People often disagree as to whether or not we should be canine training using the word NO.

We communicate with our dogs through signals.

Some of those are visual signals, a raised hand, a swing from the arm, a pointing finger.

Most are verbal signals.

All have one part of common. They tell the dog what we should want him to complete. With one exception. And that's the term NO.

An important word between humans

In human language the word NO is fundamentally important.

It conveys the way we feel in a very clear way.

By canine training using the word NO, we can express dislike, disagreement, refuse permission, and make decisions.

We all know exactly what the word means, though its meaning can be complex and is often related to context and emotion.

Because this word is so important to us, it is only natural that we utilize it with this dogs.

Is NO highly relevant to canine training?

It might be natural to say NO to the dogs, but could it be helpful?

Force free dog trainers avoid using the word NO whatsoever.

This can be confusing for almost all dog owners, who use it in all type of situations.

It can feel very powerless when told not to do so.

It is tempting to visualize that if you don't say NO to your pet from time to time, he'll be something like a spoilt child, without any discipline with no clear boundaries.

But is this really true? And why don’t force free trainers use it? We’ll have a look at that below.

First let’s look at the four ways that we use NO when emailing our dogs.

How we use NO with our dogs

We use NO as a

  • Punisher (mild)
  • Event marker
  • Interrupter
  • No reward marker.

No as a punishment

Remember that punishment in the behavioural sense does not necessarily mean cruelty. It really means something that diminishes behaviour.

So if the word NO stops your dog in his tracks, you are using it as a punisher.

This only works with sensitive dogs that are very keen to please.

For example, say certainly one of my Labradors is asked to get a ball that's lying on the ground to her right, and instead attempts to pick up a ball lying on the ground to her left.

I can tell NO in a disapproving tone, and she will immediately stop in her tracks and change to the ball I would like her to get.

I may not prefer to be honest, but things i just did was punish her.

A force free trainer would have the dog on a long line and prevent her getting to the incorrect ball.

They would then wait for her to determine to pick up the correct ball, and reward her for doing this.

In the long run, this might be more effective because it helps make the dog think much more about what she's doing.

It also probably makes for a much better relationship between dog and handler because it avoids upsetting your dog or making her believe that she has let the handler down.

No being an event marker

We often talk about event markers in dog training.

We usually use an event marker to both tell the dog they got something right, and to predict he will shortly receive a reward.

It can be done to make use of NO as an event marker. To tell your dog he got a problem, and to let him know he is about to be punished.

Once the marker is assigned to punishment, it can temporarily be used to diminish behaviour without using punishment afterwards.

However the key word here's temporarily. As being a conventional event marker, the punishment marker soon loses its power if not regularly supported by actual punishment of some type.

Many, many people try canine training while using word NO in this way, and wonder why it reduces when they stop punishing.

No being an interrupter

This is perhaps the most popular utilisation of the word NO. We exclaim NO! Or Ah-ah! Inside a snappy, firm way and also the dog pauses to see what we should take presctiption about.

In that interval, we can then re-direct your dog into a preferable activity.

Many force free trainers would reason that we're actually still using NO as an aversive.

If your dog stops the behaviour, they would say, then your actions were is a type of punishment.

Strictly speaking they are probably right. Conventional use of an interrupter would involve the dog being shown a thing which was of a reward.

Many people do this by making a kissy sound, or perhaps a waggoner's chirrup, or perhaps teaching a magic word.

In every case, the sound must be firmly of a nice reward in order for it to effectively interrupt the dog's behaviour.

No as a No Reward Marker

It can also be easy to use NO like a No Reward Marker. This simply tells the dog he earned the wrong choice.

Or you could very calmly and in a totally neutral way, say ‘NO’.

Arguably the word NO gave him information that can help him to help make the right choice faster.

The use of NO like a No Reward Marker has fallen from favour.

Partly because it is so desperately to say NO inside a completely neutral and non threatening way.

One way to allow it to be more neutral is to change it with a visual cue, like a head shake or perhaps a thumbs down.

The force free approach

One from the underlying principles of force free dog training, is that the focus is moved from teaching your dog what he should not do, to teaching the dog what he should do.

Force free trainers concentrate on giving dogs cues that provide him having a specific path to follow.

Most of times, whenever we use NO, we are probably using it being an aversive, albeit a very mild one.

Trying to mix mild aversives, with positive reinforcement training can be counter-productive.

It’s very simple to fall back on aversives, as well as for aversives to escalate and be more serious.

There are also disadvantages in training with punishment, even mild punishment and you can read about these here: The downside to punishing dogs.

But does it work?

I know many people worry when they abandon that final and most mild of aversives, the word NO, they will somehow lose all treatments for their dog.

There isn't any evidence whatsoever to point out this will happen.

Of course, force free training is really a skill, and it is one which we have to learn. But arguably we could all learn faster if we allowed that last aversive to be peeled from your grasp.

It's a tough habit to break

We humans possess a long connection to the term NO.

We have a tendency to make use of the word with great emphasis, which is often accompanied by powerful body language.

I don't recommend NO as an event marker as the need for associating it with punishment won't ever truly go away. There are much possible ways of teaching an Interrupter.

Kicking the habit

For a lot of us, the word NO may be the ‘final aversive’. The final barrier between us, and force free training.

But be aware that the use of the word NO is a powerful habit.

People nobody want to abandon it may end up with upset with themselves when the word 'slips out'.

Don't beat yourself up.

It is great that you would like to become nice to your dog, but no healthy dog ever found any harm from being told NO occasionally.

Just start afresh tomorrow. You will get there.

And feel free to discuss canine training while using word NO, within the comments box below.