The Power of ‘No’

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While I was out of town recently, I was playing off-leash fetch with my very ball driven German Shepherd SageĀ one morning. We’ve played fetch hundreds of times before this and never really had any issues or scares. This particular morning we were playing in an area we haven’t played before. At the top of a very steep hill in a residential neighborhood with a road at the bottom of the hill.
I’m throwing the ball into a grassy field opposite the steep hill and road, my dog goes to retrieve the ball and brought it back. She ends up dropping it at just the right spot, it takes the perfect bounce and starts to roll very quickly down the hill. Being the very ball driven dog she is and not knowing the consequences of what could happen to her, she starts to head down the hill in pursuit of the ball. Now this all happened so quickly, a million thoughts raced through my mind, my heart dropped and the first word that came out of my mouth was a loud “NO”. She immediately stopped in her tracks, looked at me approaching her and came back to me.
Why did she stop? Because she knew it was dangerous and potentially fatal to continue to chase the ball into a street with passing cars? No. She stopped because I made that word have meaning and lots of it.
When I train dogs, I use the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’. I understand not everyone has the same views as me so I’m speaking solely on my opinion. To me, the way I train dogs is built strongly on common sense. What I do is not rocket science but it does take time, effort, consistency, and a ton of patience.
Dogs are not perfect nor will they ever be. Dogs will make mistakes no matter how well they are trained. Dogs will also do things we do not agree with, whether you want to accept that statement or not is up to you. When your dog does something you do not agree with, what are you going to do? What mindset and approach are you going to have? Better yet, what training and communication is in place between you and your dog?
Some people have a hard time telling their dogs no, this post isn’t for you. It is for the people who have either told their dogs no in the past or plan to in the future. It’s for the people who understand that we owe it to our dogs to hold them accountable for their actions, teach them right from wrong, in order to provide them with a more fulfilling life.
Dogs do not understand the English language, or whatever language you communicate to your dog. They just don’t. What they do understand from a verbal aspect is sound. They do not understand what the word “no” means and that as humans we use it to communicate that we disagree or are declining something. To dogs it’s just another noise. Just another sound.
In order for your dog to understand the meaning and intent in which you use the word ‘no’ it must be paired with something negative for your dog. Your dog must learn that when it hears the sound “no” that a correction or consequence follows. In short, you must make the word “no” have meaning. That word needs to be relevant to your dog. Without pairing something negative for your dog to associate the word “no” with, it just becomes white noise. It becomes meaningless. If you do a good enough job pairing the two together, eventually you can fade out the correction/consequence and just the verbal “no” will actually mean something to your dog.
Now, don’t get me wrong you also want to teach your dog what to do as well. Doing that will certainly cut down on the amount of no’s you tell your dog, but there will be a time where you will want or will have to say no to your dog. When you do, do you want it to mean anything? Who knows, it might actually save their life one day.