Dog Training and Tips: How to Teach Your Dog "Yes" and "No"

Dog Training and Tips: How to Teach Your Dog Yes and No

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Use these easy training tips to help your dog learn basic commands. The two of you will be communicating well in no time.

ECAD believes that no one wakes up in the morning and says, โ€œI think I am going to do a horrible job at work today!โ€ However, there are times when we make mistakes and need guidance and redirection. This principle is the same for dogs. Your dog always has good intentions and always wants to make you happy. Itโ€™s when things are unclear that your dogโ€™s best intentions may not give you a happy reaction.

Pet parents, this lesson is focused on how you can help your dog keep you smiling.

Train-the-Trainer: Markers, Motivation, & Reinforcement

Have you ever played the โ€œHot/Coldโ€ game, where someone picks an object and by using only the words โ€œhotโ€ or โ€œcoldโ€ guides another person to their selected target?

Markers are similar. They are words used to provide motivation and reinforcement to your dog. Markers, motivation, and reinforcement are key tools to fun and successful teaching.

There are three Markers: โ€œYes,โ€ โ€œNo,โ€ and โ€œThatโ€™s It.โ€

โ€œThatโ€™s Itโ€ is a motivational tool used to communicate encouragement.

Motivation is the amount of energy needed to complete a task.

Level of Motivation: The level of motivation is specific to each dog and task.

  • Too much motivation and your dog will be distracted. (Figure 1)
  • Too little motivation and your dog will not be interested. (Figure 2)


Note: You will need to decide on the level of motivation to use based on the difficulty of the task and your dogโ€™s personality. (Figure 3)

Marker 1:

โ€œThatโ€™s Itโ€

โ€œThatโ€™s Itโ€ motivates your dog to keep trying. Say it with enthusiasm and a smile! (Warmโ€ฆwarmer).

When to use โ€“ When your dog is attempting to do the command correctly.

The markers โ€œYesโ€ and โ€œNoโ€ are reinforcement tools that verbally communicate positive and negative reinforcement.

Reinforcement is what you do WHILE the behavior is happening.

Positive Reinforcement happens while the behavior is occurring to make it rewarding.

Marker 2:


โ€œYesโ€ marks the exact moment of appropriate behavior by telling your dog โ€œYouโ€™re Right!โ€ (Hot!).

When to use โ€“ Every time your dog performs the command correctly. โ€œYesโ€ is a dramatic and excited marker always given with a smile! Do not drag it out or make it singsong like a question (โ€œYeesssss?!?โ€)

You are marking and imprinting the moment for your dog. You do not want to leave any question in their mind.

Example: You give the command to sit. At the exact moment your dogโ€™s rump touches the ground. you say โ€œYES!โ€ and smile! (Figure 4)

Negative Reinforcement happens while the behavior is occurring to make it unpleasant.

Marker 3:


โ€œNoโ€ marks the exact moment your dog is acting inappropriately. It means โ€œStop now.โ€ (Cold!).

When to use โ€“ You must catch your dog in the act in order to stop the behavior. The โ€œNO!โ€ must be stern, loud, and no nonsense. Do not drag it out or make it singsong like a question (Noooo?!?). You are marking and imprinting the moment for your dog, just like with โ€œYes.โ€ (Figure 6)

How do you know your dog interpreted the positive or negative reinforcement the way you intended?

If the behavior continues, your dog received a positive reinforcement, even if you said, โ€œNo.โ€
If the behavior stops, your dog received a negative reinforcement, even if you said, โ€œYes.โ€

Rules of Reinforcement

Supervision: You cannot influence behavior you did not see! You must catch your dog in the act for both appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.

  • Example: Your pup was peeing on the floor and since you were not there, you cannot influence the behavior.

Timing: You have from 0 to 3 seconds to influence the behavior RIGHT NOW, so reward good behavior, or interrupt wrong behavior and redirect.

  • Example: Your pup is peeing on the floor. Do not wait until they are finished. Instead, interrupt the pup and move him/her outside to finish peeing.

Degree: If the behavior did not stop, the degree was not dramatic enough.

  • Example: Yell and wave your hands. The drama will cause the pup to stop peeing long enough for you to scoop them up and relocate them outside to finish peeing.

Redirection: A proper redirection ends with a positive behavior. It never ends with a negative.

  • Example: You redirected your pup to finish peeing outside, now end on a positive with a โ€œYES!โ€ and even treats, since reinforcing the behavior of peeing outside is what you want.

Dog Training Tips without Treats

An effective method to get dogs to listen to you is to use food treats. The dogs momentarily forget about whatโ€™s around them and patiently follow the instructions provided by the owner. Most people tend to heavily rely on using the food-based reward system when their dogs listen to them. As time progresses, they forget about phasing out the system as it is more convenient than anything else. On top of that, the dogs will only respond when you have food to offer. So how do train dogs and reward them without treats? Here are 5 different ways to reward your dog.

  1. Give your dog life rewardsOnce your dog has successfully finished the set of commands that it was supposed to follow, take your dog out for a walk or allow them to run in the backyard or get splashed by the sprinkler. Just allow them to do any activity they enjoy after the end of every training session.
  2. Play with your dogAnother way to reinforce the good behavior is to play with your dog after it followed your every command. You can give access to their favorite toys such as a ball or a Frisbee to reward them. You can also play games with your dog like hide and seek, tug oโ€™ war, and fetch. Playing is also a great way to establish a relationship with your dog.
  3. Cuddle with themDogs love to be cuddled. Once they have done what you wanted them to do, you can pat them on the head or give them belly rubs as a form of reward. They also like it when you give them long and slow strokes on their backs. However, you have to judge when it is the right time to cuddle with them. If they are avoiding you because they want to play, then touching them is not a gesture for a reward. If they come close to you when you pat them, then it is a rewarding gesture.
  4. Talk to your dogEveryone loves to receive praises and that includes your four-legged friend. Words are very powerful and can form strong connections with your dog. When they have completed the given set of tasks, you can reinforce their good behavior with words such as โ€˜Whoโ€™s a good boy/girl?โ€™ or โ€˜good dogโ€™ as a form of positive reinforcement. By adding happiness to the tone of your voice, your dog will know that you are acknowledging its good behavior.
  5. Removing boundariesYou might have set boundaries in certain places in your house such as the kitchen and the bedroom. You can reduce the size of these boundaries and allow your dog to take one step closer to these places as a reward for listening to your commands. That way, your dog will understand that you trust them and will become more obedient.

Now you know how to reward your dog with positive reinforcement that doesnโ€™t involve treats. This way, your dog will always listen to you, irrespective of whether you are going to reward them for their good behaviour.

Last weekโ€™s lesson

How to Call Your Dog By Their Name (And Have Them Listen!)

Next weekโ€™s lesson

How to Train Your Dog to Watch You

Back to 20 Dog Commands You Need to Know

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All training tips in this series are from ECAD (Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities), a non-profit organization dedicated to training service dogs for veterans with disabilities. Learn more about ECAD.

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