It was only after several owners pointed out to me that I never say “No” to their dogs, that I even considered that fact.
“Is it okay that I say ‘No’?” they ask.
“Does it work when you say it?” I ask.
“Um … No.”
“Well … ?”
There is a school of philosophy about dog training that says owners should never say “No” to their dogs – the so-called “purely positive” philosophy. That’s not what I believe. To raise a respectful, balanced, social, and peaceful dog, we as leaders have to tell them clearly and repeatedly which behaviors are inappropriate, unbalanced, and antisocial.
But that doesn’t mean it will help to say the word “No.” Dogs aren’t born speaking English (or any other human language). In fact, the word “No” has a low, long, calming sound that means precisely the opposite to dogs! The only times I’ve ever seen an owner’s use of “No!” be effective is when they’ve shouted it – like barking – and it really didn’t matter what they said, it was the sharp loud tone of voice that created the desired response.
In my experience there are three main ways to effectively and immediately communicate disapproval to a dog about their behavior.
1. Audio (clap, snap, stomp, “Tschhh!”, “Hey!”, etc.)
2. Visual (blocking, coming quickly toward the dog, rising to a position above the dog)
3. Physical (tug of leash, tap to the ribs/hindquarters)
There are ways of doing each of these that will be entirely ineffective – with every dog. As a matter of fact, most ways of doing them will be ineffective. To give an effective correction requires precise timing, technique, and practice.
Effective versions share qualities of being sharp, sudden, dramatic, and most importantly backed by a no-nonsense energy and intention.
That said, a correction should never cause fear, pain, or intimidation. Think of a well-executed correction as snapping your dog out of a fixated, obsessive, distracted, aggressive, fearful, or disobedient mindset. Much like tapping your distracted friend on the shoulder; it should snap them back to reality, to what’s going on with you. You don’t punch your friend on the shoulder, after all! You simply tap them. A well-executed correction can be performed entirely calmly, and can be extremely mild, gentle, and subtle. Although in general, the more intense the dog’s state of mind that you’re correcting, the more intense the correction needs to be.
i. Throw in “the kitchen sink” – do a bunch of corrections all together.
ii. If it isn’t working, change it. Step up the intensity, change the timing, or try something altogether different.
iii. Trial and error – practice. There’s no such thing as “failure” in learning a new skill, only the discovery of one more way not to go.
iv. Wait to give a correction until you can enforce your intention. Don’t shout from across the room; that’s wasted barjubg. Instead take a deep breath, walk over to your dog; only then, when you can correct physically and visually if you need to, as well as audibly, state your case.
v. Remain calm. An effective, confident leader is neither frustrated nor angry. If you come from a place of stress, your dog will feel it and not want to follow. You might scare him into submission temporarily…but the result will not stick, nor will it foster happier, more obedient behavior.
Dogs are all different. Some are more auditorily-focused; some more visually, some physically. Get to know your dog, what works for you and what works for them.
Finally, saying “No!” (in dog language) is only one part of creating a calm, peaceful, submissive, trusting and obedient dog. As I’ve mentioned, unlike many trainers I believe that corrections are essential in raising a balanced dog; but I know that much more is required as well. In particular, every time you correct your dog, you need to then follow the correction with an obedience assignment, and finally with revitalizing rewards for their doing the right thing.