What does the word no mean anyway? Does it have a single, clear meaning? Or, do we use it to convey a wide degree of emotion?
No, don't do that right now. No, don't do that ever. No, I don't want to play with you now. No, how could you? No, don't chew on that. No, don't jump on me in my good clothes. No, get off the furniture. No, don't knock over the children. No, you can't have that. No, there's no more dinner. No, I won't buy you that. No, I don't like that. No walk today.
To a dog, each of those is a very different situation. How is he supposed to know that the word no means all of them and more? Most of the time, the dog doesn't understand what he did to upset you, he only knows that you are often upset and when you get upset, you yell this strange word no at him.
Dogs that are stressed, frustrated and confused are physiologically unable to focus on learning, so it is not an ideal time to try to teach them something new. The more the dog hears no and stays in this state, the less you will be able to teach him.
When dogs have a clear understanding of what we expect, they can make choices about their behaviors. The behaviors the dog was showing before out of stress, frustration, and confusion, will no longer be relevant and will be replaced by the new behaviors of a relaxed and secure dog. Dogs want to do what will bring them pleasant feelings. Feeling relaxed and secure are pleasant feelings.
When we see more behaviors that we like, we will have more reasons to let our dogs know how much we appreciate these behaviors. Having a happy, relaxed human who reinforces their choices is a pleasant feeling that the dog will try to attain. This creates a much prettier cycle! And a win-win for us and our dogs!
There will certainly be times when we need to stop our dogs from doing behaviors that are unsafe or inappropriate. But yelling no will very seldom solve the problem at hand. It is much quicker to go to the dog and interrupt the behavior than to stand there helplessly yelling no over and over again. If it is a behavior that is likely to happen again, decide what you want your dog to do instead in that situation and take the time to teach it. It will make your life so much easier in the long run, and both you and your dog will be much happier.
So, my answer for those people who want to know how to tell their dog no? Tell your dog yes instead!