For a great way to retrain your brain so you can interact in a kinder, more positive way with your dogs, try taking the “Just Say No to Saying No to Your Dog” challenge for one week.
“No” is not a bad word — sometimes you need to tell your dog to cease and desist now — but we tend to way overuse it and also put a very negative spin on it by acting and talking in a stern/intimidating way. This can often cause bad reactions in the dog; short-term you may get what you want, but long-term you may well be creating an unsafe dog, one that is afraid of you and distrustful of other people.
“No” simply means “stop what you are doing.” It should be presented like any other direction you give your dog: Dog’s name, “No” in a normal tone of voice, praise when he stops what he is doing.
Also, it is worthwhile to experiment with other directions that are not “No” but will still get you what you want. So the “Just Say No to Saying No to Your Dog Challenge” helps you do that.
Get started today!
Get started by resolving for one week to put “No” in your pocket. Then put a jar out. Put a dollar in it every time you accidentally say “No” during that week (you know you will!). At the end of the week, count the dollars and be amazed at how many times you said it even when you were trying not to! Then take that money and make a donation of it to a local rescue or shelter.
Here are some suggestions for how to decrease your “No’s” and increase your “Yes! Good dogs”:
• Set your dogs up for success by using PTR (Plan, Teach, Reward). PLAN ahead by thinking up activities that you want your dog to do, TEACH those things to your dog, then REWARD heavily whenever s/he does them. Most of us just react when bad things happen. This gets you to prepare for good things to happen, and lets your dog know what things pay off best for him/her. Behaviors that pay off get repeated!
• Start thinking of how your existing directions (commands) can be used to shape your dog’s behavior so s/he will not exhibit the undesirable behaviors. “Move” directs your dog to relocate himself — for example, out of your way so you don’t run into him, he doesn’t run into you, you don’t have to step over or around him, and he can’t wind up to jump on you. “Leave it” is for turning away from anything, not just a piece of food in your hand or on the floor; people, squirrels, cats, other dogs, etc. Even a simple “Sit” can be a powerful shaping tool.
• When faced with an undesirable behavior, use IRR (Interrupt, Redirect, Reward). If you get a behavior you don’t want, interrupt it as quietly and calmly as possible, redirect the dog toward a behavior you do want (that includes doing nothing/stopping the undesirable behavior!), and when you get that behavior, reward that dog with lots of energy, love, kisses, play, treats, etc. etc. Snuff out that old behavior by making the new behavior SO WONDERFUL your dog doesn’t want to do anything but!
• Experiment with different words and sounds that you can use instead of “No” to interrupt behavior: sharp rhythmic clapping, repetitive sounds like ah-ah-ah-ah or oh-oh-oh, burst of laughing, odd sounds you make that they have never heard before, long ssssssshhhhhhhhh (sometimes works wonders with barking), and my personal favorite: “Whoops!” Think about it — you cannot say “Whoops!” in bad tone. Try it!
• Play dog researcher for a day. Pretend you are Jane Goodall studying the chimps at Gombe and you are trying to notice everything you can about your dog’s behavior. For everything you see that you like, let your dog know you see it and like it by saying “Sparky, good!” Do it for every single thing you see (even when s/he is “doing nothing” — a great behavior if you think about it), and I think you will be amazed at how many proper, acceptable things your dog does during the day. You will probably notice how much the “good” outweighs the “bad.” So why do you seem to be saying “No” so much?? Hmmmmm….
• Practice a calm, positive attitude. Lighten up, for Pete’s sake! Training should be fun. Smile, relax, breathe, laugh! Imagine the cutest baby, puppy, and kitten ever. What is your face doing right now? Carry that face around with you, ready to share it with your dog at a moment’s notice! Bonus: You may end up in a better mood.
• To enhance the way you communicate with your dog, play a mirroring game with her. When she seems relaxed and happy, do your best to mimic your dog’s expression and head and/or body position back to her. If she turns her head one way, turn yours the other. If she starts blinking her eyes, blink yours. If she yawns, you yawn. Note her reactions. Is she more relaxed? Does she approach you looking for interaction? You can convey a lot of information this way! To learn more about all the signals dogs use to communicate, read Turid Rugaas’ Calming Signals and Brenda Aloff’s Canine Body Language.
• After your week of no “No’s,” reintroduce the word into your training in the right way. There’s nothing wrong with “No” if it’s used properly — never with anger, never as punishment, always as simply an interruption on the way to a good behavior well rewarded.
Don’t forget to donate all your No Dollars collected during the week to a local rescue or shelter!
We hope this little exercise has helped you change your way of thinking about and using “No” with your dog. Now get out there and have fun training!