A few weeks ago, I was teaching a Beginning Manners class for adult dogs. I said to the human students, “I love dogs who say ‘No.'” The students looked at me doubtfully, and I continued, “Just like with your children: you want them to be able to say ‘No.'” Expectedly, I got a laugh and even an eye roll. Who wants their children or pets to refuse what is asked of them? I know it sounds strange to want your dogs to say “No” to you, yet recognizing and respecting it will help you become a better pet parent. Dogs who say No are a good thing.
It is no secret that in any relationship, communication is key. Just as you want your dog to understand you, it is equally significant to understand your dog. Especially because much of a dog’s communication comes to us through body language. The eyes, mouth ears, and tail can tell you a lot about what they are thinking. I love artist Lili Chin’s posters that can help people identify different communication signals. You can find them at her website at: http://www.doggiedrawings.net/educational
When training, I sometimes see a dog tell me through his body language that he is uncomfortable doing what I’ve asked him to do. I am always grateful for that communication and I want to work with a dog who can tell me, “No,” and knows I will listen to him.
If I am walking a pup and he stops and does not want to go any further, that is a clear, “No.” Forcing a dog to keep moving when he doesn’t want to can damage trust, as well as the dog’s confidence. Do you enjoy being forced to do something you don’t want to? Does any animal? So, accept the refusal of the behavior and try to understand why the dog won’t move forward. Is there something frightening around? Does he not want to go home? Does he not want to go on a walk? Even if you don’t know the answer, focus on encouragement, rather than force. Therefore, a calm attitude and tone of voice, accompanied by high-value treats, can help the pup feel comfortable enough to continue walking.
If I am training a behavior like Roll Over, I will watch for a “No.” A dog may refuse to do the behavior because it hurts him. Or maybe he just doesn’t understand the behavior or how to do it. Or, it’s a challenging behavior and I need to increase the value of my treats. Regardless, I appreciate the opportunity to either change the scenario, if possible, or change my expectations, if needed. I am glad that he is giving me the information he can. Then, I am able to consider what will help him say, “Yes.”
As a result, I really do love when a dog can tell me, “No.” It means I need to try things differently and not push blindly ahead. It means I need to take a moment to reconsider what I am asking of him. It means I need to rethink my goals and create new ones. Truly, a dog’s “No” is an opportunity. A dog’s “No” is clear communication.
Lynn Webb, M.A., KPA CTP, CTMT