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Teaching Your Dog No

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

Australian Shepherd pup listening attentively to Mom

Mama says, "No! Not allowed!" Puppy says, "Yes, ma'am..."

When you tell your pup "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, you might have been told that you should stop him from doing something by redirecting  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 pup 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 a short attention span and an "out of sight, out of mind" thought process. These techniques are also effective for a few older pups and even for 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 hands are black and blue from his "playful" nips, should you keep waving a toy in Puppy's face hoping to get him to bite it instead?
  • Should you remove the Christmas tree because your pup 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 my answer... "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 could be viewed as rewarding  him for chewing on your hand. Pups repeat behaviors that bring them a reward. Not exactly what you want, right?

At some point, every dog in the world needs to learn the meaning of "No!" and AH-ah!"

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 toddler does something alarming.

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

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

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

  • "AH-ah" bursts from your throat more quickly than you can form your lips around "No." Make it a quick, choppy, urgent sound that Think of the toddler's hand so close to the hot stove!
  • "AH-ah" may be a better word to use than "No" if you've been saying "No" to a dog 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 we'll be discussing in a moment.

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 and one of them does something undesirable while the other one is also in the room... you should use the name of the guilty one so the innocent one doesn't feel reprimanded.

Pit Bull lying on the carpet

"No?? No?? What do you mean, No?"

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 meaning.

To a dog, no  is just a sound, no more meaningful than a whistling teapot. A No  sound is meaningless unless and until you show your pup that it means "Stop – not allowed."

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

No more than one second later, add a corrective technique  that actually makes him stop the behavior. I'll give you examples in a minute.

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

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

Chow ChowBut since you're pairing the sound with  the corrective technique, at some point you'll be able to 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?

It depends on your particular dog. If you stop adding an actual correction 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.

The great news is that 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!

Young Aussie pawing at a wire fence

"Gonna tear this fence down and leap into the ocean... or maybe get my toenails caught in the wire and rip them off... No??"

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 jolt the pup a bit and make him 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 tiny little tugs that he pays no attention to. Nagging is annoying to a dog. If ONE tug doesn't interrupt and stop the pup's behavior, the second tug should be very firm; if that too is ineffective, try 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. In shorthand, you want the pup to learn that "doing this  behavior → the No sound → wet."
  • Pet CorrectorA sudden, sharp noise. The Barker Breaker by the Amtek Company  is a small handheld device that makes a shrill sound when you press the button. The sound startles many puppies, causing them to stop whatever they're doing (whether barking or something else). Just be forewarned that it's loud and shrill to human ears, too! A cheaper option is to put coins, or small screws or other fasteners, inside a metal can, tape the top shut, and shake the can.

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 until you try it.

Also, some corrective techniques work well for certain behaviors, but less well for other behaviors. In some of my other training articles, I recommend additional techniques for common misbehaviors such as mouthing and nipping, jumping on people, pulling on the leash, aggression/reactivity, and so on.

Will corrections harm your relationship with your dog?

Corgi pup sittingAbsolutely not. In fact, 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 properly 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 pups enjoy  corrections? Of course not.

Dogs 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 parental 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 pup 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.

Pups 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."

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.

My best-selling books – now available  FREE  on my website

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