No! – The Most Important Word for Dog Trainers and Owners

Dog Discipline
Saying “No” When Appropriate Is Helpful To You And Your Dog.

All canid species, included domestic canines, are hard-wired to obey their parents and their higher-ranking pack members. In the dog world, discipline is communicated through various vocalizations and through symbolic bites (“nips”) and scruff holds. By the time a wild-raised puppy is a few months old, it knows exactly what behaviors are expected and tolerated by ranking pack members and carefully avoids behaviors that it knows are unwanted. In the human-canine relationship, that dynamic is accomplished by strategic and consistent use of the word “no.” Since dogs aren’t born understanding human language, the actual word you choose for this purpose has no significance, and you could use any other word or sound; but for practical purposes (including avoiding stares from strangers), we generally use the word “no” instead of a random word like “radio” or “post office” when we want to communicate to our dogs that we want them not to do whatever they are doing.

In principle, it is the tone of your voice in conjunction with your other responses that cue a puppy (or any untrained dog) to understand what “no” means. You should never shout at your dog to frighten or intimidate him; but you should say the word “no” in a sharp tone that is louder than your ordinary tone of voice, so that it startles him and distracts him from whatever he is doing that you want him to stop doing. This is why some trainers employ a “shake can” (i.e. a small metal can filled with marbles or rocks or coins) that makes an unexpectedly loud noise when shaken. We do not recommend that approach, only because you will still have to make the transition to voice commands eventually, since it is not practical to carry around a shake can everywhere or to rely on that technique to communicate with your dog. Also, while many dog trainers believe that rewarding a dog for obeying “no” reinforces the unwanted behavior, many veteran animal trainers disagree. Dr. Sedlacek explains:


“Obviously, you shouldn’t ever tell your dog “no” and immediately hand him a treat unless you want him to think that he’s being rewarded for doing what you just told him not to do. But that is not the same thing as rewarding a dog who clearly understood your command and responded appropriately immediately. Remember that praise and affection are just as valuable rewards for dogs as food. When your dog stops in his tracks after you tell him not to poke his nose into the garbage or to go into the kitchen, that is a perfect time to tell him how good he is and to positively reinforce the obedience to your command. Ultimately, that kind of positive reinforcement is the most effective form of training any dog. ”


A Well-Disciplined Dog
The Rewards Of A Well-Disciplined Dog Are Great.

The idea is that the instant you catch your dog doing something wrong, you should say “no” loudly and sharply enough that his attention immediately shifts to you, thereby stopping him from continuing whatever he is doing. Just as with a human toddler, you should also vary your tone of voice and volume based on what is appropriate for the circumstances. “No” actually functions as a half-dozen or more different ideas: it can be said drawn out and softly as a warning to let your dog know that you don’t want him to do what he seems about to do; it can be said in a conversational and matter-of-fact tone to mean “no, you don’t have my permission to do that”; and, in an emergency, it can be shouted loudly, such as to keep your dog from chasing a ball or another animal into the street. Again, just as with a toddler, your tone of voice can also reflect whether it is the first time (ever) or the fifth time (that day) that you have had to respond to the same behavior.

If necessary (especially with puppies), we can also grasp the scruff (the fur on the back of the neck right below the base of the skull) to reinforce the idea that “no” means “NO”; but this should only be a symbolic gesture and never done forcefully enough to be a punishment or to cause pain and you should never shake a dog or lift him up that way. Generally, any grasping of that area stimulates a hard-wired response to yield to the authority of a dominant pack member. Always keep in mind that this is strictly a symbolic gesture and that your dog genuinely wants to obey you; so your emphasis should always be on perfecting the timing of your first verbal command (ideally, exactly as they begin doing whatever they’re not supposed to do) and on being consistent, so that the same behaviors always correspond to the same response (and level of response) from you and from every human member of your family. Once established, the word “no” becomes your key to helping your dog understand almost everything else that you don’t want him to do.