Life Unleashed: The more you 'no,' the less they know

| Wednesday, June 11, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Let's look into the command that has plagued dog owners since the beginning of our canine co-existence. We have mastered “sit,” “stay,” “down” and “fetch,” but why can't dogs understand two simple letters — N-O — no?

It is so basic — so fundamental.

Why does such a socially intelligent species struggle to comprehend this notion?

Let's think about what “no” really means to our canine companions. When you tell your dog “no,” the intended outcome is that the misdemeanor in question is discontinued indefinitely.

So, you may follow your dog around and wait for him to attempt forbidden behaviors that you may correct.

It seems like a practical approach, but with one big problem: Your dog is not learning.

He is not learning to refrain from chewing your stilettos, jumping on the sofa or sneaking food off of the table. If anything, he is actually learning to avoid you. This is why the minute you turn your back, he likely will repeat the crime.

The main defect with correction-based training is the assumption that your dog accurately understands why you are scolding him.

Remember, dogs are not pre-programmed with an understanding of what is right or wrong.

This is an entirely human concept that we are responsible for teaching our pets. Dogs learn through reinforcement. They seek value — just like people. Their currency is food, toys, games, love and attention.

You can use your dog's currency to transfer value to yourself and inspire learning.

This is how to establish strong leadership. Contrary to what some celebrity trainers promote, intimidation, physical/verbal punishment and force are all things that decrease your leadership value.

Think about it, if your boss publicly reprimanded you each time your performance was below standard or docked your pay for not making enough copies, how long would you consider him your leader?

Excessive correction represents flawed technique on the part of the trainer.

“No” does not yield any useful information or instruction to either party.

So skip the correction and go straight for redirection. Lead your dog to do an approved behavior and reward — or, better yet, distract your dog before he misbehaves.

Not only does this improve your relationship, but teaches your dog to make better decisions independently. Remember, your dog's attitude is a direct reflection of your leadership.

Andrea J. Lamping trains dogs in the greater airport area, including Sewickley, Moon, and Robinson. She can be reached at 724-984-7829 or visit her website at

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