Training Your Dog the No Command

By properly using the No Command in dog training and everyday life, you can clear up any confusion your dog might have about what behaviors are unwanted.

The No command is a command that you will probably end up using as much as your reward marker (clicker) or even more. Most dog owners underestimate or don’t understand the true purpose of this command, but for any dog it is extremely important.

Our whole training concept, both in daily life and in the various training disciplines, is based on the fact that we have a clear communication with our dog. As much as it is important for our dog to understand when he is doing something good and what behavior is bringing the reward, It is equally as important for him to understand when he didn’t perform the action that we asked from him, or which behavior we are not agreeing with.

The No command is that “signal” that we will use to communicate this message to our dogs.

In general there are two ways to use No (or as some dog trainers are labelling it, the ‘negative’) command:

  • As a non-rewarding signal
  • As a conditioned punisher
Non-rewarding signal

It is important when you are training your dog, to use a signal when the dog fails to perform the task. We call this a non-rewarding marker. Some people use the word “wrong” or “no” or some other signal like a sound, “uh-uh”, etc.

So why do this, why not just withhold the reward?

If you are familiar with clicker/marker training , then you know the importance of timing. It is important to mark the moment when the dog is behaving wrong (or he missed the exercise) in order for our dog to understand exactly what part of the behavior just cost him his reward.

The better communication skills you have with your dog, the faster he will learn what he did wrong in order to correct it.

TIP: As mentioned above, it is all about timing so if you have issues with good timing then practice your timing without your dog. Take a tennis ball and bounce it on the floor. Every time it touches the floor in a bounce, practice your verbal Non-rewarding command. The same exercise can be used to practice your other clicker/marker skills, like your release marker.

Conditioned Punisher

The term conditioned punisher describes the signal that precedes a correction. People who use escape/avoidance or compulsion training techniques properly, know the power of this marker.

There are two reasons to use a signal prior to a physical correction:

  • To avoid the issue of the dog redirecting his focus
  • To give your dog a chance to correct his behavior and therefore avoid the correction altogether.

Redirected focus

One of the biggest problems that arises when using compulsion dog training techniques (especially with inexperienced dog trainers) is that the dog can easily predict when he will get corrected. No matter how fast you are, a dog is always faster.

What happens is that the dog anticipates that a correction is coming and therefore his reflexive action is to prepare for it, and this all happens in a split second, so by the time the correction is performed, the dog has already redirected his focus onto something else, in most cases on the handler.

In other words, by the time you correct your dog, he has stopped what he was doing enough for him not to connect the correction with his action, but with you, instead. It is the same principle as with clicker training. No matter how fast you are at rewarding your dog, if you are not using a signal that the dog can understand and connect with his performance, he will probably fail to learn the reason he is being rewarded.

Another problem is that corrections are unpleasant and shocking, the dog (just like any other animal, including humans) has difficulties learning while exposed to stress and discomfort.

Be fair to your dog

If you are using corrections in your daily life or your training concept, by adding a signal (command) as a conditioned punisher, you are giving your dog a chance to stop performing the unwanted behavior and to thereby avoid the unpleasant consequence. As mentioned above, a dog’s learning capabilities when exposed to stress are low and poor.

If your dog understands the meaning of the No command, and if the command is used in a correct and timely fashion, your dog has a chance to learn that he can avoid unpleasant consequences by performing that certain action.

Remember that if you are relying on corrections as your training concept, your goal is for your dog to reach the goal as fast as possible, so that you only need to use corrections as little as possible.

TIP: Always keep in mind the “rule of three” when dealing with corrections, if you are correcting your dog more than three times for the same behavior, either your timing is wrong, your corrective method is wrong, or your dog doesn’t understand what he is getting the correction for.

Learning phase

The No command (just like any other command or signal) has to be presented to your dog in the correct way, in order for him to learn it properly. The core of good training is based on the principle of classical conditioning. The no command has to be used right before you do the action, not during the action, and not after the action.

There are two parts:

  • Verbal signal (the No command)
  • Action (removing the reward or correction)

There should be a split second between the verbal signal and the action. If I was to use the verbal signal while performing the action, or even after the action, my dog would never learn the No command properly, in order for us to use it in a functional manner.

Too often, I witness dog owners walking their dogs on the streets or other places and correcting them for some unwanted behaviors in the wrong way; by first applying the correction, and then saying a firm “no”. It is sad to see that no one is benefiting from that whole scene, and that the behavior will continue to occur in the future. This becomes more of an abusive action than anything else, as the dog isn’t given the chance to avoid the physical correction.

Keep it separate

Some dog trainers that use combined dog training techniques use a combination of non-rewarding commands and correction commands. What they have noticed is that by using the same word for both applications it can impact the dog’s whole performance and behavior.

For example;

If you were to use the No command (that you also used as a conditioned punisher) while training obedience commands (instead of using another word like, “wrong” or other verbal signal for the non-reinforcement consequence), your dog will show a sudden drop in motivation, or may even react fearfully. The reason for this is emotional attachment.

If you pair the No command, for example, with physical corrections for an extensive period of time, your dog will react to the No command just like he would to the physical correction itself. This is a normal response; therefore if you are training your dog by using combined dog training techniques, you are probably better to use a separate marker (command) for each application; one for a non-rewarding situation and another for the situations when you use corrections.

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Return from No Command to Dog Obedience Training

Return from No Command to Training Your Dog and You