Updated: Feb 3, 2021
Think of an unwanted behavior your dog does - digging, furniture chewing, sock stealing from the laundry basket? I recently saw a post on Instagram that defined the "Three Tenses of No" dog owners go through and, while I found it hilarious, it was also super true!
"No." = future tense, sharp, single word, you know your dog is about to do something and you're ready to step in to stop them
"No- No- No- No!" = Present tense, full repeat setting, your dog is in already in the middle of trouble, and you're sprinting to intervene
"Noooooo" = past tense, really sad, the deed has already been done and there's nothing you can do about it
I don't really believe in "no."
Yeah, it stops a behavior momentarily. Do I use it in a reactionary way sometimes? Absolutely.
But what does "no" teach your dog to do instead?
If you've read my Piggy Bank article you know that dogs don't rationalize, so just telling them "no" doesn't give them any of the information they need to be successful the next time a tempting situation comes around. They can't figure out that when you say "no," you're also telling them to find something else to occupy their time.
I started thinking of a question I commonly ask in training my personal dogs as well as client's dogs: What do want your dog's "instead of" behavior for (insert unwanted behavior here) to be? It simplifies the explanation of the training process and gives us a realistic goal to work towards.
Instead of eating my shoes or getting socks out of the dirty laundry, I'll give you access to appropriate chewing items and reward you when I see you using them. Instead of yanking my arm off on walks, I'll teach you to walk nicely next to me. Instead of being pushy and begging for food every time we eat, I'll train you to lay on your mat until we're finished eating.
We call these "instead of" behaviors incompatible behaviors.
They're incompatible because the dog cannot do the "instead of" behavior at the same time as the unwanted behavior. Rosie can't sit and jump on me at the same time. Kaiser can't be stationed on his mat in the living room and simultaneously steal food off the kitchen counters.
These "instead of" behaviors are the framework of how I teach clients to approach unwanted behaviors in their dogs. I tell them that their instead of behavior is to refrain from just yelling no or punishing their dog, and I want them to redirect the dog to an appropriate behavior and reward from there. Dogs will continue to find "trouble" if you're not effectively communicating your needs to them.
They are not hardwired to be perfect members of our human society.
They are hardwired to be dogs. Train your brain to explore the "instead of" behaviors and find healthy behavior outlets for your pets!