“No” Is Not a Conduct . . . However That is Not the Drawback with Saying It

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

Trainers recurrently work onerous to show folks options to endlessly saying “No!” to their canines. Even these of us who know the pitfalls of the behavior lapse into it every so often.

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

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

However that’s not the objection I normally 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 conduct by her canine. She had been telling her canine “No!” when he carried out the conduct. A number of folks chimed in, mentioning two associated issues: “no” will not be a conduct, 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.

The assertion that “no” doesn’t inform the canine what to do can also be true for each single verbal cue we use—we have now to train 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 conduct 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 is usually 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 train the canines. Cues don’t even need to be phrases. A cue is usually a hand on a doorknob, the sound of a automotive 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 side is usually rather more salient to us people than anything. And we are likely 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 folks that “no” will not be a conduct. That’s additionally true, however not likely related. After we say “sit,” “down,” or “lightbulb,” these aren’t behaviors both after they come out of our mouths. They’re cues. “No” will not be a conduct, nevertheless it doesn’t need to be. It simply wants to point reinforcement is out there for a conduct. 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 Drawback with No

I consider the foundation downside with “no” is that folks don’t practice it; the phrase doesn’t level to a conduct that will probably be adopted with constructive reinforcement. And if saying it doesn’t efficiently interrupt the canine, folks normally 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’re going to train a “leave-it” or an interrupter, as a result of most of us hardly ever say the phrase “no” to canines properly.

However we will. I’ve a pal 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!”

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 bit of it that evening on a plate and put it on the counter. You realize what’s coming. I rotated and Lewis was countersurfing. He had his nostril up, sniffing the dessert, about to take a chunk.

Despite the fact that I’ve taught Lewis a leave-it cue, I panicked, yelled “NO!” and clapped my fingers. 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 objective.

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 specifically 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 conduct (reorienting to me) with my saying “No!” due to different issues I skilled.

I taught him “Pas” (go away 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 conduct” when he first heard them both, however now they signify good things if he performs the conduct 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 canines who come to me, since that was what normally got here out of my mouth after I panicked about one thing that affected a canine. I even practiced it in an irritated tone, so the nice reinforcer hopefully counterconditioned my cranky tone. You’ll be able to see a demo right here. I ought to do that with Lewis as effectively.

There’s a lesson to be realized right here. The constructive 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 is usually a cue, however usually 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 canines is an effective factor. I’ve delineated the issue with it already. It labored out for me in that immediate with out fallout, however solely as a result of it resembled actual coaching I had accomplished. We’d not have been so fortunate. It might have been safer if I’d come out with one among my skilled cues. I must observe extra, or perhaps I ought to situation “No!” in addition to “Hey!”.

Not Solely a Semantic Argument

I don’t assume I ever mentioned “No!” to Zani

I assumed onerous earlier than publishing this. It could give folks the misunderstanding that I’m supporting yelling “No!”. I’m not! Or it might appear pointlessly choosy. Possibly.

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

That’s the draw back of claiming, “No will not be a conduct.” It provides to the confusion about phrases which might be each cues and verbal descriptions of behaviors. Generally cues could describe behaviors, nevertheless it’s not vital that they do.

I perceive that the statements folks make about “no” that hassle me are shortcuts. Trainers don’t normally give a lecture on discriminative stimuli when first introducing folks to R+ strategies. And it’s true that folks yelling “No!” usually are not normally 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 constructive reinforcement and get folks fascinated with constructing incompatible behaviors as an alternative of repeatedly reacting within the second.

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

However I wager there are others like me who finally wish to perceive these items about cues just a little 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 just a little of it for myself.