“No” Is Not a Habits . . . However That is Not the Downside with Saying It

Lewis, a brown and white dog, is lying on a leather couch holding a snuffle mat between his paws. He is looking at the camera.

I don’t suppose this publish goes to win a reputation contest, however right here goes anyway. I can’t get it off my thoughts.

Trainers frequently work laborious to show individuals options to endlessly saying “No!” to their canine. Even these of us who know the pitfalls of the behavior lapse into it on occasion.

However I appear to disagree with many others about what precisely these pitfalls are.

Right here’s why I feel yelling “No!” is a nasty thought: most people who find themselves doing it haven’t taught it as a cue for a habits skilled with optimistic reinforcement. It finally ends up as an aversive technique and carries all the same old potential for fallout. It depends first on a startle response. If the canine habituates, then individuals escalate the aversives.

However that’s not the objection I often hear.

The Widespread Objection to “No”

I learn it once more the opposite day, in a dialogue advising somebody who was coping with an undesirable habits by her canine. She had been telling her canine “No!” when he carried out the habits. A number of individuals chimed in, stating two associated issues: “no” is just not a habits, and saying “No!” didn’t inform the canine what he ought to do.

Each true statements. However they level to a failure in coaching, not some magical property (or lack of property) of the phrase.

Eileen is sitting on a day bed reading a book about behavior. Her three dogs are with her, doing "naughty" things like pulling trash out of a wastebasket.
A second when it might need been tempting to say, “No”

The assertion that “no” doesn’t inform the canine what to do can also be true for each single verbal cue we use—we’ve got to educate the affiliation. As an illustration, merely saying the phrase “flip round” doesn’t give the canine any details about what we wish them to do, both. A cue and a habits are two various things. We practice the latter and affiliate it with the previous.

R+ trainers generally say two issues which might be contradictory.

  1. On one hand, we inform newbies any phrase generally is a cue. That is true. “Lightbulb” can cue sit. “Resonate” can cue the canine to take a look at me. Trainers simply have to recollect them and be capable to educate the canine. Cues don’t even need to be phrases. A cue generally is a hand on a doorknob, the sound of a automobile approaching, a time of day, or the odor of vinegar. This takes some time for many of us to grasp, as a result of the language facet is usually far more salient to us people than the rest. And we are inclined to backslide. We persistently combine up the that means of the phrase with its operate as a discriminative stimulus. I talk about this in my weblog publish, “Good Sit!”
  2. However then we additionally inform those that “no” is just not a habits. That’s additionally true, however not likely related. After we say “sit,” “down,” or “lightbulb,” these aren’t behaviors both once they come out of our mouths. They’re cues. “No” is just not a habits, however it doesn’t need to be. It simply wants to point reinforcement is on the market for a habits. We don’t say {that a} hand on a doorknob or the scent of vinegar can’t be cues as a result of they aren’t canine behaviors.

Singling out “no” as uniquely meaningless isn’t logical.

The Actual Downside with No

Eileen is sitting in a chair outdoors. Her young dog Clara has put her head under the arm of the chair and is prodding Eileen's breast.
A second once I undoubtedly mentioned one thing suboptimal

I imagine the foundation downside with “no” is that individuals don’t practice it; the phrase doesn’t level to a habits that will likely be adopted with optimistic reinforcement. And if saying it doesn’t efficiently interrupt the canine, individuals often escalate. So “No!” involves predict aversive circumstances: nagging, yelling, stomping, clapping, and even bodily aversives like hitting.

Canine trainers rightly advise their shoppers to begin over and use one other phrase if they’ll educate a “leave-it” or an interrupter, as a result of most of us hardly ever say the phrase “no” to canine properly.

However we will. I’ve a good friend who practiced for ages to make use of “no” as her leave-it cue for her service canine so she might say it in a pleasing and impartial tone of voice.

Once I Yelled “No!”

Lewis, a brown and white dog, is on his hind legs, sniffing a container full of food on a counter.
A reenactment of Lewis’ countersurfing with a tempting however secure meals

Consider it or not, I yelled “No!” on the identical day I began this text, proper after I used to be pondering this entire factor.

I make a baked dessert out of oatmeal, egg whites, almond butter, dried cranberries, and darkish chocolate. A lot of darkish chocolate. I warmed a chunk of it that night time on a plate and put it on the counter. You recognize what’s coming. I circled and Lewis was countersurfing. He had his nostril up, sniffing the dessert, about to take a chew.

Regardless that I’ve taught Lewis a leave-it cue, I panicked, yelled “NO!” and clapped my arms. I did precisely what I’ve been describing. I yelled, hoping to startle him, and when that didn’t work immediately, I clapped, with the identical purpose.

What did Lewis do?

He didn’t cringe or cower or run away. He slid slowly down from the counter and calmly got here to me, anticipating a deal with. I gave him a handful, then I eliminated the dessert from his attain.

I haven’t skilled the phrase “no” as a cue, however I’ve skilled a number of different phrases that operate to interrupt, and he’s accustomed particularly to being known as away from the counter. So to him, it didn’t matter what I mentioned, nor, apparently, how I mentioned it. Lewis related a habits (reorienting to me) with my saying “No!” due to different issues I skilled.

I taught him “Pas” (depart it), “Excuse me,” (put all 4 paws on the bottom), and “Lewis” in a excessive, singsong tone (come right here). None of these phrases or phrases “was a habits” when he first heard them both, however now they signify great things if he performs the habits I’ve related to them. And by generalization, so did the “no.”

I used to coach “Hey!” I rigorously conditioned it to foretell nice issues for canine who come to me, since that was what often got here out of my mouth once I panicked about one thing that affected a canine. I even practiced it in an irritated tone, so the great reinforcer hopefully counterconditioned my cranky tone. You possibly can see a demo right here. I ought to do that with Lewis as properly.

There’s a lesson to be realized right here. The optimistic reinforcement-taught cue for Lewis to get down from the counter is: “The woman says one thing whereas I’ve my ft up on the counter.” Sure, any phrase generally is a cue, however typically it’s not the phrase in any respect. We people are those caught specializing in the phrases.

And naturally, I’m not suggesting that yelling “No!” to our canine is an effective factor. I’ve delineated the issue with it already. It labored out for me in that prompt with out fallout, however solely as a result of it resembled actual coaching I had performed. We’d not have been so fortunate. It might have been safer if I’d come out with one in every of my skilled cues. I have to follow extra, or possibly I ought to situation “No!” in addition to “Hey!”.

Not Solely a Semantic Argument

Zani, a small black and rust hound mix, is lying on a mat looking up at the camera. There is a big pile of pieces of something she has ripped up in front of her.
I don’t suppose I ever mentioned “No!” to Zani

I assumed laborious earlier than publishing this. It might give individuals the misunderstanding that I’m supporting yelling “No!”. I’m not! Or it might appear pointlessly choosy. Perhaps.

However my motivation is sensible. Specializing in the phrase “no” and what it means or doesn’t imply feeds into the concept cues drive habits. If we middle our argument on the phrase “no” not being a habits, we’re very near implying that phrases like “sit” and “down” are behaviors. And this could strengthen our unconscious tendency to imagine that canine robotically perceive language the best way we do.

That’s the draw back of claiming, “No is just not a habits.” It provides to the confusion about phrases which might be each cues and verbal descriptions of behaviors. Typically cues might describe behaviors, however it’s not mandatory that they do.

I perceive that the statements individuals make about “no” that hassle me are shortcuts. Trainers don’t often give a lecture on discriminative stimuli when first introducing individuals to R+ strategies. And it’s true that individuals yelling “No!” aren’t often considering of what they need the canine to do; they’re considering of what they need the canine to cease doing. So it’s nice to introduce the idea of coaching with optimistic reinforcement and get individuals enthusiastic about constructing incompatible behaviors as a substitute of repeatedly reacting within the second.

I’m not a professional coach; I don’t work with people coaching their canine daily. If telling those that “no doesn’t inform the canine what to do” helps most of them break the behavior, then nice.

However I guess there are others like me who finally wish to perceive these things about cues somewhat higher, and the claims about “no” can sluggish that down. I do know, as a result of it’s taken me 10 years to unravel even somewhat of it for myself.

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