The Power of ‘YES’

When we moved into our new enrichment facility in Phoenix, we realized immediately that our neighbors had several dogs. We didn’t hear barking, squeaky toys or grown men talking like little girls asking ‘Who’s a good boy?’ we kept hearing people shouting ‘NO!’ over and over again. It became a bit of an obsession to see how often I heard the word ‘No’ without ever hearing the word ‘yes’.  That is a lot of lost opportunity to give valuable feedback about what you LIKE about your dog and what behavior you would like them to do.

There are arguably hundreds of behaviors we DO NOT want our dogs to do (don’t dig, don’t get in the trash, don’t take baby’s toys) but there are many behaviors that we DO want our dogs to do (do go potty outside, do settle while we watch TV, do sit politely for dinner). There are also a lot of behaviors our dogs do naturally that we like (sitting quietly, playing with their favorite ball, chewing calmly on a favorite chew toy). Wouldn’t it be nicer to “catch” our dogs being good and let them know we like what they are doing? Don’t we prefer it when someone tells us what a good job we did instead of berating us for substandard work then not tell us what we did wrong? That would be a difficult way to learn, for sure.

So while it is easy to say ‘no’ when your dog barks too much, has an accident inside, digs up your garden bed, etc. find opportunity to catch them doing things you like whether it is being quiet, walking nicely, or digging in the sandbox you made for him. This positive feedback is more valuable for your dog and certainly feels much better to you. If your dog does something you don’t like, Instead of over-using the word ‘NO’, think about what you would like him to do instead, an alternative behavior, and work towards training him or reinforcing for that “good” behavior instead of yelling and punishing “bad” behavior. If your dog jumps on guests, teach him to sit politely instead. Turn a ‘no’ into an opportunity for ‘yes’.

We recently added a puppy to our family and of course there are a lot of ‘nos’ that come along with that. We were very conscious about quickly saying ‘yes!’ when she made a good choice.

She is clearly much more receptive to that word, our body language, tone of voice, etc. The whole family has become almost automatic now when we see her doing something we like. She doesn’t necessarily have to be choosing “good” over “evil” like debating whether she should poop outside or in the kitchen… But when she is doing something that calms her, is cute and entertaining, or something we would like to see more of we all make a point of telling her what a good girl she is. She responds to this and this will have an impact on her in her future and with her future choices.

So I challenge all of you: tonight, catch your dog doing something GOOD. Something you LIKE. Eating his dinner, playing gently with your kids, walking nicely on a leash, or even just sitting next to you enjoying your company. Tell your dog what a good boy or girl he or she is. This is very important, positive feedback to give to your dog. Reinforce behaviors you like and you will see more and more of these in the future. Focusing on the positive and less on the ‘negative’ will also help you appreciate those wonderful moments that remind us why we all choose to have dogs in our lives in the first place.