“No” is not an instructive way to change your dog’s behavior. There are better alternatives.



I move toward the table, savoring the aromas from the food on my plate. I sit down and take the first bite of my yummy slice of pizza. Suddenly, someone screams, “No!”.  I momentarily stop, confused and a little intimidated. What is the person trying to tell me? Am I sitting in the wrong seat or at the wrong table? Was the pizza supposed to be for someone else? Is there something wrong with the food? Maybe it’s dripping and staining something important? Perhaps it’s not even about the pizza but something else entirely. What am I doing wrong? Is the disapproval even meant for me at all? I’m not sure what to do.

Depending upon the person yelling and the tone of their voice, I might stay confused, become upset, frightened or angry, or just ignore them if I’ve heard it enough times and it makes no sense.

A scared dog will often look guilty, shut down, and not be able to respond. Use clear, calm communication to keep your dog’s brain in thinking mode.

Imagine how your dog must feel when he frequently hears you yell, “no” in his presence. He has no idea what you’re upset about, but if he’s have heard it enough and it’s followed by punishment (whether verbal or physical) he will become stressed and perhaps look guilty without even understanding his mistake.

As you can see, “no” is not very instructive. It does not tell your dog what he or she should be doing instead, just that you’re angry or upset. There’s a better way. Here are 4 ways you can achieve better results and teach your dog to make better choices.

  1. Manage the environment so that your dog is less likely to do naughty or annoying behaviors;
  2. Remove the reason (reinforcement) for your dog wanting to do it;
  3. Train your dog to do a better, correct behavior
  4. If none of the other options are viable at that moment, use a positive interrupter and remove your dog from the situation so the behavior can’t continue to occur.

If you have to say “no” often, it’s not your dog that is at fault. It’s your responsibility to understand why your dog keeps making the same mistake and find a solution so that it does not regularly occur. Don’t blame, train!

For example, let’s say your dog keeps jumping on visiting friends. When it happens you quickly say, “no” and grab your dog by the collar to pull him off. Has he learned that jumping on people is not acceptable? If he keeps doing it then this is obviously not an instructive method. Probably all he’s learned is that his human is unpredictable and sometimes scary.

Your choices are managing the situation so that it does not occur, removing the reinforcement that causes your dog to continue doing the same naughty behavior, and training a different, acceptable behavior. If you can’t do those, then remove your dog from the situation so that it does not continue.


You can manage the jumping problem by having your dog confined to a room, behind a baby gate, or on a leash at an appropriate distance when guests first arrive. You are preventing the behavior from occurring. If your dog does not continually practice bad behavior it will occur less often.


Since your dog is reinforced by jumping (he gets attention when he jumps up, which is what motivates him to do it in the first place), your management of not giving him opportunities to jump will remove this reinforcement. Additionally, if the person he does manage to jump on ignores the dog completely by silently turning away and ignoring the dog, the reinforcement (what the dog wants) is completely removed. If the reason for the dog’s behavior is gone, the behavior will also eventually cease.

This focused dog is ready to learn!


You can train your dog to not jump up by providing him with an alternative behavior. Consider generously rewarding your dog for sitting while leashed next to you. Your dog will learn that good things happen when he waits for permission to greet with all four paws on the floor. Alternatively, you could teach your dog to lie on his mat until given permission to calmly greet. (See our post on How To Get Your Dog to Greet Politely.)


You may have used “no” (or jerked on the leash) as an interrupter when your dog is doing something unsafe or annoying. Many times it’s an automatic and ingrained behavior that you don’t even think about. Instead of the non-instructive or intimidating method of yelling, “no” to stop your dog, consider providing clear and consistent information in a positive way.

Build a word or sound, such as a kissy sound, or a fun word such as “cookie” (it’s hard to sound angry when you make funny sounds or use fun words) that you calmly give and is then immediately reinforced with treats, or play if your dog is an avid play hound. Eventually, your dog will associate the word, sound, or game with something positive. When he hears your positive interrupter, he will quickly turn to you anticipating a good response. This keeps your relationship intact, builds trust and attention, and provides the behavior interruption you need so that you can choose one of the other options we discussed above.

If your dog repeats the behavior after getting the treat, use your interrupter cue again and then immediately remove your dog from the situation before he can repeat it. You can go to another environment such as indoors if you’re outside, or into another room in your home; close the curtains or turn on music if your dog is barking at something outside; separate the dogs if they are playing too roughly; or anything else to prevent re-engagement with the stimulus.

Your dog wants to please you. If he is ignorant of what he should be doing, it’s your job to help him learn and grow in a positive and joyful way.

Written and narrated by Mindy Cox, CPDT-KSA

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