Four Feet and Food

A blog about life and training with dogs


Why my dogs don’t know “No!”

no means no

A friend and I were recently walking out my front door while my dog, Kona, was close at our heels.  She turned around and told him “no”.  I told her that word means nothing to him and asked him to “back up” instead (a behavior he knows well).  This sparked the conversation of “you’re a dog trainer, how does your dog not understand the word ‘no’?”  My simple answer is “because he’s never been taught what that means”. 

Dogs are not born with an inherent knowledge of the human language or culture.  Can they learn a word by the context in which it is delivered?  You bet!  But it’s up to us to attach some useful information to that word to help them navigate our world where we expect them to live within our expectations.  If I yelled “no!” at Kona in a stern tone would he immediately stop what he was doing? He might stop in that instant but what is he supposed to do after that?  It’s not really fair for me to tell him to stop doing something without providing any follow up information.

How many of us have had this conversation with our significant other:

You:  What do you want for dinner?
SO:  I don’t know. What do you want?
You:  How about Chinese food?
SO: No.
You:  Ok, how about Mexican?
SO: No.
You:  Then why don’t YOU pick something!

It’s frustrating when someone tells you “no” without providing an alternative isn’t it?  Without any additional information you don’t know what to do next.  Is he/she saying “no” to Chinese food because they aren’t hungry or because they don’t like Chinese?  Did they just eat Mexican for lunch and don’t want it again for dinner? WHAT DOES IT MEAN??  Without any additional information you have no idea what to do next!  It’s the same for our dogs.  “No” doesn’t hold any weight unless you’ve associated a meaning to it for a specific behavior.

It is very common for us humans to think “no” can be just a blanket term for “stop what you’re doing this instant” (and don’t do it again) but in reality, most dogs have no idea what that means and are just responding to the tone of our voices.  I have taught my dogs many useful behaviors that are all on cue, meaning they have a word or signal attached to them. I have taught them to problem solve and to respond to my cues.  I taught them all of this through positive reinforcement training based on mutual trust and respect.

I have never had the need to teach my dogs “no” because it has no use in our relationship.  Do my dogs do things on occasion that I might not like?  Of course!  But that’s where the other behaviors they know come into play.  I will discuss some alternate behaviors you can teach to prevent unwanted behaviors in a follow up post.  In the meantime, if anyone has a solution to the ongoing “what do you want for dinner?” debate with your SO, please share in the comments!

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A little change in perspective (but not so little)

When I originally started this blog, it was meant to be a way for me to document the way I was feeding my pets while also helping other people who were looking for ways to improve their pets diet and well-being.  Since my last post, which was a long time ago, I embarked on a journey to not only help people keep their pets healthy by feeding them a good diet but also helping to improve their overall health by learning a different approach to training and behavior modification.

When I decided I wanted to get my certification as a professional dog trainer I searched around the internet a lot and found a lot of different schools.  There is no real governing body that oversees the industry so anyone can call themselves a “professional dog trainer” but there are a lot of schools out there willing to sell you a certification.  I reached out to people in my dog loving community (which was WAY smaller at that time than it is now) and told them what I wanted to do and asked their opinions.  During my research I came across the Karen Pryor Academy.  I read a little bit about their philosophies and programs.  What really stood out for me in this school was their “no aversives” approach to training, meaning no choke, pinch or shock collars.  No corrections.  This was exactly the kind of training I was looking for, these were MY people.

I really want to post more about my journey going through the Karen Pryor Academy because it is, and continues to be, so exciting for me but there’s just so much to write!

So to begin with I want to explain why I am so averse to aversives:  When Chile was about three years old (she’s now twelve) I decided to take her to a “professional” dog trainer to help me make her stop doing things that I didn’t want her doing (barking at the doorbell, pulling on her walks, barking at other dogs, etc).  The first thing this trainer did was take off Chile’s body harness and put a choke collar on her.  I was about 23 years old at that time and my only excuse is, I did not know any better.  I had paid for 5 sessions with this trainer but after the second session decided I didn’t like her methods (popping/choking Chile every time she didn’t obey a command and giving her praise and treats when she did) so I stopped going. We did, however, keep the choke collar on Chile while we walked her even after we stopped the lessons.  In our minds it was helping us to have more “control” over her while we were outside.  Long story a little shorter; pulling on the choke collar resulted in Chile getting a herniated disc in her neck. Chile was in indescribable pain for days, even on medication, before we finally got her in for surgery to fix the disc.  Any disc/back problem is always a risk with a dachshund, but one that was the result of equipment I chose to put on her was pretty much the most horrible feeling in the world. Needless to say, Chile has never been walked on anything other than a body harness since then and I have been an advocate of only using positive reinforcement training, although nine years ago I didn’t really know what that meant.

Again, the bottom line is, I just did not know any better when I started using the choke collar as a tool for training and there are so many people out there who are in the same boat.  I thought I was doing what was best for my dog by taking her to this professional trainer and followed what she told me to do.  I was seeing improvements in the behaviors I wanted to change so I continued to use the tool, even though I stopped seeing the trainer.  There was no one around at that time to tell me there were other ways that I could teach the behaviors I wanted while building a stronger relationship with my dog at the same time.  So now I love telling anyone who will listen, there is another way!  A way that makes your dog an active learner in the process and gets you both to the training goal you want to achieve in a fun and positive way!

I plan to post a lot more about the things I’ve learned but for an overview of the methods and philosophies you can checkout: CK6F3314

And my very own training website!: