Monday, November 28, 2011

Don't Say "No!"

I recently got a question from a student of mine asking me how I feel about using the word No! to correct dogs. So I dug into the archives (yes, I have archives, tons of them), and found these two stories that, I think, explain my position on No!” pretty well. Just to be clear, though, I sometimes refer to No! as the “N word” of dog training. 

So don't use it! Below, youll find two of my reasons why...

Ahhh, that's more like it...

“Do You Know How Much Energy That Would Take?” 

Mack, a Jack Russell terrier, used to go nuts whenever the phone rang, barking and running around, basically driving his owner crazy.  

Macks owner who was going through a difficult divorce thought the best way to solve the problem was to correct the dog, shouting, “No, Mack!  Quiet!” over and over until he finally stopped.  Stopped, that is, until the next time the phone rang. (Mack was no dummy; hed picked up on what was going on his owners life and knew that when the phone rang it usually meant that she was about to go into a deep funk, and would be talking on the phone for hours, either with her attorney, her friends, or her soon-to-be ex-husband.)

Some trainers might have suggested putting Mack in an extended down/stay. Others might have told her to keep his leash on and make a good hard leash correction whenever the phone rang, or to use a shake can to scare him; all designed to correct the behavior through fear and dominance. Positive trainers would probably have recommended giving Mack a time out," or using a replacement behavior like hand targeting. With some dogs these methods may have been temporarily effective, just as yelling at him had been (sort of). But their only lasting effects would have been putting the owner in conflict with her dog. And, over time, guess who usually wins those conflicts?

To me, the fact that Mack showed so much energy when the phone rang was a good thing. My goal was to use that energy to create an almost Pavlovian response: the ringing phone would be a signal for Mack to find a toy, take it to his crate, and chew on it happily while his owner took her call.  (She’d already taught Mack that when he wants to chew something he has to do it inside his crate.)  

So I told the owner that every time the phone rang, instead of correcting him by yelling “No!” or “Quiet!” she should jump up off the couch and praise him very enthusiastically, then grab one of his toys, tease him with it, and run away, encouraging him to chase her.  

Once his energy was fully focused on the toy, and not the phone, she could give him the toy, tell him to take it to his crate. Then she could finally sit down and take her call.  

Of course she thought I was nuts. “Do you know how much energy that would take?”

I reminded her that she’d been expending a lot more energy saying “No!” without getting the results she wanted, and promised her that if she followed my instructions to the letter, Mack would stop barking at the phone in a matter of two weeks.  

“But I shouldn’t praise him for barking, should I?  I mean, isn’t that only going to reinforce the bad behavior?”

“In this case we’re using praise to make Mack feel emotionally connected to you. That way you’ll be able to change his emotional state from resistance into a willingness to obey. You can’t very well create that kind of emotional state by yelling at him.”  

You see, every time Mack's owner corrected him she put herself in conflict with his feelings, forcing him to either keep barking at her until she was in tune with what he was already feeling or to give up.  And Jack Russells are not bred to give up.  By praising him she would be able to remove the conflict and open the flow.  Then and only then could Mack feel that they shared a common purpose and begin to look to her for a signal as to what to do next.

She reluctantly did as I suggested, thinking I was completely insane the whole time, and guess what?  She didn’t even need to do the exercise for two weeks. With just three days of acting like a complete idiot, she was able to create such a dramatic change in Mack’s behavior that she was able to stop doing the exercise completely. Whenever the phone rang Mack would bark briefly, but as soon as his owner told him to find a toy, and hed  do so, take it into his crate, and chew away on it, thinking the whole thing was his idea all along.

Understanding the dog's underlying emotional state — along with replacing the "N" word with a happy, playful voice and attitude — was the key to resolving Mack's problem. 

However ... I need to make the following disclaimer very clear. This situation was solved fairly easily because a) I was there, controlling the emotional tone for Mack and his owner, and b) Mack had been raised by his owner from the time he was a very young pup.

DISCLAIMER: I would be very reluctant to use these techniques with some shelter dogs, particularly those who have spent time living on the streets and who, therefore, may not have the same social impulses or ability to detect playfulness that is second nature to most pet dogs.  I do not recommend activating the prey drive in such dogs, except under the direct supervision of a seasoned professional.

“Changing the World, One Dog at a Time”
Join Me on Facebook!
Follow Me on Twitter!
My Puppy, My Self (archived)


Tina Clark said...

I do use the word "no" with my dogs, but not in the sense of discipline. I use it conversationally as a response to an inquiry. For instance, I will be in the kitchen and one of my dogs walks in with an expectant look as if asking if there is a treat for her. I say in a calm and conversationally manner, "no," and she leaves. This is the same dog who moves out of the way when I say, "excuse me." I never intentionally taught her either of those things, she just figured them out.

Josh D said...

As you are discussing the background of the client's pup you mention:

"Later, when her puppy antics have become bad habits (and particularly if she was also scolded and punished for those antics instead of being taught how to behave properly)..."

In some other posts or articles I've read you mentioning not being afraid to enforce boundaries (my own words). Would you mind talking about how to do this?

I have a 10 month old Weimaraner who I have been training using NDT methods for a month or so. I've seen some improvements but I'm not sure how to react when I catch her on the counter or doing something else off limits. I get the redirecting concept - but how do I make her understand these behaviors are not okay?

Interestingly I do see our 10 year old Weim snap at the pup when she is overtly bothering him. I know that the dominance/submission model has been debunked but I can't help think this Ceasarish "correction" is a natural way to set boundaries.

Help me bridge the alpha-NDT gap!

Best regards


LCK said...

As a general rule, the more deeply you get into training your dog using NDT, the more attuned the dog becomes to your wishes and desires, and begins to act accordingly.

If you want techniques to keep a puppy from jumping on the counter there are several things you can do. One is to treat the puppy as a puppy: always keep the pup confined or closely monitored. For the time being, don't leave things on the counter.

For an older dog, I would simply teach him what "Okay, off!" means. First teach the dog not to jump up on you (or others) by teaching him to jump up on command. Then, once he's reliable with that command, teach him what "Okay, off!" means.

How to Cure Jumping Up

Best of luck!


Josh D said...


Josh D here again from the previous comment. Is there a good place to discuss/read about the differences between Kevin's book and the current methodology as it has evolved? I'm wondering about "shocking" to focus etc.

Thanks again!


LCK said...

Yes. You can visit Kevin's website, where he posts new information -- mostly theoretical, but often practical as well -- all the time.

You can also become a part of Neil Sattin's NDT discussion group.

Finally, if you live out west, there's an NDT West Facebook page.

Best wishes,


Josh D said...

I should have mentioned that I have mentioned that I have taken Neil's online 8 week corse as well as gotten most of the way (finishing now) Kevin's book as well as watched the bulk of Quantum Canine episodes. I was interested specifically how the shock currently figures into the mindset I the NDTrainer. I now see the article by Neil about the shock as well as your response on the NDBlog forum which helps a lot. I feel like I read a response to a post that you wrote about how the push has superseded the ball focus in Kevin's book somewhere... Do you know where? It'd be great to have a 3rd edition NDT book!

Thanks for all you do!!


LCK said...

I think Kevin's idea of "shocking" the dog was initially related to a means of redirecting the dog's energy and focus back on the handler. It wasn't specifically about using a shock collar.

I don't know if that helps.

You can always ask Kevin. Just go to his website.


Josh D said...

Thanks Lee-

I'll do some more reading. I did realize that the "shock" wasn't an electrical shock per se. I just wasn't sure how if at all you, Neil, Sang and Kevin were using it in conjunction with pushing and box work. I think I have an idea how it would fit in I just wasn't sure if it was still common practice. Then again the 4 of you may have different variations and may deploy them at different times due to variations in your styles of handling.

Sorry for the sloppy post above. It can be difficult to edit on a "smart" phone.