By Eric Gillaspy CPDT-KA
The word “no” has a lot of meanings to us humans, but mostly we just use it to express denial or refusal in response to a question. When we use it to train our dogs, it means whatever we define it to mean. Some people use “no” to startle or scare their dogs. After the dog hears this a few times, they begin to become desensitized to it. “No”, doesn’t have to be a scary word at all.
“No”, is sometimes used as a “pre-punishment” cue. The trainer would ask the dog for a behavior or say a command, if the dog didn’t respond to the behavior, the trainer would say “no” in a firm voice. In training, dogs would hear the word “no” and then do the behavior previously asked as an appeasement behavior. Remember all those times we’ve read and heard to always say “no” in a stern, authoritative voice. Seems like whenever I was told that, it was by a person with a stern voice. “No” should never mean that your dog is going to be hurt or in trouble.
Some trainers don’t like to use the word “no” at all. They have told people to NEVER say “no” to their dog. It’s just too negative. Dogs have no definition of the word “no” unless we give them one. So how could “no” be too negative?
You can use whatever word you want as a negative marker. When I worked with service dogs, we didn’t use the word “no” because in public, people don’t want to hear a service dog told “no.” We used the phrase “uh oh” and it was just as effective as “no.” Any word can be a negative marker.
There is nothing wrong with using the word “no” properly when training your dog. “No” should be said calmly and should mean, “That is not a behavior that I want.” “No” can also be a “no reward marker.” It can just mean that the dog will not get a reward for that behavior.
I use “no” whenever I walk away from my dogs to ignore them if they have done something I don’t want them to do again. To them, that is the worst consequence in the world. It is a great way to get rid of behavior that I don’t want.
Enough on “no.” The most under used and one of the most important words in dog training is the word “good” or whatever word you are using for a positive marker or motivating word. It means, “keep doing what you are doing, I like that.”
Your dog should hear “good” at least ten times for every “no.” If this ratio isn’t there, train your dog so that you don’t have to tell them “no” and then you CAN tell them “good.”