

7) Don't chase your dog.

sign at crossroads says Jake StoryWhen the garbage can crashed to the kitchen floor, strewing trash everywhere, Jake knew he was in trouble. Kathy was rushing toward him, hands outstretched. Jake feinted left and rushed right. The chase was on!

When they don't want to be caught, many pups will dart just out of your reach and lead you on merry chases around the house.

You should never play this game. Every second that your puppy manages to elude you cheapens you in his eyes. He knows that followers shouldn't be able to defeat leaders.

Instead, track him down silently. Don't run. Walk firmly and purposefully. Don't say a word. Most pups are baffled and unnerved by such persistent, methodical following. In fact, many pups eventually shrink down and give up.

Let's assume your puppy has given up and/or you have cornered him so you can be sure of getting hold of his collar without any risk of lunging at him and missing. What should you do next?

Put a leash on him and let him drag it around (but only when supervised!) Some owners buy a cheap cotton leash and cut it short so it hangs down just short of the floor. This offers a decent handhold if you need to quickly get hold of the puppy.

As you progress through my training program and establish your leader-follower relationship, he won't run away from you any more.

My book covertraining program is for puppies 2 to 18 months old. It explains, step by step:

  • How to establish good patterns and routines that govern everything your pup does.
  • How to teach your pup to be calm and to look to you for guidance, direction, and permission.
  • How to make yourself important – the most important thing – in your puppy’s life. How to show your pup the clear, black-and-white rules and routines he is to follow. And how to make sure he does.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

To help you train and care for your dog

dog training videos Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.

The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.

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If your dog is over 18 months, you'll want book coverRespect Training For Adult Dogs: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved dog. Again your dog will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
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book coverDog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams will help you find a good-tempered, healthy family companion.