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Discussion Starter #1
I've heard it said (here and elsewhere) that dogs don't understand the use of the word "no", so we should always teach them what we DO want them to do instead of what we DON'T want them to do.

I would like to know why people say this. I've heard that they don't understand it because it's an abstract concept and that it's non-specific, but I'd like to know why people think that dogs can't understand an abstract or non-specific command. What's evidence is this belief based on?

To be honest and in the interest of full disclosure, I believe that my dogs absolutely know what 'no' means, just as they know what 'sit' means and what 'quiet' means. And my intent is to challenge the idea that dogs aren't capable of understanding the concept of "no". :)

When I'm cooking, I quite frequently drop something on the floor and my dogs will eat it. Today, I dropped a juicy chunk of onion and as soon as I did, I said "no" and the dogs didn't move from where they were lying, even though they wanted the tasty morsel and stared at it until I picked it up. So, in my book, they did understand that they were being asked to refrain from exercising their innate response to food on the floor and all four of them obeyed.

So, if I'm wrong, what DID they understand? Because I think "no" is like a stop sign. Whatever they're about to do or ARE doing, I'm telling them to stop.

I'd really like to hear from everyone; those of you who use the command "no" and those of you who hold the belief that dogs don't understand the concept of "no".

I've been curious about this for years and have never gotten an answer that makes sense to me, so I'd really appreciate your thoughts on the matter.
 

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From my experience most dog guardians use "no" to warn the dog that punishment is coming - at some point the guardian will enforce "no" with aversion. So really what the dog is learning is how to avoid punishment, not that his previous behavior isn't preferred. Example, owner absent, dog still does unwanted behavior.

The dog can't learn no = no chew, no pee, no eat, no chase - the use of "no" in this example is indiscriminate. Your dog learns sit because "sit" is reinforced upon one discriminate behavior. A stop sign has one universal meaning. If we're indiscriminately using no to stop many different behaviors, how could the dog learn what behavior that is? Ever tried to get a sit by telling your dog "no" when he's standing?

Honestly, we don't have a clue what the dog understands in our cues, all we can understand is the observed behavior (is it what we want or not); it's very easy to be fooled that a dog understands the concepts in our English. doG forbid I ever import a dog from a country with a different language. However, I don't believe it is necessary to guess at what the dog is thinking. So, we employ the law of parsimony, and keep training.
 

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Dogs aren't born understanding what "no" means. Dogs are born speaking dog, not english. Although, most learn over time that "no" means something bad for them. And then, dogs only learn what WE teach them "no" means. For instance, my dogs know that "no" means "that's not right. Try again." Not that they've done something bad. Because when they're in trouble I don't use "no." Heck, you could use the word "banana" when your dog is bad and eventually the dog will know that "banana" means they're in trouble lol.
 

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I don't mean this to sound snotty... really!

But I want to say, "Who cares if dogs know what it means, as long as it works!" and that's how I feel.

If I say, "No, Rigby" my dog stops doing whatever he is doing, and waits for further instruction and/or just gives up his quest (depending on the situation). For example, if he starts to get off the bed right now, I could say, "No. Stay." to let him know I want him to remain there. Or, if he starts to reach for my Hot Pocket, I could say "No" and he would stop.

That said, I DO think we should teach dogs what to do, instead of what NOT to do, but I think it is extreme to suggest we should never tell a dog, "No/Stop/Enough" or any other such word.
 

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I am not a dog expert. What I do know is that my dogs seem to understand what I mean when I say NO. Example: The dogs always try to bring stuff from outside whenever they come in the house or when they want to bring their inside toys outside. I tell them NO and they drop whatever they have in their mouth before they step inside/outside. There are other things they do that I almost always use NO. :D One of which is NO LICKING MOMMY's ears.
 

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In your examples, Foyerhawk, if you are telling your dog, "No. Stay," why not just tell him to "Stay," or "Wait"? If he is reaching for something you don't want him to reach for or have instead of saying, "No," why not be more clear and tell him to "Leave it"? If you insist on using No, does that mean you want your dog to stop moving (stay) with his mouth open over the Hot Pocket if that's what he's doing in the moment you say No?
 

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I've learn if you say to many words may confuse the dog. If you say a word that is QUICK and not to many syllables that dog will catch on. Most command we use are either one or two syllables. Anyhow dogs do not know English, Spanish, Greek they're taught what we have trained them, like what Cheetah said if you use the word Banana instead of No the dog will catch up think Banana means the dog did something bad
 

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Ever tried to get a sit by telling your dog "no" when he's standing?
Yes. And it worked. It was during sit-stay training.

He was sitting - he stood up, I said no and he sat back down.

He lied down - I said no. He got back in sit position.


"No" means go back to what you were doing before to him. I don't know or care how he came up with that, just I don't know how he came up with the pawing my leg from learning how to paw target or touching my leg with his nose, after he's done pottying/sniffing. I just take it and run with it. I may ask out of curiosity, but I don't look nature's gifts in the mouth. :)
 

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The problem is not so much that dogs don't understand "no" as it is that "no" doesn't permanently change a dog's behavior. You can say "no" every time a dog does something you don't like, but until you teach it what you DO like, it's going to keep trying that behavior. You can't just say "No, don't jump on people." You have to say, "No, don't jump on people. Yes, sit quietly and wait to be petted."
 

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Yes. And it worked. It was during sit-stay training.

He was sitting - he stood up, I said no and he sat back down.

He lied down - I said no. He got back in sit position.
And some dogs bark, and some dogs roll on their back, and some dogs pee on themselves...and all these dogs know "sit" means sit.

I don't question dogs will work for reinforcement. I question, and haven't found enough evidence to conclude a dog knows "no".

Now try another experiment...while you're dog is sitting, say "no", what does he do? If he doesn't start running around in circles barking at the moon and dive into belly flop, he doesn't know what this "no" meant.

Some dogs are creative enough to do exactly that, but I wouldn't confuse a dog's creativity in gaining reinforcement for an understanding of "no".
 

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No, if he was reaching for a hot pocket, I would just say, "no"

They were two separate examples. But, we are also discussing a dog with the dignity of royalty, and absolutely no behavior issues. We have long since worked out what words mean to us :)
 

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Dogs seem capable of binary computing. Yes = that; No = not that.

The problem with "no" (especially with a puppy) is that it becomes an all purpose word, and eventually signifies nothing. Watch somebody chasing a 10 week old puppy around, and if you put the commentary to music it would sound like the opening bars of Land of a Thousand Dances.

It's generally better to teach a dog something vs. not something, but the latter works for some things.
 

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I guess in order to truly conclude a dog knows "no", he'd have to understand what we wanted in the next progression of a behavior. For example, if a dog was in down and we said "no" he should sit. If we said "no" again, he should stand. If we said "no" again, he should walk. If we said "no" again, he should run. If we said "no" again, he should fly? I don't know how he we know we wanted to go back to down though.

You can train in all these behaviors upon separate cues, but I've never seen a dog demonstrate this ability...to take in enough information from one cue to know what progression in the behavior we ultimately want.

Heck, do kids even know what "no" means? I've never seen a parent tell their child "no you can't have a lollipop", and the kid try patience. The kid usually chooses screaming and crying, because sometimes that works. The dog will do what works too. If allowed to try another behavior works, he'll do that. Does that mean he knows "no"? If acting submissive works to avoid punishment, the dog will do that too. Does that mean he knows "no"?

It would be difficult to prove these things over simpler explanations for the occurrence.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
The problem is not so much that dogs don't understand "no" as it is that "no" doesn't permanently change a dog's behavior.
I don't use it to permanently change his behavior. I use it as an interrupter. I understand being against a person yelling, "Bruno, No! No! No! Stop it"! at every behavior, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about using it to give the dog information.

"No" is not a command like "sit". It's information that I'm relaying to the dog, whether it means "that's not it, try again" or "don't eat that pill I just dropped on the floor" or "stop biting your sister's neck". Those aren't specific commands like "sit" and "wait", but it's still information I'm passing to the dog to let him know what is acceptable or "right".

And those who are talking about other languages and such, that's not the issue. I know I could say "banana" instead of "no" and the dog would learn what "banana" meant. And I'm not suggesting dogs understand English. But I'm talking about the dog's understanding of the concept of "stop doing that" or "don't do that" without being told something else to do.

Now try another experiment...while you're dog is sitting, say "no", what does he do?
That doesn't make sense. If you were sitting on the couch and your friend approached and said "No" what would YOU do? Does that mean you don't understand the concept of the word no? Of course not. Nobody is talking about using it as a command by itself. It has to be taken in context. If you reached for the remote and your friend said, "No", you'd stop. Just like the dogs do. That's what I'm talking about. The use of the word as an interrupter to stop a dog from doing something.

It's generally better to teach a dog something vs. not something, but the latter works for some things.
I agree. But my curiosity and challenge is for those who say that dogs don't understand the concept of "no". I think they do.

I have a question. For those of you are against the use of the word "no" when dealing with dogs, what do you say to a dog who's making a play for the onion I just dropped on the floor? The kitchen is filled with the aroma of homemade beef and vegetable soup (and I'm a dynamite cook) and I have given them a few tasty bites of slow-roasted beef and raw carrots during the morning... The piece of onion slips out of my hand and rolls over to within 4 inches of the dog's mouth. What do you do? Or say?
 

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That doesn't make sense. If you were sitting on the couch and your friend approached and said "No" what would YOU do?
This is my friend? There isn't a snake under my foot on the next step? I'd likely run and jump in their lap. Did I pass? Strangely, this is what a lot of dogs do.

Does that mean you don't understand the concept of the word no?
Short of any other informative antecedents, I absolutely would not know what my friend's "no" meant. I'd have to guess at my friends intentions. I, being of the same species and somewhat intelligent would likely guess right...this doesn't prove your point. How am I suppose to know "no" meant "no approach"? What if she meant 'no noise' or 'no breath'? Just because the word is in your description does not mean I have the slightest idea what my friend's "no" meant...short of any other informative antecedents.

If "no" just means 'do something else', why aren't we telling the dog to do that something else? I have a feeling the answer has to do more with human nature than what the dog is capable of learning. *shrug*

I have a question. For those of you are against the use of the word "no" when dealing with dogs, what do you say to a dog who's making a play for the onion I just dropped on the floor?
Have I taught the dog "leave it"? If so "leave it" = mouth does not touch object, a specific behavior. If I haven't taught "leave it", I'll manage the situation before hand, by crating the dog. If I haven't thought of crating the dog, I'll step on the onion so that the dog doesn't have access to it.
 

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Whether dog understands "no" as we understand it as adult human beings, again I ask if it matters :) If your dog does what you want when you say "no" and is conditioned to respond to it in a way which pleases you, then what is wrong with saying the word?
 

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Discussion Starter #19 (Edited)
CP - You were making the point of the dog just sitting there and the owner saying "no" to it. Of course he doesn't know what that means and neither would you if you were sitting and someone said it to you. But if you were reaching for the remote and someone said, "no", you WOULD know what they meant. Just like the dog does. The informative antecedent is in your head: "I'm going to grab the remote".

Short of any other informative antecedents, I absolutely would not know what my friend's "no" meant.
Exactly. That's my point. If your friend came over and you were so happy to see them that you hugged them hard and accidentally hurt them, if they said "Stop", you would know what they meant. And you would stop. Because the informative antecedent is the hugging. It doesn't have to be explicitly spoken. They wouldn't have to tell you, "Put your arms at your sides" to get you to stop hugging them.

How am I suppose to know "no" meant "no approach"?
You're not. Just as the dog who is just sitting there doesn't know. There has to be a context or an informative antecedent, if you will. And I'm suggesting that that can be implied without being directly spoken.

If "no" just means 'do something else', why aren't we telling the dog to do that something else?
It doesn't mean "do something else" it means "stop what you are doing". And the reason I don't tell the dog what else to do is that I don't CARE what he does. It's not my position to tell him how to redirect his behavior.

I'll manage the situation before hand, by crating the dog. If I haven't thought of crating the dog, I'll step on the onion so that the dog doesn't have access to it.
I think it's a matter, then, of my unwillingness to micromanage my dogs' actions. I'm just not willing. My dogs don't have crates and I don't believe in physically restraining them or preventing them from doing something with physical interference when a word from me will do. I guess it's all a matter of different preferences and viewpoints. Because I strive to keep physical restraints and interference out of it. I strive to control the situation with my voice.

I really think that's the difference. And it's very enlightening. So, thank you. :) From all I've read, it's not that dogs don't understand the concept, it's that some people prefer to manage or control the environment or the dog's actions, so the dog doesn't have a choice to "misbehave", and I don't have any problem with that. In fact, I do that, too, but only when I can't think of another way to deal with it. I'd MUCH rather tell the dog not to do something and let him figure out what he DOES want to do instead of me taking away the choice by telling him what to do.

My dogs do know "leave it" but it just didn't enter my brain in that second.
 

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If your dog does what you want when you say "no" and is conditioned to respond to it in a way which pleases you, then what is wrong with saying the word?
Not a darn thing, but don't take this the wrong way...it has nothing to do with what pleases you. It has to do with how dogs learn. You say no harm, no foul, but that doesn't tell us much about the dog's behavior. What pleases you may not be enough to please me with my dog's behavior.
 
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