Canine trainer reveals why teaching a dog 'no' isn't the answer to better behavior

Dog being told off while sitting on a sofa
(Image credit: Getty)

Even the most angelic of pooches sometimes behave in ways that we don’t want. Whether that’s sneaking a piece of food, snatching a puppy toy, running towards a muddy pond or greeting another dog in too-boisterous a manner, the temptation to shout ‘no’ can be overwhelming. 

While we might think we’re giving a clear signal by using the single word ‘no’, it’s a negative command that can be really confusing for our dogs. Using the same word to mean lots of different things is unhelpful, and could lead to your pooch not being at all sure what he’s being asked to do. Using a set of different, positive commands is much better communication – and might just be enough to stop your doggo before he reaches that pond!

Certified trainer Alexandra of Muscat Dog Trainer in Oman has put together some tips on Instagram under her handle @muscatdogtrainer on how to use positive commands instead of the word ‘no’, and explains why your dog is more likely to respond.

As humans, we’re capable of applying different meaning to the same word in different situations, so ‘no’ might mean anything from ‘stop what you’re doing’ to ‘I don’t agree with you’. Dogs only associate one action with one word, though, so using ‘no’ to mean lots of different things is just confusing for them. If you shout ‘no’ when you mean ‘get down’, ‘leave’ or ‘stay’, your pooch will struggle to work out what you mean. 

Alexandra points out that using one word – no – to cover more than one action is unhelpful, too. For example, if your dog sneaks one of your shoes then jumps on the bed to chew it and you shout ‘no!’, is he being told off for the shoe or jumping on the furniture? ‘No’ in itself as a single command does not contain enough information.

Instead, Alexandra recommends using positive commands. For example, instead of saying ‘no’ to discourage negative behavior, say ‘sit’, ‘leave it’ or ‘lie down’ to tell them what you actually want them to do instead.

According to the American Kennel Club, training is a vital foundation for good behavior. “Teaching your dog to sit, come, or lie down may not seem related to a barking, jumping, or chewing problem, but it is,” they say. Using a system of positive training reinforced with rewards will teach your dog that doing when you ask results in something nice happening. As a result, he’s much more likely to listen than when you just yell ‘no!’.

To find out more about why training your dog using a reward system works so well, check out our article on the science behind positive reinforcement. 

Sara Walker

Sara is a freelance journalist and copywriter of many years’ experience with a lifelong love of animals. She’s written for a range of magazines and websites on subjects varying from pet care to travel. A horse rider since the age of five, she’s currently a full time pet slave to horse Blue and gorgeous, goofy English Springer Spaniel Olly. Adorable Olly has a huge sense of adventure and no sense of direction, keeping Sara on her toes.