"NO" : An Epidemic in Dog Training
The canines we live with and love are extremely intelligent beings. Some reports claim that they can become familiar with around 150-300 words and have at least a basic understanding of their meaning. So why when you tell your dog "NO" are they not really responding? The answer may be a little more complicated than you think. One of the main theories as to how dogs learn was published by Povlov in the twentieth century. He won a Nobel-price for his work with digestion in dogs as an example of Classic Conditioning.
Classic Conditioning theory states that when two stimuli are always presented together a dog with learn to associate them with one another. Povlov used digestion in dogs to demonstrate this. When a stimulus that would normally produce a neutral response in dogs (in this case the ringing of a bell) was always produced at the same time that a stimulus that would produce a positive response (in this case the presence of food that caused salivation) then the two stimuli would become associated with one another in the dog's mind. This meant that over time a dog would salivate (an unconscious response to food) when no food was present and the bell rang. By producing both stimuli together in a consistent way the dog was conditioned to understand that they went hand in hand.
The other theory of learning that can be closely applied to dogs is the theory of Operant Conditioning. This theory was presented by B.F. Skinner and states that when a consequence is always presented after a stimulus then the two will begin to be associated with one another. The four main ideas that belong to this theory are positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment. Positive reinforcement in an idea that you are probably very familiar with. An example of this in dogs would be the delivery of a treat after the execution of a command. This reinforces the command and will lead to the dog executing it more regularly.
Negative reinforcement is when something negative is REMOVED as a result of a desired behavior. An example of this in dogs would be the releasing of pressure over the nose from a head collar when the dog is no longer pulling on the leash. The pressure was an uncomfortable stimulus and when the desired behavior of not pulling on the leash is executed then that negative stimulus is removed. This will encourage the desired behavior in order to avoid that negative stimuli.
Positive punishment is when a negative stimulus is presented to the dog after the behavior. This discourages and decreases the negative behavior. Negative punishment is the removal of a positive stimulus after an undesired behavior. Negative punishment is the only idea of Operant conditioning that can't really be applied to the way that dogs learn. Negative punishment usually involves the removal of a privilege of some kind in response to an unwanted behavior.
The closest instance in which negative punishment is used in dog training is when a dog displaying aggressive behaviors is no longer allowed on the furniture, has to eat their meals after everyone else, and other ideas in line with those. While this helps to curb aggressive behavior, it is not due to the dog's understanding that the loss of privileges was a result of the unwanted behavior. Instead, the dog displays less aggressive behaviors because they are being forced into a less dominant role in the household in which they need to be submissive and therefor stop displaying some of those key dominant aggression tendencies.
Now that we understand all of the main ways in which dogs learn, we can really begin to understand why "NO" doesn't work. I should note here that anytime we correct our animals it is not from a place of emotion or anger. We are coaches to our furry family members and when they are displaying behaviors that we don't approve of it is our job to help them understand what the correct behavior is, not to punish them with anger or emotion.
I will start this explanation by saying that many of the lessons that we would like our dogs to learn can only be achieved through CONSISTENCY. You will notice that this is a trend in dog training. Dogs really do learn primarily through conditioning, so if they don't always get the same stimulus to a behavior then they will have a difficult time understanding what it is that they should be doing. This will lead us into the concept of "marking". Marking is the use of a sound that is associated directly with either accomplishing the correct behavior or preforming a behavior that is unwanted or simply not what we asked for. This is what we see in the use of clicker training. The sound of the clicker is used as marker for accomplishing the desired task in the same way the ringing a bell every time food is presented creates an association with classic conditioning.
Similarly, I use a sharp "CH CH" to mark when an undesired behavior is present. Every time that a dog doesn't respond to a command I follow it with a "CH CH" to let them know that they are not doing what I asked. I then make them preform the desired behavior that I asked for. This only works if the "CH CH" is used consistently every time an undesired behavior is displayed AND the "CH CH" sound has been "marked" as a negative stimulus. We mark the "CH CH" sound as a negative stimulus through classic conditioning. An example of this would be giving a dog a "wait" command at a door and then every time they tried to go through it before they had been invited the door was shut in their face along with the "CH CH" sound. Another example of this could be seen if you were using a squirt bottle to train a dog not to jump up on people. If you gave an "off" command and the dog continued to jump you could squirt them with the water at the same time you made the "CH CH" sound. Through classic conditioning they learn that the "CH CH" means they have done something undesirable.
Now this is when we can introduce the real reasons that "NO" is usually pretty ineffective. Most people are using "NO" in place of a command. When you do this the dog doesn't learn what it is actually SUPPOSED to be doing. "NO" may become a sort of marker like "CH CH", but without an actual command in place they will never know what you are asking of them before hand and will only get corrected instead of trained. Imagine if half of the time you were allowed on the couch and half of the time you weren't. You are in a foreign country where you don't speak the same language as those around you. You have come to understand that when a local person says "PIZZA" it means you've done something wrong because you get whacked for it. You randomly have people yelling "PIZZA" and whacking you when you sit on the couch, but occasionally then don't and appear happy that you decided to sit on the couch with them. It would be impossible for you to learn when you were allowed to sit on the couch and when you weren't.
We don't want our dogs to have the same problem. Instead, if you were in the same situation again and you understood that "PIZZA" meant you had done something wrong, and every time you approached the couch and the people on it said "BUBBLE GUM" and then proceeded with the "PIZZA" if you sat on the couch you would begin to understand that approaching the couch and hearing "BUBBLE GUM" meant that you weren't welcome to sit down. Similarly, if every time you approached the couch and the people on it said "PIKACHU" and when you proceeded to sit on the couch they were nice to you, you would begin to understand that "PICACHU" meant you were welcome to sit down.
This is why "NO" doesn't work in place of a command. Instead when your dog does something they aren't supposed to, such as getting up and moving when you have put them in a place they are supposed to stay, you would say "stay" and then move away and if they moved from that position they would get the "CH CH" and put back in the place they were supposed to stay. This enables them to learn what they are actually supposed to be doing because if you command them to "stay" and they don't move there is never a negative stimulus. The "NO" stimulus or "CH CH" sound can function as a positive punishment, but cannot function in teaching them what to do and when you want them to do it. If you say "OFF" when they aren't allowed on the couch and they proceed to get on the couch you can say "NO" or "CH CH" (depending on which you prefer) and move them back off of the couch. As a double reinforcement you could praise them for not getting on the couch when the "OFF" command is delivered. You can use this in reverse when a "YOU'RE INVITED" command is used in the same situation. This will train your dog to understand what you want of them instead of just teaching them that they randomly get in trouble.
This concept can be applied to all aspects of dog training. So, lets try to set ourselves and our dogs up for success by always saying what we would like them to do, and then correcting them if they fail to execute the desired behavior. When our dogs are barking too much, instead of yelling "NO" and then, we can command "HUSH" and if they don't, then reinforce it with a marker. Training in this way will speed up the training process and keep your dog, and yourself from becoming frustrated.
As always, thank you for reading and feel free to share!
DISCLAIMER: All of this information is opinion, and not proven fact. It is encouraged that you do further research and decide which training techniques you would like to use in your own household. Pawsitive Speak Dog Training and MacKenzie Ryle cannot be held liable for any damages associated with use of the advise on this blog.