Don’t Just Say No! – What Do You Really Want?

When your dog runs up to greet you, barking, wagging his tail, jumping, bouncing off of you and asking for attention, don’t just say No! He’s simultaneously doing 5 things. If you tell him No, which of those activities don’t you want? Did you mean “no barking”? Perhaps you meant “don’t jump on me,” so instead he jumps on your significant other. He may have complied with the No, but he’s still not behaving the way you want. So he hears it again — No, No, No… Maybe No! gets louder. Maybe you’re competing with how loud he’s barking. Maybe he thinks you’re helping him make noise! He thinks “this is a good thing – let’s try harder!”

Next time, think about asking your dog for something specific. What if, when your dog runs up to you in greeting, you say “sit!”? Now your dog is still wagging his tail and asking for attention, but all four feet are on the floor. Or perhaps you toss a toy and say “get it!” Now your dog may still be bouncing, but the barking has been replaced by a toy in his mouth.

By cuing an incompatible behavior, you have replaced a behavior that is self-rewarding (like jumping)  with something that you want and can reward yourself (like four-feet-on-the-floor). Asking your dog for something specific is much more likely to result in a behavior you like than just saying No.

So when your is doing something undesirable, first, consider what you really want. Try thinking of a behavior that meets your criteria and is incompatible with the undesirable behavior your dog has been practicing. Ask your dog to carry a toy instead of barking. Sit or go to a mat instead of jumping. Grab a tug instead of mouthing your hand or arm. Run to a bed instead of running to the door.

Here’s a challenge for you: for at least 24 hours, don’t just say No! Try to give your dog specific things to do instead. If you like the results, keep it up!