NO! This two-letter word means nothing, absolutely nothing, to a dog. It is the inflection in a voice, the menacing tone, the hard human eyes, and sometimes the raised primate arm or finger that mean something. The body language and tone tell a dog, all is not well.
But it is used all of the time, over used all of the time, used ad nauseam actually.
I have found when there is a lack of understanding in regards to a relationship, teaching, observing, and/or living with another species, it is a crutch of sorts, a false sense of control, and a way to temporarily stop something.
And when NO! is used in this manner, it is teaching and managing from the back seat so to speak. A dog is given freedom to fail, and the person is saying NO! after the fact.
It’s a super dysfunctional way to exist and not effective. And if someone wants to tell me their dog ‘knows NO!’, I can tell you that if I whispered NO!, or sang NO!, or said NO! in a sweet and friendly tone, your dog would not react in the same way, which means they don’t know the word, they know the venom in your voice. A huge difference, and one that needs to be owned.
So how do you stop unwanted behavior or bad behavior? I would first ask, what is unwanted, and what is bad because we each have a dictionary inside our own head that is often times different from Webster’s version.
The reason humans are yelling NO! is not from what a dog is doing wrong, but rather how the human has set the dog up to fail by a lack of management and understanding in the household.
NO! drop my shoe.
NO! get out of the trash.
NO! off the counter where the roast is thawing.
NO! out of the kid’s room.
NO! stop digging.
NO! off the couch, but come back later when I’m reading and we can cuddle.
NO! NO! NO! This is exhausting.
So how do you smooth things out? Before jumping to a correction or punishment, there are some things in the household and relationship that need fixing.
1 – Teach your dog what it is you want them to know, and maybe even set the bar a bit higher and teach them things just because, instead of waiting for them to fail. The more you teach, the more you work together, the deeper the understanding, and the more functional the relationship. And the bonus is you expand your dogs working vocabulary and behaviors.
2 – Before you use a verbal correction like NO! your dog has to have an understanding of the behavior you are correcting. Simply being a screamy yelly person will not an education make. Teach, and teach some more, build behaviors over time and you will find almost no need for a correction, because you will move into what is called a working relationship.
3 – Look beyond the symptom to the cause. If you yell NO! for barking, you are correcting the symptom, and that is a band aid at best. Look to what is causing the barking and start there, boredom, fear, under exercised, hungry, frustrated, etc. If you take care of a dog’s needs, the rest will smooth out on its own.
4 – Never harm your dog for making the wrong choice, or raise your voice to the point that they cower or fold. Being wrong is okay, keep in mind the planet hasn’t stopped rotating with all of the wrong human choices, yet.
Trust is important, the foundation in fact for any functioning relationship. Your dog needs to be able to make mistakes, just like you, and there be forgiveness and understanding. If you don’t allow for mistakes, you will build what is called ‘learned helplessness’. This is a sad state of affairs where a dog just learns to lay there or sit far away, because they have learned the wrong choice will have a bad consequence. This is NOT a well-trained dog, this is a shutdown dog, and what a crappy existence.
5 – If you have not been actively teaching your dog skills to be successful in the human world you cannot correct your dog.
6 – Traffic lights have three colors, yellow gives you a fair warning that things are about to change, your heads up so pay attention. Before you yell NO!, a fair warning or redirect would be the correct thing to do, and the majority of time, that is all your dog will need.
7 – What you perceive as wrong is often times not what your dog will perceive as wrong, and therein lies the culture clash. Having an understanding of the species you are sharing a home with is essential, read more, watch more, and read more again.
8 – If you are saying NO! 10-40+ times a day, it is no longer a correction but a management style.
9- Negotiating levels of pain, punishment, or corrections is a conversation that should be fodder for the trash can. Instead, the focus should be on achieving better training skills, learning new skills, understanding your body language and your dogs, getting involved in higher education together.
10 – Now if you are one of these ‘dogs needs discipline, firm consequences, order, spare the rod spoil the…’ and NO! and other forms of corrections are your belief for hitting this elusive goal, I will tell you that you are so off base.
We are all learning every minute of every day. Every thing we do is consequential learning, same for our dogs. As living beings we try things, and they either work or they don’t, and we most of the time only continue to repeat what works. Experiences, associations, and interactions shape who living beings are, and every single day, literally, we are all a bit different, a bit new, a bit wiser, a bit more jaded, a bit older, a bit a bit a bit, but never the same. This my friends is a fact.
And if every day we grow together, learn together, teach each other, and have purpose, then only good things can happen.
What about me? Do I use verbal corrections, sure. But after everything listed above is in place, and to be honest they are SO RARE, and so far and few between, I can remember the year, what I was wearing, and where. And looking back it is almost always for safety, and my verbal corrections were effective because they were not overused, and they stopped an unwanted behavior, not just in the moment, but always.
Be a good human, your dog is counting on you.