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"NO!" - WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

What is the behavior of no?


I understand that in the normal human mind you think you are accomplishing something when you tell your dog off, by saying no.


Reality is that you have been trained by your environment to say no. Trained meaning the behavior you perform -shout “no” in a gruff stern voice to the dog- is reinforced. So your brain takes that information and you will repeat the behavior. (This is the definition of reinforcement.)



I bet you never turned the tables and asked why you bother to say it in the first place. Now you know.


You don’t say it because it’s effective dog training. You say “no” because the environment has been effective at training YOU!


No is a lack of behavior and for well balanced healthy animals lack of behavior isn't exactly obtainable. If put in a mathematical equation it is minus behavior. However, look at this a little closer and you will realize that minus behavior equals a dead organism.


Here is the kicker: all living things are behaving all of the time. Sure, some behaviors are big and some are very small and you have to examine them much closer to notice. If your dog is still breathing - that's a behavior.


You say “no”. No, what?


Follow me through this example for a moment of a pretty common conversation I have with clients.


Client: I tell the dog no and it works. They stop doing the things I don’t like.

Me: How often do you have to say “no”?

Client: Every time they do something I don’t like.

Me: Have they learned to not do the thing you don’t like? Sounds like you have to say it pretty frequently.

Client: Yes, but I know they know what I mean when I say it.

Me: How do you know?

Client: They stop doing it and they look guilty. It’s clear they understand.

Me: But you still have to say it and remind them frequently. What have they learned to do? When you say “no” what is your dog's observable response?

Client: They stop doing that annoying (enter in the blank).

Me: Then what happens?

Client: The go back to doing the thing I don’t want them to do and I have to call them to me (or insert some other action).

Me: What is the purpose of “no” in the situation you just described? Why not just call them to you and avoid the headache altogether?

Client: I want them to know it’s not okay to do what they are doing.

Me: And if we look at the data and how frequently you have to remind them with this method do you think they have learned to not do it any more? Is there something you could ask them to do that would stop them and avoid you taking trust out of your trust account?


…And the conversation continues as we figure out what we want the dog to do when they say “no” or so that they don’t have to say it at all.


No, no, no! Conversations like this make me want to start shouting no at them and hope that they get it but I understand that this is not going to teach the client.


No, your animal has not learned to stop. They are still doing it and you are still shouting at them. And around you go.


No, your animal cannot stop all behavior. They are still DOING something! What are they going TO DO?


No- is not effective changing behavior long term.


So, I ask again, what does “no” accomplish?


When you say "no" to your animal what behavior should they respond with? I heard from a parenting channel once that they define "no" in their family as "stop and listen". Brilliant!


I think freeze might be more descriptive as to what the individual is doing. So when they say “no” the receiver should freeze and listen.


A subtle difference between our pets and other humans is that because they are a different species you have to remember that they are not thinking in the same way as you. They don’t understand what it is they are supposed to be stopping and that this thing is not okay.


Again, no behavior would mean they are dead. When it comes to training animals it’s most effective to think in verbs. Freezing is an action and listening is also an action. Easy! We can teach actions.


Something that “no” means in my household is “try again”. It’s easy to scold them during training when they didn’t do what you asked but instead I say “oops” to help myself keep calm. Also, “oops” tells the dog to try another behavior.


Let’s walk through an excited barking dog behavior. What is your dog doing when they are not barking? Answer: their mouth is closed. That is a behavior we can teach. You would start this by teaching them to close their mouth outside of the environments that trigger the barking you don’t like. Once they are fluent with the ‘closed mouth’ behavior. When you say “quiet” the dog closes their mouth (an action). You will then start to ask for it in more challenging situations working up to the ultimate environment where the dog barked previously. Remember to always reinforce the new behavior with preferably the same consequence that they received for barking. Sure this will require some work on your part but this program I outlined actually trains the dog. Where, that “no” wasn’t teaching anything or giving them a direction.


For those of you over achievers who realistically know that you will still use the word ‘no’ in your everyday life I recommend that you teach your animal what to do when you say it. Four example when I say “no” I might teach my cat to look for me and come to me. Looking around for me and coming over to me is usually enough to get him off the counter, or to stop clawing the couch. I then would reinforce it with food or affection. I reinforce EVERY TIME because it’s important for me to be able to effectively stop him when he is doing some normal cat behavior but in the wrong place.


If you want to be God status in your relationship with animals then I would challenge you to just delete the word from your vocabulary when referring to your pets.



Are you struggling with a specific unwanted behavior or you are not sure what your next steps should be-- book your virtual behavior consult today. If you would rather we can also do in person consultations at our training center (Schoolhouse) or your home.


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