There’s magic in the word ‘no’ but only if you know the spell!

Muttamorphosis Dog Training new puppy Guinness

One of the most important lessons to pass on to your dog is the meaning of the word ‘No’.  Those of you who train positively, as I do, may be surprised at my focus on the negative.  However, things may make more sense if I explain that the less your dog hears this magic word, the more of an impression it will actually have on his behaviour & his response to you.  

The average pet dog owner often gets things quite muddled when teaching their dogs the basis of what they can & can’t do.  An 8 week old puppy comes in the home full of willingness to learn.  A veritable blank slate on which you, the owner must fill in the do’s & don’t of life.  If we try to see the world from the puppy’s point of view it’s clear that what they learn, & what their owner is desperately trying to teach them, are often two very different things. 

Puppies explore through the use of boundless energy coupled with an amazing propensity to use their teeth on just about anything.  The new owner follows their charge around using the magic word ‘no’ over & over again as puppy bounds from plant to shrub, from shoe to sofa cushion, getting more & more wound up & excited.  The result is two fold.  The first is the power of the word ‘no’ is totally lost on the dog who hears it used repeatedly, thus learning to ignore it.  The second result is that the word becomes part of a game with very little, if any negative association. 

I use distraction & diversion for the majority of cases where I want my dog to stop doing something.  I give my puppy so many things he is allowed to chew, that he never really focuses on the stuff which is precious, expensive or important.  Now during the rare occasion where my puppy starts to bother a shrub, a sweeping brush or my shoes, he is directed towards a chew toy, a cardboard box or plastic bottle instead.  No mention of the magic word ‘no’. 

Let’s take an occasion where I need him to stop, listen & respond immediately.  So far this has only been used in conjunction with one specific event; chasing & tormenting my cats.  Good cop Mum, turns to bad cop in a split second.  He hears my voice saying ‘no’ ‘ah, ah’, hand clapping, with the verbal reprimand immediately followed by his removal to a very boring, puppy proofed room where he’s left on his own for up to a minute. 

Within days, the sequence is learnt (verbal reprimand is always followed by time out), until the crime in question is broken down into a non-worthwhile-activity.  If ‘no’ is always followed on very specific & rare occasions with a time out, it makes a huge impression on the puppy & he usually learns to take serious note of the magic word.  At this point, the ‘time out’ becomes unnecessary, as you can immediately reward his response to the word & get back to being 'good cop' again.

Now I can use my voice alone to stop my little guy during other puppy investigations which I dislike.  Last week as he headed towards a stagnant muddy ditch, he heard, during an upbeat game of find & tug, the magic word ‘no’.  When he stopped & listened to me, I immediately followed his correct response by resuming the game with a whoop & holler & by throwing the toy for him. 

Pick your battles carefully.  Choose just one or two scenarios where you can successfully implement the link between an action & an immediate consequence.  Give your dog plenty of opportunities to get things right.  Then on the occasions where you need to tell your dog ‘no’, he will actually listen & respond, not learn to ignore you while continuing his undesired behaviour.  The magic ‘no’ spell is very powerful, so learn to use it sparingly.