The value of "No"

Okay, so it’s not what you think. Last year I wrote about not using the word no because it is ambiguous and doesn’t really tell the dogs what you’d like them to do. This has nothing to with using the word ‘no’ during training and everything to do with teaching dogs that they won’t always get what they want in life.

Last weekend I was at Target and I saw a young mother with two kids, the youngest was pouting like Tom Brady after losing the Superbowl because she wasn’t allowed to get some toy. The mom was getting irritated with the child, “Y’know what, I’m done. You are a spoiled brat and need to knock it off. You cannot have everything you want, deal with it!!” I didn’t want to eavesdrop so I moved on and couldn’t make out the rest, but she continued to chastise the pouting grumpy kid (who was probably 8 years old). I saw them again on my way out and little miss pouty was happily carrying the toy she had been coveting. This mother was so irritated that her child was “spoiled brat” but what did she do but reinforce her child’s pouting and carrying on by giving her what she wanted. If she had stuck to her guns she may have sent a clear message to her child about pouting/whining/crying NOT getting her what she wanted…but instead she taught her child that if she whines long enough, cries loud enough, or makes a big enough scene that she will get what she wants.

So, what does that story have to do with dog training? Well, I think there are certainly dogs who act like spoiled brats (because their bratty behavior has been reinforced so f1requently) and that it’s something that is easy to prevent. Bratty behavior in dogs can run the gambit from mildly annoying (barking 5 minutes before dinner time) to seriously problematic if not addressed. (like leash reactivity).

I think it is so very important for puppy (and dog) handlers to periodically not allow their dog to do something they want or to have something they want. If dogs are used to always getting what they want, when they want it, it’s very easy for the dog to start throwing tantrums when they don’t get what they want. This is definitely something you want to avoid because many times what this starts to resemble is a reactive display. So this isn’t about verbalizing “no” to your dog but simply denying them something they want on occasion and being sure not to reward demanding behavior.

Here are some tips to prevent raising a bratty dog

**Socializing your pup is very important but you do not want to set up ritual our routine with your dog that he/she gets to meet and greet every dog or person he/she sees (especially if the puppy is pulling toward the other dog/person). Sometimes saying, “nope, not today” is just as valuable as saying “let’s go say hi.” This is one of the reasons I like taking training classes because dog/puppy learns that there are times when they are not permitted to play with other dogs or to even greet them.

**Be mindful not to reward pushy or demanding behavior. If your dog is demand barking at you around dinner time or to go for a walk, don’t reinforce them with what they want until they are no longer demanding it.

**Start It’s Yer Choice impulse control work to teach your dog that being pushy does not get them what they want. Build a strong reinforcement history for impulse control rather than impulsive behaviors.

**Use some type of learn-to-earn or Nothing In Life Is Free protocol. Instead of just getting what they want, teaching them to earn their resources can help prevent the bratty demanding behavior.

  1. It saddens me that not only did this mom cave and reinforce bad behavior on the part of her child, she was being abusive verbally by calling the girl a “spoiled brat” and berating her for her behavior… when it was created by her mother (and maybe other guidance figures in her life) in the first place. To understand “appropriate” behavior, a child or dog must be TAUGHT what is appropriate. Not teaching them this, and then punishing- even if through scolding- when they have no understanding of what they should be doing instead, is confusing and potentially damaging.

    This is a very good topic, I’m glad you blogged about it.

  2. Love it! So important for all learning creatures — especially children.

    I have been asking Elli to ask for permission (via sitting/looking at me) to go sniff when she wants to instead of pulling toward whatever it is that is so attractive in the grass over yonder. Definitely makes a huge difference in the atmosphere of our training walks. šŸ™‚

  3. This is so true, and a valuable lesson that should be taught to all children and dogs (and some adults too) šŸ™‚

  4. I literally laughed out loud at your Tom Brady analogy. šŸ˜‰

    Excellent post. Really, really spot on. I’m dealing with the fallout of not saying “No” with the Pupster right now. Whenever she sees someone or another dog, she instantly thinks “Play time!” She’s making improvement, but I just wish she’d been told “no” when she were younger.

  5. Great post! And yeah, I think a lot of people would benefit from employing this same strategy with their kids!

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