Should you use the word "No!" when training your dog? Keep reading to find out the pros and cons of positive vs. negative dog training techniques.
If we use the word "No" when training our dogs, we make the assumption that they understand right from wrong. Or that they can learn to understand right from wrong. Or that dogs are capable of learning how to make a moral decision to stop displaying undesirable behaviour.
Do you think that deep down your dog wants to be a good dog?I'm afraid dogs don't work that way.
But good luck explaining this to your nan, whose precious bow-tie wearing Shih-tzu has won rosettes for having the waggiest tail.
When a human child learns right from wrong, they also learn about other complex emotions. These include empathy, morals, and guilt. They learn that if they don't make the right choices in life they get judged.
Dogs don't experience the world like this, because dogs are not human children. They will never be human children, no matter how many frilly dresses you make them wear.
If you want to set your dog up for success in the human world, you need to start thinking like a dog.
HOW DO DOGS LEARN?
Luckily, dogs are very simple when it comes to how they learn. A dog learns to repeat behaviours that offer back a positive experience. The behaviours that result in a negative experience die out. This is the same for all animals, both domesticated and wild.
Real-life example: I have tried to teach my cat to stay off the kitchen surfaces by screaming "Noooo" at him from the other side of the room. I am terrified of him getting burnt on the oven top after I have been cooking. One day he leaped up before I could yell at him. He leapt straight onto the hot oven plates from the floor, and then he shot straight out of the room screaming. Never again did he leap up onto the oven. That was a very quick lesson in real life, and one which I'm sure will last a lifetime.
Have you ever found yourself barking "No" at your dog with little to no response? This is because your dog has learned that you shouting at him isn't the worst experience in the world.
You shout "No!" but the consequence isn't immediately clear to your dog. It won't stop him from chasing that squirrel. He is enjoying a very potent positive reward by ignoring your "No's". He gets his primal kicks from the thrill of the chase. Your dog has taught himself to ignore you and follow his own natural instincts for the best results.
Remember, your dog's natural instincts are powerful for a reason. He wants to chase things. Everything about a predator gears them towards survival, and your dog is a natural predator, whether you like to think so or not.
They want to hunt, chase, kill, eat, and then recover before going all over again. These are natural ingrained behaviours. Then along comes a human and tells him "No! Don't chase the squirrel."
If your dog could speak he would say, "Give me one good reason why!" You would reply, "Because it's not nice". And there you have lost your dog. He is now looking at you like you've lost the plot. He doesn't understand your crazy human moral reasoning.
DOGS DON'T AUTOMATICALLY GENERALISE
When you say "No" have you thought about what exactly it is that are you trying to tell your dog? Do you want to tell them to stop doing something in particular, like chewing on the coffee table leg? The problem here is that you can't use that same word to communicate several different things.
You can't use the word the same word to tell your dog not to jump up, as you use to not steal food. If you do, the word "no" begins to lack meaning, and your dog gets very confused.
Dogs don't understand that this one word we like so much refers to so many undesirable behaviours. How is your dog meant to remember everything he not supposed to do with only one word for a reference?
Dogs get confused when they don't know what you want from them. Telling a dog what you don't want isn't the same thing.
When you say "No" to your dog chasing a bike, he doesn't know what you're asking him to do. But if you ask him to "come" he knows that you want him to come to you.
He knows this because when he has done it in the past he gets rewarded and told he is a good boy. The recall is one of the first things we should teach a dog because it is a positive command and can be very useful.
"Come" is a different verbal command to "No", and a more effective one. This is because it has a specific meaning that refers to a specific and uncomplicated action.
When you use the word "come" to communicate with your dog it is more effective, and you are more likely to get your desired behaviour. This is because you are directing your dog to replace the act of chasing the bike with the act of returning to you. It's a simple active command, and it makes sense to your dog because he gets something out of it.
It is important not to forget that when recalling your dog it should always be a positive experience. Chasing a bike is like chasing a squirrel, it is extremely exciting. You have to try and top that experience to ensure that your dog won't ever stop to consider his options!
POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT VS. NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT
Praise and rewards are more effective in reinforcing good behaviour than negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement includes horrible things, like reprimanding or dominating your dog. If you think that your dog needs to view you as the "alpha" of the pack you could be at risk of using fear as a tool to control them. This can severely damage your relationship with them.
I'm sorry to break it to you, but your dog knows you're not a dog, so they're unlikely to think of you as their pack leader. In the same way that you know (or you should know) that your dog is not a human.
Your dog is unlikely to feel guilty for nabbing a slice of toast from your child's plate. Only humans feel guilt. Being a pack leader requires a strong understanding of natural dog behaviour. This includes the body language of a dog, and doggie etiquette.
The thing about using fear to control your dog is that you don't teach him desirable behaviours. Instead, you teach him to be afraid of you. I doubt that any genuine dog lover or decent dog owner wants their dog to be afraid of them.
Positive reinforcement training is not about bribing dogs with treats. Although this is a common misconception. You are developing, maintaining, and protecting your relationship and bond. Remember that once broken, it is very difficult to get trust back.
I'd like to suggest that we stop using the word "No" and start using the word "Yes"! Use "Yes" as a positive marker word to communicate to your dog when they do the things you want them to repeat. Then follow immediately with praise, cuddles, tug-toys, and little pieces of chicken. I promise you will be your dog's favourite person.
Remember that you are the most powerful tool in your dog training kit. But you are not a hammer, so don't hammer your poor dog into the ground with the word "No".
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