Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

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


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.


  1. There is no help here! Just words! This article gives no practical help…

    • Hi Daniel – You sound frustrated. What’s going on and I may have a more specific blog for you to help. This is a concept blog with an idea that can help you in every sort of communication/challenge you have with a dog. Let me know what’s up. – Sarah

  2. I want my dog to wait outside the gate while I go into our duck yard to do morning chores for them. It’s only a few minutes, yet, the moment I look away my dog runs off. I call him back and ask him to sit. Again when I look away he runs off. His manner looks sneaky – as if he knows he’s doing the wrong thing but he still runs off. He’s a 3yo heeler, a rescue dog that we adopted a couple of weeks ago. Do you have any suggestions as to how I can add a ‘yes’ to this ‘no’?

    • So, I’d tether him to the post near the gate so he cannot run off. Then return to him frequently to pet him and tell him how well he is doing. Then, when he is calm and REALLY solid with that, you can return to off leash but not, probably, for several months, at least.

  3. Hi Sarah,

    You seem like you may have a solution to my problem. I have a dog who sneaks off to the neighbours where there is a cow barn and a manure pit. She goes there often and sometimes terrorizes the cows. We’d like her to be able to run around with her knowing she is not allowed at the neighbours.

    • The only answer for that is a fence or a tie out. She has a BLAST over there. The farmer is within his or her rights to kill your dog for harassing the livestock so I would absolutely fence or tie out your dog. I would not allow her to roam free – EVER – because she will always go where the fun is. Sorry. No fancy answer here. – Sarah

  4. My dog was until I am not in the room to open treats that are sealed in a basket , take paper out of my bookbag, chew on pens and pencils, and when she hears me she got straight to her room and doesn’t come out

    • Yup. She’s learned you’ll be upset but hasn’t learned (as most dogs don’t) that her behavior is the thing upsetting you. So, put all those things out of her reach, make sure she has plenty of dog toys she can chew on, crate her when you leave her alone or take her with you when you leave the room. Your goal is to break this negative cycle and repeating it won’t help to break it. Good luck! Sarah

  5. I have a problem with sneakiness in my dog. He steals food and gets into the trash… He is very smart amd knows all of his commands but as soon as i turn my back or leave the room he starts tip toeing or crawling towards trouble but if i turn around or walk back in the room he runs back to his bed… Please i am desperate to fix this problem

    • He’s not sneaky; he’s trained. I’d lock him away from the food and lock the trash away from him.

      • That’s not reallly teaching the dog that what he is doing is wrong though… it’s more ‘out of sight out of mind’…

        • Things dogs have learned to do out of sight are tricky for most people to deal with. Removing the problem is a simple way to relieve everyone’s stress. And there is nothing wrong with simple or easy.

  6. Wow Sarah,you know dogs!

  7. My challenge, with my 8 year old dog, is she knows i do not want her on the sofa. When i’m away she jumps right up on my new pillows on the sofa. When she hears me drive up the driveway she jumps off the sofa and right into her own very soft comfy sofa or even her cage. Why does she do this knowing she’s going to get in trouble??

    • She has learned not to be on it when you are around, that’s all. To keep her off the couch, you need to keep her away from the couch or use a couch guard (amazon link: or a scat mat But please stop correcting her when you get home. If that was going to work, it would have by now, and you risk creating stress so that she could start chewing things up.

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