Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Dog Training: Why “It’s Okay” is NOT Okay!


Dog Training TipThe rescue was sitting next to my dog training client—upright and alert. The woman and her stressed dog spotted the stranger at the same instant. Nervous that her dog would erupt into frenzied barking the woman started a stream of quiet “It’s okay it’s okay it’s okay.”

Laughing lightly I said, “Um, let’s skip that.”

Skip what?” she asked.

” ‘It’s okay,’ ” I answered.

She looked confused.

Here’s the thing,” I explained. “We say, ‘It’s okay’ at the vet. ‘It’s okay’ at the groomer. ‘It’s okay’ when you pick up the nail clippers. We never say, ‘It’s okay”  when it is actually okay. We use it when we are nervous about something and the dog? The dog ‘catches’ our nervousness like a behavioral cold. Anxiety is highly contagious!”

The woman laughed. “I hadn’t thought of that!

Notice yourself if you start to say it. Notice that you are nervous but silence the words. Those words can quickly become a trigger to the dog that something is wrong or about to be wrong upping their anxiety, alertness and reactivity.

Instead, take a deep breath then let it out slowly. Relax your shoulders and smile. Speak to your dog calmly and kindly. Direct them to the behavior you want instead of waiting to see what happens. Make good stuff happen then reward your dog. And if making anything good happen is not possible, get professional dog training coaching until it is possible.

Your heart is totally in the right place but your words will become, if they have not already, a direct transfer of anxiety from you to your dog. Not your dog training plan and not what’s going to help.

Now you know.

If you like my blogs, you’ll love my books: How to Train Your Dog to ComeMy Smart PuppyChildproofing Your Dog.


  1. Yep! Think I am guilty of this one 🙁 everytime I spot someone coming past the gate I jump up & go to get george who immediately realises that someone is coming & charges to the gate barking & snarling. The only way I can avoid the barking is if I spot them early enough & stroll over with a smile on my face but now he always has a quick glance at the gate just to check 🙂

    • Good catch! Now, try people=TREATS/FUN! If he runs to you, happy and relaxed, that would be better, yes?

      • I have given him a treat & praise if he behaves well but he doesn’t seem to have connected the two yet 🙁 AS for play he does not seem to do much. If I throw a ball he might run once or twice but then just stops. The only thing he seems to like is being chased but he then gets to excited & starts to use his teeth.
        Problem dog, problem owner 🙂

  2. Learn something every time I read your blog, talk with you, or get a chance to work with you and our Rusty! May Rusty survive his humans learning to be better dog owners!!!

  3. Wow..learning more and more….thanks Sarah!!

  4. I always spoke to my dog in human terms with a slightly different tone. “This way” and point hand e.g. They knew two or three versions so if I were ever confused they would cope. No Barbara Woodhouse for me!

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