“NO!”

“No” is not an instructive way to change your dog’s behavior. There are better alternatives.

I move toward the table, savoring the aromas from the food on my plate. I sit down and take the first bite of my juicy hamburger. Suddenly, someone screams, “No!”.  I momentarily stop, confused and a little intimidated. What is the person trying to tell me? Am I sitting in the wrong seat or at the wrong table? Was the hamburger supposed to be for someone else? Is there something wrong with the burger? Maybe it’s dripping and staining something important? Perhaps it’s not even about the burger but something else entirely. What am I doing wrong? Is the disapproval even meant for me at all? I’m not sure what to do.

Depending upon the person yelling and the tone of their voice, I might stay confused, become upset, frightened or angry, or just ignore them if I’ve heard it enough times and it makes no sense.

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Imagine how your dog must feel when he frequently hears you yell, “no” in his presence. He has no idea what you’re upset about, but if he’s have heard it enough and it’s followed by punishment (whether verbal or physical) he will become stressed and perhaps look guilty without even understanding his mistake.

As you can see, “no” is not very instructive. It does not tell your dog what he or she should be doing, just that you’re angry. There’s a better way. Here is how you can achieve better results and a dog making better choices.

  • Manage the environment so that your dog is less likely to do naughty or annoying behaviors;
  • Remove the reason (reinforcement) for your dog wanting to do it;
  • Train your dog to do a better, correct behavior
  • If none of the other options are viable at that moment, remove your dog from the situation so the behavior can’t continue to occur;

If you have to say “no” often, it’s not your dog that is at fault. It’s your responsibility to understand why your dog keeps making the same mistake and find a solution so that it does not regularly occur. Don’t blame, train!

For example, let’s say your dog keeps jumping on visiting friends. When it happens you quickly say, “no” and grab your dog by the collar to pull him off. Has he learned that jumping on people is not acceptable? If he keeps doing it then this is obviously not an instructive method. Probably all he’s learned is that his human is unpredictable and sometimes scary.

Your choices are managing the situation so that it does not occur, removing the reinforcement that causes your dog to continue doing the same naughty behavior, and training a different, acceptable behavior. If you can’t do those, then remove your dog from the situation so that it does not continue.

MANAGEMENT

You can manage the situation by having your dog confined to a room, behind a baby gate, or on a leash at an appropriate distance when guests first arrive. You are preventing the behavior from occurring. If your dog does not continually practice a bad behavior it will occur less often.

REMOVE THE REINFORCEMENT

Since your dog is reinforced by jumping (he gets attention when he jumps up, which is what motivates him to do it in the first place), your management of not giving him opportunities to jump will remove this reinforcement. Additionally, if the person he does manage to jump on ignores the dog completely by silently turning away and ignoring the dog, the reinforcement (what the dog wants) is completely removed. If the reason for the dog’s behavior is gone, the behavior will also eventually cease.

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TRAIN YOUR DOG

You can train your dog to not jump up by providing him with an alternative behavior. Consider generously rewarding your dog for sitting while leashed next to you. Your dog will learn that good things happen when he waits for permission to greet with all four paws on the floor. Alternatively, you could teach your dog to lie on his mat until given permission to calmly greet.

POSITIVE INTERRUPTERS

You may have used “no” (or jerking on the leash) as an interrupter when your dog is doing something unsafe or annoying. Instead of the non-instructive or intimidating method of yelling, “no” to stop your dog, consider providing clear and consistent information in a positive way.

Build a word or sound, such as a kissy sound or a fun word such as “cookie” (it’s hard to sound angry when you make funny sounds or use fun words) that you calmly give and is then immediately reinforced with treats. Eventually, your dog will associate the word or sound with something positive. When he hears your positive interrupter, he will quickly turn to you anticipating a good response. This keeps your relationship intact, builds trust and attention, and provides the behavior interruption you need so that you can choose one of the four options we discussed above.

Want to train a positive interrupter? Check out this article. It offers some good advice on how to do it. https://www.dogtrainingnation.com/dog-training/stop-bad-dog-behavior/

Your dog wants to please you. If he is ignorant of what he should be doing, it’s your job to help him learn and grow in a positive and joyful way.

Clickers make training quick and fun

Anyone can do it.

What is clicker training?

Clicker training means using a sound (a click) to communicate with your dog. It marks your dog’s correct behavior the moment he does it.  Essentially the moment your dog does what you want him to do—like a sit or a down—you immediately click and give him a treat. This gives your dog instant, specific feedback. Dogs learn much faster with a clicker (up to 45% faster) and it makes training fun.

clicker

How does it work?

It is fabulously simple. First, we teach the dog that the click means he has earned a treat. Then we use the click to tell the dog when he has done something we like. The click becomes a predictor of a reward.

Now before you dismiss the idea of carrying around a tool with you, I want you to know that it is only used to teach new behaviors. Once your dog knows the skill you can fade out the clicker, so it’s not a forever tool. My dogs, for example, only see the clicker when I decide to teach a new trick. When I take it out of the drawer they get very excited. It predicts fun and treats.

In this video, Laurent is rewarding Luna every time she looks at him. Since he clicks the moment Luna gives him eye contact, she is getting precise and instant feedback which means that she will learn this so much faster. Imagine if no clicker was used. By the time the treat got to Luna she would no longer be looking so she would not immediately associate the treat with the eye contact. So much slower to teach…

How to start with your dog: charging the clicker

This means teaching your dog that click means treat.  To do this we will classically condition the dog to associate the sound of the click with him or her receiving a treat.

Step 1. Grab a handful of really yummy treats cut into small pieces.

Step 2. Every time you click, give your dog a treat (be careful not to click and treat at the same time; the treat must follow the click, not precede or coincide with it). To begin, repeat this 20 times in a row.

Step 3. Do this standing up, sitting down, while moving about, indoors, outdoors. Basically, make sure your dog understands that the click means treat in all situations.

Step 4. Do the exercise a few times a day for a 20 treats at a time until when you click you notice that your dog is eagerly anticipating the treat.

Good Mechanical Skills

Don’t give away that a treat is coming except with the click. For example, be careful not to reach for a treat, point the clicker toward the dog, or reach toward him with the treat before you click. This is distracting and can slow learning. After you treat, always bring your hand up to a neutral position (at your navel or behind your back) and keep it still so your dog does not get distracted and can learn quicker. Train yourself to insert a count or a word before you hand over the treat: Click. Count to yourself, one-one-thousand. Treat.

Watch the video to see how this is done. Caela is doing a great job with timing.

Say “Yes”

You can use a novel word, such as “Yes!” in place of the clicker. You would pair it and then use it the same way as the clicker.  According to research, using a word to mark a behavior is effective but not nearly as effective as the clicker. You want to use a word that your dog does not hear all the time. “Good boy”, for example, is not the best choice.

Clicker rules

  • Click only once.
  • If you click you must treat even if you have clicked in error (we call that a freebie!).
  • The clicker is not a remote control. Don’t use it to call your dog to you.
  • Click during the desired behavior, not after it is completed. For example, when you call your dog to you click while she is headed your way, not after she has gotten to you and stopped or sat. The timing of the click is crucial. Give the treat after the click; the timing of the treat is not as important but try to get it there within a couple of seconds. If you’re not sure when to click, think of it like taking a picture of your dog at the exact moment he does the behavior you want. Snap! You got it.
  • Only click once for each desired behavior. Multiple clicks will be confusing to your dog. If you want to express special enthusiasm, increase the number of treats, not the number of clicks.
  • Click when your dog does something you like. Practice with something easy that the dog is likely to do on his own. (Ideas: sit; come toward you; touch your hand with his nose.)

In this video I am teaching Decker the beginning of a trick. He already knows how to hand touch (touch his nose to my hand); now he is learning to target a piece of tape, first in my hand and then stuck to a wall. Soon it will be placed on an open cabinet door or an open mailbox, and he will easily learn to close the door by pushing it with his nose. Eventually the tape is faded and a cue is added.

Easy peasy and so much fun! Your dog will enthusiastically work with you and learning is a snap. Happy training!