Are verbal corrections OK in dog training?

I use “no” regularly when communicating with my dog.

Usually it’s a sweet, “no-oh” in almost a sing-songy voice, but it does get Ace to stop what he’s doing. He is a “soft,” eager-to-please guy. (Update: Ace has passed away.)

It’s rare for me to growl out a firm “NO!” but it does happen, and it does get my point across.

Actually, my most serious verbal correction goes something like “HEY! That’s enough of that!”

For my sensitive dog, it works.

“Oh no! Mom’s mad!”

I got the idea for this post when a reader named Joyce emailed me and said a “sharp NO” helps quiet her dog down and wanted to know my opinion on this. Thank you, Joyce for your email. I certainly use “no” quite often as well.

But “no” doesn’t have to be a form of “correction” or discipline. It can be a way to calmly ask your dog to “please stop what you’re doing.” Then reward what you want him to do instead.

I use a soft, “no-oh” when Ace is whimpering over seeing another dog, for example. Then I use praise when he’s quiet.

I’m not here to say whether or not dog owners should use verbal corrections. I assume most people do, in some form. And if not, I guess that’s fine too.

I use a short, “psst!” sound for my cats, like the sound Cesar Millan uses. It works.

I also snap my fingers as a “correction” sometimes when Ace is breaking from heel or stay or when one of my pets is about to step into the kitchen, where they are not allowed. This also works.

And of course, my animals often use verbal and physical corrections with one another, too. No one is every confused about the message: “Stop!”

But are verbal corrections from people to dogs no longer accepted?

Ace the black Lab mix

When reading dog training blogs and forums lately, you’d almost think telling a dog or puppy “no” is off the table as far as a training “method.”

I agree that ignoring unwanted behavior can work extremely well, and it’s often the wisest choice, along with rewarding the right behavior.

For example, the dog is whining. You don’t look at him. He keeps whining. You go about your business. You might even walk away. Eventually, the dog stops whining and goes and lies down on his dog bed. That’s when you pet him and lie down on the floor with him or you give him a treat. The good behavior is reinforced.

I also realize that sometimes telling a dog “no” doesn’t work at all. It might even encourage the behavior.

Sometimes I scold my dog when he’s whining for attention, and what does he do? He thumps his tail.

“Ha! Got ya to look at me!” he says.

But when Ace is about to lift his leg on my grandpa’s potted flowers? A firm “NO!” does the trick.

Or the time Ace peed on the trash can in the entryway of our apartment complex? I huffed a serious “NO” at him that day. I couldn’t help it. I was mad.

He hasn’t considered marking that trash can since, even though other dogs do it.

‘No’ to save the dog’s life

And on a more serious side, telling a dog “no” can even save his life. I don’t think I need to go into the different scenarios such as when he’s running towards the street or about to eat something dangerous or when he’s thinking about confronting an unfriendly dog or a wild animal.

So, what are your thoughts on using verbal corrections?

Do you tell your dog no? Does it work? Do you try to use it sparingly? Or even not at all?

32 thoughts on “Are verbal corrections OK in dog training?”

  1. Lindsay, I must say, you sound like you did excellent with Ace. If I told Chip not to pee in a certain place, she would laugh at me …if they could laugh!

    I tend to use the word stop a good bit which is the same effect as no but they do listen when I say it…..most times.

    I most definitely have a stern No which they seem to respond to extremely well. Same with the way I call their name. I have the usual “Chip and Phoebe” in a nice voice and the “Chip and Phoebe” in my other voice which translates to get your buts over here NOW!!!!

    If the dogs are eating something or playing with something they shouldn’t be (i.e my nephews teddys!) I will say leave it. And again, they know its a definite do not touch it again!

    I never realised how many commands we use for “no”!

    1. Haha! That is interesting how many commands we use for “no” isn’t it? No, stop, leave it, that’s enough, quiet …

      I’m surprised they even pay attention to us!

    2. Good Morning,

      Normally if my dog Smoke wants to eat off the ground. I have trained him to hear the command of (Leave It). Even though, I use No, it seems like I use it to much and ignores me. So I have trained him repeatly on the same command and give him a treat when he looks directly at me. Then I know I have his attention.

  2. I can’t imagine living with my dog and making a commitment to never tell him “no”! I’ve seen what you’re talking about with dog forums. I remember when I fist got my dog, and he was such a mess, I tried a forum for advice. I mentioned that I’d scolded him and confiscated his chew stick when he snapped at me for getting too close, and you’d think I’d just confessed to throwing my dog from a moving vehicle. I tend to use various levels of verbal redirection, and I don’t feel guilty about any of them (except the times I get impatient and snap at my dog for not understanding something. ‘Cause I’ve totally done that. Oops). If he’s doing something innocent that’s just not appropriate at the moment, like moving to greet someone who looks uncomfortable with dogs, or sniffing around in Petsmart like he’s gonna pee, I just use a happy kind of, “Hey, Hiccup, let’s go over here instead!” and guide him away. He always follows eagerly. If I think he’s about to do something “naughty”, like steal my roomie’s dog’s food, or he’s staring too intently at another dog and I think he may loose it in a moment, I say, “uh-uh!” in an upbeat voice, and either distract him with a toy/treat or move between him and the subject of contention, whatever is easiest. Then of course there are times when I say, “OIY!” loudly, snap my fingers and get in his face. He knows he was bad then, and generally doesn’t do it again. 🙂

    1. Yep, that’s about what I meant with the forums. Obviously there are better ways to train them most of the time, but sometimes a firm “No” does get the point across. I like your way of saying “uh-uh” in an upbeat voice and distracting him or guiding him away. That’s what I try to do as well.

  3. I use “No,” but I’ve found I use “nu-uh” a bit more. And it seems to work. Verbal corrections are part of my communications with my dog. Honestly, I don’t see much difference from verbal commands.

    Aside, I think Baxter has become more vocal because we talk to him so much. It’s not that he barks, but he talks to us in certain situations. Usually yelps and a-roos (there’s no other word for it) or grumbles. He did it at our dog hiking group the one day when the people were talking too much amongst themselves. He’s very people focused (more so than dogs in some situations), and I almost feel like he’s adapted his communications to “speak” our language a bit. I’m probably reading way too much into this. However, I have to say I’ve adapted as well to try to be more silent and body language focused.

    1. Julia – I’m so glad I saw this comment! I’m new to being a dog-mom, and ‘inherited’ an super old dog to boot, and I too have wondered if I’m making him more vocal. He’ll breath hard (on purpose, not a pant) and then works that up low “errrrrrrs” that come out of his thought. Usually ends with really pitchy yawn. I of course, can’t resist talking back at him the whole time he’s doing his routine… 🙂

  4. Mom has been perplexed about the say no to no movement. In dog school she couldn’t tell Bailie no, she had to say wrong or something else. We find it a bit silly. Mom says no when we do the wrong thing, but in an emergency situation she screaches NO and we know the difference from the usual calm no. I guess we believe in the word no, we also use the word yes. Maybe it is all in how it is used?

  5. There is the rule, which I think makes sense – no corrections during training. I agree with that and I follow that. In real life, I think, some corrections are needed. It is, after all, a form of communication, a form of communication dogs use among themselves also.

    I use it sparingly. I prefer using redirection over correction. Mostly I use soft no-no, in calm quiet voice. Only when there is real potential danger to what the dog is trying to do I use loud empathetic NO.

  6. I can’t imagine not using verbal corrections because it is a basic way to communication with your dog. If done correctly (and not overdone), dogs respond to even a very quiet ‘No’ or ‘Hey’ and usually it’s the tone of your voice that lets them know you’re unhappy with what they’re doing. Besides the word or command, it’s also the technique you use when training with a correction that makes a difference (we’ve all witnessed dog owners that loudly yell corrections at their dogs in attempt to get them under control, while the dogs happily ignore them.) Giving verbal corrections (and praise when they listen) is a great way to let your dog know what you want from them.

  7. We don’t use “no”, but only because it is a word that’s often used in regular conversation. We use “foei” (fooy) instead (we also use German commands for heel, down, and stay). Isn’t it all “Greek” to a dog? By that I mean that we, the humans, define what a certain word/sound means to the dog. I can’t see causing emotional harm by telling a dog no, nein, nyet, foei, or any other word you may want to use 🙂

  8. I find it interesting how PC we’re getting about dog training. I’m a huge fan of positive based training, but have been told that my use of a sound or a firm “no” is aversive. I disagree, because our dogs don’t face punishment for a behavior I don’t like. Instead, I break their focus so that I can redirect them to something positive. Like chewing on a toy instead of a chair leg. Focusing on a sit so they can get attention instead of barking at our guests.

    It works.

  9. Great post! I use no the same way you do – “no-oh” in a soft voice when I’m trying to coax her out of a something, and a sharp NO or Leave it! when she’s doing something that could turn scary. With our last dog I was scolded during class for using a “no-oh” on our dog. Oy. We didn’t go back and became obedience school drop outs! The trainer wanted me to just ignore it when our dog would jump on folks, but we would often go visit an 85 yr old friend who probably only outweighed my dog by a handful of pounds. Could NOT ignore her jumping in that situation, so yeah, I’d say no. It was either that or stop visiting until I had her trained, and that would have just bummed out our friend. I agree that you don’t want folks yelling NO! and scolding their dogs for every little infraction, but there’s got to be some balance there. “Never” saying no is a bit much to ask of most folks I think.

  10. Because humans are verbal, we rely on words whether they work with our dog or not. But I try to use it as an attention getter before redirecting Honey to do something I do like.

    That way I’m not just shutting down what she wants to do but communicating a more acceptable option.

    An example would be when she sniffs at the garbage can. A quick “eh” will her to look at me. Then I’ll ask her to get a toy and bring it to me. This strengthens our relationship more than just saying no would.

  11. I must admit that I say “uh oh!” when Norman ignores “come” It works every time:) I think verbal corrections are totally fine if the dog understands it. I’ve seen people shouting “no!” over and over, while the dog has no clue what’s going on. And during training, show the dog what will get them a reward instead or replace the thing they should not be chewing on with something they should, etc.

    One could say “leave it” is a correction but that’s super important too.

  12. I consider “no” as a form of a “leave it” command. I’ve never taught Maya and Pierson a specific “leave it” command because “no” works just fine for most things.

  13. I have a lot of “no” type words. It took me awhile to make sure I was getting the message through correctly but ‘no’ ‘leave it’ ‘heel’ and ‘nuh uh’ are regulars now in our communication. I do question whether I could have gone about training those things better, but they’re working.

  14. It’s always been interesting to me that Henry responds more to Dot than no, well, when HE decideds to respond at all. Leave it, he does better with. Seems incouraged to continue with whatever when I use NO ???? But he has his routine down pat and is very funny, love the guy

  15. I’ve heard that using No can be too generic, and the dog doesn’t know what he should do instead if he is just told No. So, we try to be more specific with our corrections, where we could have easily used No instead. Leave it, Off, and Enough are a few examples. When the situation is urgent, we use “Uh-uh” in a stern, growly voice.

  16. Honestly, I think it’s hilarious to think I could have raised and trained my dog without ever using a verbal correction. Even an, “Uh-uh” wasn’t enough to get her attention. Now that she’s a mature dog, and we’ve built up a solid working bond, I have gone largely force-free with her, because I can. She reads me well and just doesn’t need anything past a reminder. As a puppy? It’s just ridiculous to think she would have turned out to be a good dog without some boundaries being set, and she is of a temperament such that she needed something a bit stronger. In fact, I think if I’d gone firm at the outset, I’d ultimately have needed to correct less. Dogs aren’t kids, but really, setting the boundaries and rules for home and life isn’t all that different sometimes, and I always raise an eyebrow at kids whose parents obviously don’t use “no”/”hey”/”knock it off”…because it shows, and not in a good way.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Haha! I know, I hear ya. You’ve done such a great job with your girl. Congrats on all you’ve accomplished recently.

  17. Sandra Williams

    I use that “wounded duck noise” kind of “annnnkkkkk” with my pix mix Gracie. Seems to cover a myriad of things to show that Mom is displeased.

  18. I use the word NO for my dog, same as I use it for my daughter when I can see she is doing something I do not agree with or something I can foresee that it brings her in danger, but she doesn’t know as she doesn’t has the life experience yet.
    With the differences in voices as you described. From a gentle no, please do not do it up to a clear NO – do not dare to do this. And he knows the differences. Even for sure he tries to test how far he can go. I think it is important to do so. And watching the dogs – they do the same in their language. They warn each other with a growl if they don’t like something. This is for me the same No as I am using.

  19. Noreen Nugeness

    Lindsay, I am so glad that you addressed the word “NO.” I was upset with my little Fur Baby the other day when he walked away with my son’s pillow. Although he looked so adorable sprawled on it as though he was going to take a nap, I didn’t want the pillow to get dirty so I said very firmly, “NO.” Okay, I’ll admit, I yelled at him and he got off the pillow but looked sad most of the day and then I felt guilty so I confessed to my husband and son and they thought I was terrible. I need my baby to know the word “NO” and that he’s to stop whatever he is doing when I say it. I also pointed out to my husband and son that if ever he was to go in the street even though we always walk him on a leash, but you never know when he could wiggle his way out of his collar, he did it once already so we got a new one, but that’s when I need him to listen the most because he would be in danger and I’m really the only one he listens to because I’m alone with him most of the day. He’s very good at obeying me and when I say come to mommy, he does. I can’t thank you enough for giving me permission to say “NO.” I can’t wait to tell my husband that I’m not the meany he and my son thinks I am. However, I’ll try not to yell as I did. I overreacted. I admit it! Having a stressful day that particular day, that’s all. I love him dearly and he knows it. I just felt so bad to see him so sad and I made it up to him by playing fetch. He still loves me. (: We love each other and I adore him and that’s all that matters. I would never hurt him in any way not even his sweet little feelings. He is a Shih Tzu, so adorable and so lovable.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Oh gosh, don’t feel guilty! Your pup will be just fine. If Remy grabs one of our shoes or a blanket that’s not his, you bet he gets a firm NO!

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