What is the most useless word in dog training? Could it be endlessly calling your dog’s name as they run off in the park in hot pursuit of a squirrel? Is it when you yell at your dog to ‘leave it’ as you hold them back from lunging after every child, dog or leaf that they see? Is it when you are chasing your dog around the room shouting ‘drop’ as they run in circles with the TV remote?
If you are having the problems above, the words you are using are unfortunately of little meaning to your dog. However, I would not say these qualify for the most utterly useless word in dog training. This is a word common to the everyday language of the average dog owner. A word repeatedly used at all different times and in all different situations. A word that you will commonly hear at the park, the vets and anywhere there are owners and their dogs. A word often used out of frustration, embarrassment and concern.
Have you guessed it?
It’s the word ‘No’. But before you recoil in horror and perhaps a little panic (I mean how can you train a dog without the word no??) consider the following.
From a dog training perspective, the word ‘No’ does not convey any information to your dog as to what you would like him or her to do.
For example, if my dog jumps up and I tell him ‘No’ I have not actually told him what it is I would like him to be doing instead. The only thing I have told my dog is that I’m cross with him, causing enough frustration or anxiety in some dogs that they will actually jump up more. Even if my dog stops jumping up this time they will likely jump up the next time and every other time after that. Not knowing what else to do the dog simply continues to perform their natural greeting behaviour.
If I ask my dog for a ‘Sit’ every time he greets me I have instructed my dog with exactly what I want him to do. In addition, if only rewarded with attention when sitting and not jumping up with a bit of patience almost any dog can be taught to sit for polite greetings.
So let’s go back to that recall. My dog has taken a very leisurely approach to returning when I’ve called him on a walk. Feeling annoyed and a bit embarrassed I shout at my dog when he returns. Now think about it from the dog’s point of view. When I come back to my owner, I get told off. Therefore in order to avoid this telling off, it is better to stay away from my owner especially when there are lots more fun things out there I could be doing! Of course, there are other factors that impact on the success of training. Including increasing difficulty too quickly and circumstances where owners have unrealistic expectations. You are not going to recall your dog mid squirrel chase (remember Fenton and those deer anyone?) but you do have a good chance of recalling your dog if you spot that squirrel first.
There are now well known humane and successful methods of achieving dog training goals that are easy for most owners to achieve. There’s no need to shout ‘leave it’ as you hold your dog back from lunging or ‘drop’ as you try and wrestle that TV remote out of your dog’s mouth.
A good dog trainer can help teach a range of obedience exercises without relying on punishment.
So if you find yourself at the end of your tether spending all your time yelling at your dog and telling them ‘No’ perhaps it’s time start focusing on what it is you actually want your dog to be doing. The behaviours you train are after all the behaviours your dog will perform.
Tamsin is a qualified animal behaviourist having obtained an MSc in Clinical Animal Behaviour from Lincoln University in 2013. In 2017 Tamsin started running Puppy School classes in Solihull, having received tutor training from renowned author, dog trainer and canine behaviourist Gwen Bailey. Prior to running Puppy School Solihull Tamsin spent over two years working at Dog’s Trust gaining valuable experience in caring for and training a wide variety of rescue dogs. In 2014 Tamsin and her husband adopted their own rescue dog, Milo, with whom Tamsin has worked successfully to reduce his reactivity towards other dogs. In addition to dog training, Tamsin enjoys writing articles and resources on the topic of dog behaviour for both professionals and dog owners.