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Teaching Your Dog No

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

Aussie pup listening attentively to Mom

When you tell your puppy "No", you want him to learn:

  • that this particular behavior is not allowed
  • that he must stop the behavior
  • that he should not repeat it

Have you already taken your pup to an obedience class? If so, they might have told that you should never say No to your puppy. Instead, to stop him from doing something, simply redirect  his attention from an undesirable behavior to a better behavior.

For example, suppose he's chewing on your hand. You're told to pick up a toy and wiggle it on the floor so that he switches his attention to the toy. Now he's biting on something appropriate instead of your hand.

Alternatively, you're told to remove  whatever the puppy is acting inappropriately toward. For example, suppose he's stealing used tissues from the wastebasket beside the sofa. You're told to move the wastebasket out of his reach. Or remove the pup from the room.

Now, redirection  and removal  work fine with very young puppies who have short attention spans and an "out of sight, out of mind" thought process. These techniques are also effective with a few older pups and even some very sensitive adult dogs.

Unfortunately, if those techniques are the only ones you're taught...

they will eventually fail.

brown pup sittingAt some point – guaranteed – your pup will be so determined to bark, chase the cat, mouth your hand, jump on people, charge the door when the doorbell rings, etc. that he ignores your attempts at redirection and removal.

And honestly, how far can you go with this, anyway?

  • When your arms are black and blue from his "playful" nips, should you keep waving a toy in Puppy's face hoping to redirect him to bite it instead?
  • Should you remove the Christmas tree because Puppy keeps pulling off the ornaments? Perhaps you should remove the pup by banishing him to the basement? One family suspended their Christmas tree from the ceiling so their dog couldn't reach it. Ugh!

Or should you simply teach him to STOP doing certain things?

I think you know that my answer is "Yes, you should teach him to stop doing certain things."

In fact, handing your puppy a toy or a treat when he's chewing on your hand simply rewards him for chewing on your hand. Puppies repeat behaviors that bring them a reward. Not exactly what you want, right?

At some point, every puppy needs to learn the meaning of "No" and AH-ah."

golden mixed breed pupAll parents and grandparents recognize the sound "AH-ah!"It's an abrupt guttural sound that comes out of our mouths instinctively when a child does something alarming.

Now I don't mean a gentle sing-song admonishment  ("ah-ah-AHHH") that you might use with a child who is reaching for a cookie before supper.

I mean the sharp, shocked, alarmed "AH-ah!" that bursts out of your mouth when the child is reaching toward a hot stove!

"AH-ah" has a couple of advantages over "No."

  • "AH-ah" is a quick, choppy, urgent sound that bursts from your throat more quickly than you can form your lips around "No." Think of the toddler's hand!
  • "AH-ah" may be a better word to use than "No" if you've been saying "No" to your pup for a long time and he has developed the habit of ignoring it. It can be a good idea to start fresh with "AH-ah", adding the corrective techniques from my training books.

I use both words interchangeably, so my dogs learn both words.

Try not to use your pup's name when you say "No" or "AH-ah" so he doesn't associate his name with anything negative. However, if you have multiple dogs, you might need to use the name of the guilty one so the innocent one doesn't feel reprimanded.

Pit bull paying close attention

You might be thinking, "But I say 'No' all the time, yet my pup doesn't stop what he's doing!"

That's right, if all you do is SAY it, it won't mean a thing to your dog. He wasn't born understanding that our sounds have any meaning.

To a dog, no  is just a sound, no more meaningful than a whistling teakettle. No  is meaningless until you show your puppy that it means "Stop – not allowed."

Puppies learn language just as babies do. You hold up a teddy bear to your baby and say "teddy." Now imagine if you repeated "teddy" but never held up the bear. How would the baby know what that sound means? Words are only meaningless sounds until you connect the sound with an object or action.

man speaking foreign languageYou actually have experience with this. When you listen to a conversation in an unfamiliar language, everything sounds like one long, fast, run-on sentence, doesn't it? You can't even tell where one word ends and the next begins.

But if you don't speak French, and a gentleman from France repeated "pom" while showing you an apple, you'd get it. You may not know how to spell it (it's actually pomme), but you would understand that the SOUND pom  refers to the red fruit.

In the same way, use short simple sounds with your puppy: come, ball, sit.  Don't bury the key word in a barrage of other sounds. And immediately connect that keyword to the appropriate object or action. In other words, don't ask your pup if he wants supper,  then withhold it for 10 minutes!

Now let's go back to the sound No and how to make it mean something to your dog...

Say "No" AS  your pup is doing something you don't want (barking, jumping, chewing on the table leg, pestering the cat).

A second or two later, add a corrective technique  that actually makes him stop the behavior. I'll give you examples of corrective techniques in a minute.

When you're first teaching your pup what No  means, never say the sound without also  adding the corrective technique.

Because in the beginning, it's the corrective technique – not the sound No  – that makes your puppy stop the behavior.

Chow ChowBut since you're pairing the sound with  the actual correction, at some point (usually very, very soon) you will just say "No" and your pup will stop whatever he's doing so quickly that you won't have time to add the corrective technique.

Once that happens.... once your pup stops what he's doing when you say "No".... can you stop adding the corrective technique?

Well, unfortunately, if you stop adding an actual correction to "No" or if you add a correction only sometimes,  some clever pups will go right back to repeating the behavior you were trying to stop. These pups have learned, you see, that your No  sound doesn't always  come with a negative consequence. So at any given time, they might choose to ignore the No  sound, hoping that THIS could be one of those times when you're not going to enforce it.

Therefore, in the beginning when you're teaching No,  you should try to pair it every time with an actual corrective technique.

But once you've been working with your pup for a while and you have a great leader-follower relationship, you can  just say "No." I can't remember the last time I had to use any corrective technique with any of my current dogs, because a simple "No" stops any behavior. In fact, they seldom do any behavior that even requires a No.  Something to look forward to!

Australian Shepherd puppy pawing at a fence

Corrective techniques... what are they?

  • A leash tug  is the most common technique I use for stopping an undesirable behavior. (1) Grasp the leash 6 to 18 inches  from your pup's collar. (2) Drop your hand to the same height off the ground  as the collar. (3) Move your hand toward  the collar to create a little slack in the leash. (4) Tug the leash sideways  and parallel  to the ground – a quick (one-second) tug that's just enough to make your pup stop the undesirable behavior. A young or sensitive puppy will need only a mild tug.

    However, a common mistake is to NAG a strong, determined pup with a bunch of tiny little tugs that he pays no attention to. Nagging is annoying to a dog. If ONE tug doesn't interrupt the pup's behavior and make it stop, the second tug should be firmer, or else use a different kind of corrective technique.

  • Pet CorrectorA puff of compressed air. The Pet Corrector® by The Company of Animals  is a small hand-held device that makes a soft, startling hissing sound, which can interrupt bad behavior.
  • A harmless spray of water from a plastic spray bottle or squirt gun. You want the pup to learn that "this  behavior → the "No" sound → wet."

Every pup is different. Some consider squirts of water to be great fun, but don't like noise. Others are unfazed by noise but dislike getting wet. You never know what will work for any particular pup.

Also, some corrective techniques work well for certain behaviors, but less well for other behaviors. In my training book, I recommend the most effective techniques for common misbehaviors such as mouthing and nipping, barking, jumping on people, pulling on the leash, and so on.

Will corrections harm your relationship with your puppy?

Corgi pup sittingAbsolutely not. Corrections strengthen  your relationship because the pup can see that you  are making the rules about what he can and can't do. That reassures him that you've got the leadership position covered.

Then he can relax and be a good follower, which is much less stressful for a dog than trying to be a leader.

Does that mean puppies enjoy  corrections? Of course not.

Pups aren't going to act happy when you make them do something they don't want to do, or stop them from doing something they want  to do. When things don't go his way, it's normal for a dog to flatten his ears, drop his tail, and "look sad."

I'm sure your kids have sulked when they weren't happy with one of your decisions. Heck, you and I did the same thing when we were kids! But we learned a valuable lesson about consequences and we quickly got over our pouting.

Establishing the proper leader-follower relationship that your puppy thrives on will ensure his long-term psychological health.  All of us – adults, children, and dogs – make better decisions once we discover that there are indeed rules in life and that we are held accountable for our actions.

Puppies who haven't been taught what "No" means will one day try doing something that endangers their lives. The owner is powerless to stop it because their pup doesn't know what "No" means. This is not fair to the dog. Owners who truly care about their pup's future life would never withhold the vital lesson that "No" means Stop Immediately.

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

  • Which puppy behaviors you should stop
  • How to stop those behaviors
  • 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.

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy. For puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
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.
book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life.
book coverDog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams will help you find a good-tempered, healthy family companion.