Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

How to Train Your Dog: How a “No” without a “Yes” Creates a “Sneak”

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Puppy training.The little boy, maybe 16 months old, held a rock in his hand. It was round, black and bigger than a jumbo egg. He toddled toward the fountain with the clear intention of throwing it in. His attentive father got between him and his target, bending down he wagged his finger. I could not hear him through the thick glass of the restaurant window but could see a loving yet clear “no” was being delivered.

Dad was totally right about that.

The boy paused, holding the rock, looking at his father. Then he turned away, still holding the rock. For a minute or so his Dad fished other rocks out of the fountain, then his wife appeared. Smiling, Dad went to her and… the boy threw the rock into the fountain.

Here’s the problem: if you deliver a “no” by itself then what you have done is caused someone’s body to stop doing what their mind wanted to be doing. In this case, the father stopped the child’s body but not his mind. This son never ceased wanting to throw that rock. So, the moment the “wall” of father left, the boy finished his task.

This happens all the time in dog training. Example: a puppy is dragging on leash and his person pulls him back while saying “Heel” or “Stop it” or “No Pull” or whatever. The pup enjoys exploring and rushing about. Being physically prevented from doing so does not change his mind about that fun one single bit.

So when the leash is slack, he rushes forward again – not because being difficult or “sneaky” or “stubborn” or “defiant” or ‘stupid” but because he really, truly doesn’t have any idea what else he is supposed to be doing. He’s got no clue about the “yes”.

To effectively stop this cycle, we need to help the dog change his mind, not just physically prevent the unwanted. There are many My Smart Puppy games I play to teach a puppy why walking on a slack leash next to me is a fantastic idea. And every game I play focuses on the “YES!”

And soon the pup will happily turn up at my side more often and for longer. Choosing to be in that location because good things happen there and because it makes sense to the pup to be there.

In my world, every “no” creates the opportunity for a “YES!” The “YES!” is the point.

So if you think your dog is being a “sneak” about something, focus on the behavior you want instead. Focus on helping him to make a better choice. Build that. Reward that. And soon things will get a whole lot better for both of you.

At least that’s my sneaking suspicion.

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