Siena is our 13th service dog we’ve had a hand in raising. And she’s the 13th dog that doesn’t know what the word “no” means. How can that be, I hear you saying. She must be a monster if you don’t say “no.” She, like the other dogs we’ve raised, are very well behaved and don’t find any valuable information in the word “no.”
I don’t use that word in my training. I don’t need it and here’s why:
“No” doesn’t give the dog any information whatsoever as to what he should be doing. Here’s the thing — unless your dog is dead, he’s always doing something. He’s sleeping. He’s barking. He’s sitting. He’s chewing a bone. He’s running. He’s laying down. He’s doing something all the time.
A living thing can’t exist without doing something. So, the smart dog owner says to herself “What can I teach my dog to do that’s acceptable to me?” [Hint: what the smart owner does not say is: how can I get my dog to stop doing x.]
It’s 100 times easier to teach your dog what to do than it is to get him to STOP doing something. Because in order to get your dog to STOP doing something, you’ve got to insert something ELSE — remember, only dead dogs do nothing.
Here’s my hint to you: it’s a whole lot easier to simply teach your dog what to do than to waste time thinking about how to STOP something.
An example may help illustrate this idea. Let’s say your dog jumps when people come to your house. Almost everyone says “how can I get my dog to stop jumping” and all they do is work on getting rid of the jumping. It’s frustrating — to you, to the dog, and to your guest. Because trying to stop the jumping the hardest solution to a very simple problem.
If you’re a smart dog owner, you’re thinking: what else can my dog do so he won’t jump on people. Forget about stopping the jumping. Focus on what your dog can do — that you can reward — that will get you to your solution. There are so many things your dog can do instead of jump. Here’s a partial list:
- lay down
- go to a specific spot (his bed or crate, for instance)
- run to his toy box to grab a toy
- go belly up for tummy scritches
- perform a cute trick like dancing or begging
- touch the guest’s hand with his nose
- the list is endless.
So instead of saying “No!” repeatedly, you can simply teach your dog to do any one of these behaviors, reward him heartily, then sit back and wait for your guests to tell you how well-behaved your dog is!
Great Dane, Siena, has learned how to put her front paws up on the counter. This is not a good thing. She’s not very tall now, but she can still reach the countertops! Give her a few more months and she won’t have to get on her hind legs to reach, she’ll be able to simply stand on all four feet with her chin on the counter. Instead of saying “NO!” everytime her paws hit the counter — which would be such a downer — I’m either ignoring her and then praising her like crazy when she finds nothing and gets down on her own or I’m redirecting her to put her feet on the floor (then adding in that praise). In addition, I’m reinforcing her for sitting while I’m doing food prep. Amazingly [from her perspective] food jumps off the counter and onto the floor only when she’s sitting. She can actually make food jump into her mouth if — and only if — she sits politely when I’m prepping for dinner.
Voila! I’ve got a dog who lays down quietly while dinner is being prepped. It really is that easy!
Siena’s our 13th dog and I’ve not used “no” yet. I challenge you to think of something else for your dog to do instead of saying the word “no.” It’s a crutch you don’t need. I promise.