No More “No” With Dog Training

No dog

Try it. For one month remove the word “No,” from your vocabulary when dealing with your dog.

Modern dog training is reward based, which means we reward behaviors we want to be repeated and ignore or re-direct those we want to be eliminated. Continually saying, “No!” draws attention to the wrong behavior. As parents, surely, you’ve heard the saying, “Negative attention is better than no attention.” Dogs have a knack for turning negative attention into fun games like “catch me,” or “keep away.” Fun for them, but frustrating for us.

One of the core principles of positive, reward-based training is that all creatures repeat behaviors that result in pleasurable consequences and avoid behaviors that result in unpleasant consequences. In other words, dogs do what works to get them what they want. What do they want? Mainly, food, attention from us, exercise, and play. These are the things they will work to get and therefore, are reinforcers. We can learn to time these reinforcers to encourage desirable behaviors from our dogs. Ignoring the undesirable behavior is more effective than saying, “No,” because most creatures, with the exception of some humans perhaps, don’t waste time and energy on behaviors that result in unpleasant consequences.

Let’s put this theory to work: Your dog is very excited when he greets you at the door. His jumping up has caused you to lose your balance, drop packages, dirtied your clothes; he’s even given you a few bruises. You love him but would like to see this behavior stop. Why is Buddy jumping on you? He wants your touch and attention. The problem isn’t what he wants; it’s how he’s going about getting it. Instead of the usual “No! Buddy- No!” let’s show him a better way to get our attention.

A solution is a two-pronged approach: Make the undesirable behavior (jumping up) unsuccessful for the dog, and replace it with a successful behavior. Each time Buddy jumps up, turn your back on him and walk away. Say absolutely nothing. Then use a treat to get him to sit. Pet him immediately, praise him profusely. Bingo! Sitting gets him the attention he wants. Continue petting until he jumps again, then quickly and silently turn away. Re-approach, pet, and praise when he sits. Timing is critical so Buddy makes the connection between his behavior and your reaction. Do this consistently and Buddy will begin to offer you the behavior that works (sitting) to get what he wants (your attention). Then you’ll know he’s gotten the message: Jumping makes people go away — sitting gets him attention. To your dog, attention is a valued resource — use it wisely!

Susan Claire is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, in Broward County, and owner of PlayTrain, Positive Dog Training!

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