The power of “no” and the power to protect
Harley just went back to Whistler BC after finishing his boarding here. We just finished a lesson with his lovely owners, who came here after an epic flight back from Europe. We went over something in the lesson that l like to talk a little bit about here. In order for Harley to feel safe and stop reacting, he needs to believe that his human can absolutely take care of the situations for him. This is about trust. There is a part of trust that is not often talked about, which happens to be the missing piece of the puzzle with Harley. This missing piece is what l call the “power of no”. We can build trust and confidence by teaching a dog the “power of no”. This is specially useful for a fearful and anxious dog like Harley. Many people think saying “no” to a fearful dog will make it worse. But it is not true at all. Nowadays, trainers are afraid to talk about “no” because they don’t want to be attacked. So, they talk a lot about “the power of yes” but never talk about “the power of no”. But the truth is, the “power of no” is very important. Imagine you were a little boy in school. You are always late. You never hand in your homework. You are a big trouble maker. Many of your classmates and parents have complained about you, you know you are doing something wrong - but the school has never been able to make you stop. They try a lot of things but nothing really works. The teachers are very nice to you despite how often you get in trouble, and you like them a lot. But you also know that you can pretty much get away with anything with these teachers. One day, a new student comes and he is a terrible bully. He is very mean to you from the first moment he sees you, and it is getting out of control. You feel really miserable. Because your teacher has never been successful in stopping you from doing something inappropriate to other students, you will not expect the same teacher to know how to stop the situation - how can they stop this bully who is 10 times worse than you when they could never even stop you? Although you know your teachers are nice to you, although you like them a lot; you will never trust them as someone who can protect you and keep you safe. Everything that you have seen has told you they are pretty useless in saying “no”. You feel really anxious and you are scared of going to school. Once in school, you go into high alert and you try to look really mean hoping it will intimidate the bully from approaching you. When we cannot make a dog stop something inappropriate, we are like the teachers who do not have “the power of no”. Our dog may like us a lot but he will not trust us. - If you can never stop me from doing something bad to you - how can you ever stop someone else from doing something bad to me? - If you can never stop me from barking and lunging at the other dog, how can you ever stop some other dog from lunging and barking at me? If we do not know how to convince our dog to trust us, our dog will have no choice but try his best to protect himself, and he will feel very stressed and frustrated. In order to alleviate the stress and frustration of our dog, we need to convince the dog that we are able to stop inappropriate behaviour very effectively so we can prove to our dog that we are worthy of his trust. When l said “inappropriate behaviour”, l was not only talking about the big offences. I was not only talking about biting, attacking, or things like that. I was also referring to the little every day moments. For example, when your dog knows he is not supposed to pull but he pulls like a donkey anyway, can you stop him? When you ask your dog to come but he goes the other way, can you stop him? When you ask your dog to sit but he walks away instead, can you stop him? Can you stop these behaviour and make him do what he know he is supposed to - every single time? Can you do it calmly but assertively? Why is this important you ask? What does this have to do with stopping a dog from attacking another dog? Well, if you can’t even stop your own dog from doing something simple, do you think your dog will believe that you are capable of stopping a scary big dog from attacking him? You need to be able to stop your dog from doing something inappropriate consistently. When you can, you have “the power of no”, and you will have a dog who trusts and respects you. That is why daily structure is so important. We cannot say no if there is nothing to say no to. Without structure, everything goes so there is nothing to say no to. On the other hand, when we have rules and boundaries, we can reward with yes and correct with no. When the dog knows your “no” is really powerful, he will perceive you as someone with “the power of no”, and he will trust you as someone with the power to protect him. That is why “the power of no” is very important.