Dogcharmer: Tired of always saying ‘No’?

Try these tips from the Dogcharmer, and the Dog God.

Dogs like Toby can become cooperative if an owner's positive and negative responses are carefully timed. — Courtesy Tom Shelby

Hi Tom,

I am sure my dog Toby thinks his name is “Toby No!” How can I change the grumpy madwoman that I have become in Toby’s eyes? He is always doing something that I have to stop!

Have a wonderful August, Tom, with not too much humidity …


Dear El,

Love the question. I’ve said it a thousand times, “Half the dogs I meet think their name is ‘No — Bad Dog.” Initially, the voice intonation you use is more important than the words. Say it sweetly and lovingly, and your dog will be wagging her tail as you call her a piece of dirt. Tell her “I love you,” harshly and she won’t be “feeling the love.” That’s why you don’t want to use Toby’s name harshly, or in conjunction with negativity. You want Toby to always come when you call his name. You want his name associated with your love and positivity.

When it comes to the four-leggeds, “No” is not part of my vocabulary. I say “Uh-uh.” The split second the unwanted behavior stops, immediate praise. I often say, “Thank you, good girl” to my Paula Jean. But here’s where the timing is critical. I may be saying “thank you, uh-uh, thank you, uh-uh” five times. Let’s say Toby starts chewing on a carpet edge and you say “Uh-uh” and he stops for three seconds as you’re saying “thank you,” or “good boy,” and a second later you’re back to “uh-uh” because he started chewing it again — and so on. The key is that Toby puts together that you’re unhappy when he’s chewing on the carpet, and happy when he stops. What Toby will read just as well as your voice intonation will be your body language. If Toby’s looking, your face is clearly unhappy-looking when he hears “Uh-uh,” and smiling on the “thank you.” A half-puffed-up step toward him on the “Uh-uh” will add to the strength of the negative words. Time the positive and negative responses perfectly, and watch his mind expand with comprehension. When he doesn’t expect it, 10 times a day call Toby to come and give him a small treat and praise when he arrives. It’s a very easy way to get a real cooperative dog.

Instead of saying “Toby, no,” I’d also suggest a “Leave it” command. When he’s sniffing something you want him to ignore, you tell him, “Leave it,” and a split-second later something startles him. “Something” can be a little plastic ultrasound device that when you push a button emits an ultrasound that startles and annoys a lot of dogs. I met a lady who uses a small boat horn that’s way over the top. Her dog practically screwed itself through the ceiling when she blew it.

Then there’s what I call the “Dog God” principle. It’s for when you leave the TV room with the cookies on the coffee table. As far as Toby is concerned, the cookies are fair game, as there’s nobody around to say “Leave it.” But El, set up a mirror that enables you to see the coffee table with the cookies without being in the room. As soon as Toby is sniffing the cookies, El, push the button on the remote, causing Toby to be startled by the sound or vibration or electric stim on the e-collar he loves and is wearing. He loves the collar because he was taught to love it by being given a treat every time it’s put on. I’d suggest that the cookies on the coffee table are in a Tupperware container with lots of small holes for the scent to draw him, without his being able to self-reward by getting any of the cookies. Electric stim has to be carefully considered based on the sensitivity of the dog, and the intensity of the behavior to be stopped.

Toby will learn that even if El is not around, the Dog God knows what he’s doing, and will tell him so.

Give Toby a kiss for me,
Dogcharmer Tom

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